She began as a family law student who saw the devastation of divorce. Then she became a human resources associate who met many single and attractive colleagues who were too busy for a love life. Now, she’s committed her career to uniting soulmates, and creating as many happy marriages as possible. She’s even written a book in 2010 that’s chock-full of dating secrets, entitled Lessons From 15,000 First Dates. Her name is Violet Lim, and her relationship with her spouse, Jamie Lee, is living testament of her expertise as a love guru. Having met at university and now with two children, the pair co-founded Lunch Actually Group, starting with Lunch Actually in 2004. The dating agency eventually expanded into cities like Hong Kong, Bangkok and Jakarta, and led to the development of other matchmaking services such as LunchClick (a dating app that replaces chat rooms with MCQ-style questionnaires), Eteract (an online speed dating service), and eSynchrony (an online platform that uses personality quizzes to bring you the most compatible matches).
While it seems to be common knowledge that working with a spouse is a complex affair, Violet dispels this negative notion, professing what she has with Jamie is an “awesome arrangement”. It isn’t hard to imagine, considering that you’ll be more connected to each other, never missing or worrying about what the other person gets up to at work. Yet, for a different couple, the risk of falling out or washing dirty linen in the office might be too close for comfort. Speaking of her marriage that has stood the test of time, the entrepreneur and part-time cupid dispenses some advice and tells us everything about working with her partner in both life and business.
1. You founded and are currently running Lunch Actually Group with your husband. What is it like to work with your spouse?
Violet: For me, it has worked out very well and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Jamie and I have our own strengths and we have a very clear division of responsibilities. Jamie is good with numbers and strategies, and I like working with people, so I focus more on management, marketing, PR, and sales, while he’s taking care of finance and IT. So in terms of the overall strategy and direction of the company, we would make decisions together, but when it comes to our respective areas of work, we would just lead our own teams and do our own things. We are always aligned and clear on our directions and it’s all about having the same vision and goal for the company.
2. How often do you face professional disagreements with your spouse, and how do you handle them?
Violet: Of course there would be disagreements, but we’ve come to a point where we would talk it out with our respective point of views, and ultimately we would take a step back and decide what makes more sense for the company. It’s not about our egos or who’s right, but it’s really about doing the right thing for the company.
3. Do you make an effort to keep your work and personal lives separate?
Violet: I do not see the need to keep our work and personal lives separate with Jamie. We usually come to work together, unless one of us has other meetings, and we go home together. When we do not have any business lunches, we usually have lunch together as well. When we wind down at home after a long day of work, we could be discussing about the day’s work or planning for the work week ahead. When we are at work, we could be planning for the upcoming family holiday or discussing about the children’s education. I feel that this is an awesome arrangement!
4. Does working with your spouse help with maintaining a work-life balance?
Violet: I would say yes. A good thing about working with Jamie is that we always spend time together, be it for work or at home. Even when we travel for business together, it’s another way for us to connect. We sometimes even bring our kids to the office.
However, we make a conscious effort to make time just for family. I make it a point not to travel on weekends unless absolutely necessary. Weekends are reserved for my family. If I absolutely have to travel on weekends, I will spend time with my family on one of the week days. We will just go for a family outing either at the Zoo, Bird Park, or Botanical Gardens. My husband and I also focus on both quantity and quality time. Quantity time during the weekends, and quality time during the weekdays.
But when it’s absolutely necessary and I need to work on weekends, he would fully understand as he is in the business, and our interests are completely aligned. If we were doing different [things], he might not understand why I might need to leave the family and work on weekends.
(Image Source: Lunch Actually)
5. Has working with your husband played a part in strengthening your marriage?
Violet: Yes, I believe that it has strengthened our relationship. But then again, I believe that every relationship has its ups and downs, and that it requires a conscious effort from both parties to make it work. So whether I want to see working together as a good thing or not, it’s up to me. And I choose to see it as something that strengthens our marriage.
Running a dating business also has its perks for our relationship. We have read so many relationship self-help books that we would sometimes be in the midst of an argument and we would stop midway and say, “Oh, so that was what the author meant!” It has made us more aware of our gender differences and better at resolving our own conflicts.
6. There is always an underlying risk that things may turn ugly when running a business with a partner or friends, especially due to monetary issues. How do the both of you ensure such situations do not occur?
Violet: Unlike other business partners where leaving or throwing in the towel is an option, it is not the case for Jamie and I. We know that whatever decision we make, we have to make it together after talking and weighing all the pros and cons. I think it’s important to always communicate with each other, and know that we will never resort to blaming another party or pointing fingers because we are in this together.
7. How has your significant other made you a better leader and businesswoman?
Violet: Jamie is my biggest rock and anchor, as well as my cheerleader. He is always honest and candid with me when it comes to my strengths as well as my weaknesses. Sometimes, it is not easy to take feedback, especially when they are not praises. However, constructive feedback is crucial for growth. And when it comes from him, I know that there’s no malice, and there’s only love and the desire for me to be a better person and leader.
8. How would things have been different or more complex if your significant other were to work under or above you, as opposed to being your equal?
Violet: Technically, even though we are co-founders, I am the CEO and hence on the organisation chart, I am Jamie’s direct supervisor. The way I work with all my team members, be it Jamie or my other direct reports, is on a consultative approach. I believe that they are better and smarter than me in their areas of expertise, and I constantly seek their input and opinions. I understand their personalities and I would leverage on their strengths to drive our organisation forward. I am very clear that Lunch Actually Group would definitely not be where it is today if not for my passionate and dedicated team. Hence, be it working with a spouse or other team members, the most important thing is mutual respect, constant communication and faith in each other to deliver and make things happen!
9. From your experience, would you recommend couples to start a business together or even work within the same organisation?
Violet: I strongly believe that if a husband and a wife have an opportunity to build a business together and they could somehow find a way to work with each other and not end up killing each other, that would be the best and most ideal working arrangement. There will not be another person in the world who would be as aligned to your life and business goals as your spouse, provided you chose the right person to spend the rest of your life with.
10. Any advice for entrepreneurs who are looking to start a company or work together with a significant other?
Violet: Acknowledge that there’s going to be disagreements and you may fight passionately for your own ideas where your partner does the same. However, at the end of the day, you just have to take a step back, put away your ego, and recognize what is best for the company. Lastly, it also takes a lot of trust, patience, understanding, as well as compromising to make any relationship work, be it a marriage, or a business partnership.