Ross and Jennimay Millar, owners of Ross Millar Swim School and Millars Vineyard, Mangawhai, talk to Gill South about setting up business as a couple.

My wife Jennimay and I have been working together for 22 years. We initially
established the swimming school business as a husband and wife team and
after fifteen years in this business we added a vineyard in Mangawhai as a
secondary operation. We now commute to and from Auckland.

The swim school duties have always been apportioned into areas of our relative strengths. I have done the major part of the teaching and maintenance side, not to mention recruitment, staff supervision and liaison. Jennimay handles all of the administration, front office, wages and manning the phone.

In the vineyard I am in charge of all machinery work. Jennimay once again handles all admin and we both share in areas like viticulture, sales and marketing and any promotional work.


Secret to success

The secret to our success is that we both have a very good understanding of where our key strengths lie and the absolute importance of hard work.

My wife's practical, methodical mind has been of enormous help to the family over the years. When parts of machinery are being cursed for their stubborn refusal to comply to my will, Jennimay will often tap me on the shoulder and carefully suggest that I might like to try things another way (her way).

Eventually I will see the wisdom of her ideas and I have been bouncing all sorts of problems off her now for a very long time. I think this process of robust discussion will often lead to a very workable solution to most of our issues.

The idea that you should dump your problems on the side of the road before you get home just doesn't work. My wife and I need each other to play, at various times, the role of the sympathetic ear, wise counsellor and general sounding board. In this way we can share in each other's problems and work together towards a solution.

As swim teachers we share a love of our craft, a craft that can have us talking literally for hours about our days in the pool.


The advantages to our partnership in all our businesses is our lines of communication. To
always be asking the question, "What do you think?" I think this eventually provides for a very clear vision of where we want to go and how we want to get there.

I feel one of the key areas of our success has been our hands-on approach. We prefer to be at the coalface, leading our team from the front and letting our customers know that we genuinely care about their children and getting the best result possible every time.

Business and family

Running a business with a large family of five kids, can often strain the delicate balancing act between working and parenting. It's teamwork that makes a difference.

Planning our days and weeks meticulously so we could achieve our goals of being the best parents to our kids and being high achievers in our chosen industries. At this point I could never fail to recognise the importance of our parents in just being there for us whenever we needed help. Our business success is a tribute to the support they have
given us over the years.

There have been times that we have found ourselves having to trade time with the kids for our work commitments. That is just a fact of life, Wherever possible we would include our family in our business activities.

They have and are still currently working and learning in our swim school and vineyard. It doesn't hurt to have your kids see how hard you work as we hope this attitude rubs off on them. The vineyard is a particularly important revenue stream for our family members who desperately require holiday jobs to get them through their tertiary studies.


Our best advice to any young couple looking to start out in a new business would be to make sure you do your financial homework well. Ensure you have enough capital to run your business at all times.

Always remember to have a sense of humour as inevitably times will occasionally be tough and you and your partner will need to be able to work through those times and still be in love. Lastly remember to be organised, aim high, plan your future and work hard to achieve your plan.

For those SME owners watching their salaried friends head off for a quick break in the sun over the school holidays, how do you have businesses which allow you to get away for some R & R during the year. Do you have someone who can run the business for you while you are away? Email me, GIll South, at the link below.