Why and how did you come to run the business together?
Dona: Like all young parents, we were trying to find a way of making ends meet when we had our babies. I had a job selling and organising a trade show in New Zealand called the Hospitality Show.
Suddenly with two preschoolers and pregnant with our last child in the early 90s, it occurred to me that a show for people like us - that is, expectant parents and parents of babies and children under five - would be a goer. Closer economic relations had just opened up with Australia meaning New Zealand had new access to all the cool brands for baby, so the timing was perfect.
We figured we could run it and I could still be something of a hands-on mum, so we cooked up a plan to do it. Gavin worked his 'real' job in the day, I sold stands and sponsorships, and at night we would do all the operations, paperwork, invoicing and bookkeeping - long before accounting software existed!
In 2000 we launched The Food Show and that was when we had to make a decision: hire someone full time to help, or for Gavin to leave his secure job and join the business. We chose the latter, much to the concern of some friends and family who thought we'd be divorced in a matter of weeks. But it's been the best decision we ever made and the company and our relationship has only gone upwards from that day.
What respective roles do you have in the company?
Dona: In the beginning I was in charge of selling, marketing and driving the business forward, thinking up new shows and growing our existing shows. To some extent I still do the latter but I'm more about strategic growth of the company now and still do some of the big deals in regards to sponsorships.
Gavin: I've been more involved in the operations and logistics of running the shows - liaising with the venues, organising the builds and dealing with contracts, ticketing solutions, freight, contractors and finance. I do have an operations manager now, so some of my workload has eased since the early days, but with more shows in the pipeline, I can't see me giving up the job any time soon.
You mentioned running the business together has been great for you as a couple. What do you love about working together?
Dona: I love Gavin's calm, steady approach and business mind. He's a trained lawyer and understands business protocol more than I do. I can be very fast to make decisions and Gavin will help me pause and consider things more thoroughly before I jump.
He's very good with clients in the tense moments of a show's build, whereas I tend to stay away from that phase of our events, preferring to walk in when the event is built and beautiful. He has excellent relationships with our contractors and clients and takes time to keep these healthy, which is crucial to our success.
Gavin: Dona has a very strong and innate intuitive mind and sees things, including opportunities, before others do. She's enthusiastic, positive and motivating to the whole team, and is completely passionate about the business.
If she wants to do something, she will and she will do it right; she doesn't skimp on anything, especially presentation.
On the other hand, what are some of the bumps in the road you've experienced while working together?
Dona: I have, through absolute passion for the topic, launched a couple of shows that didn't work and we lost money for a few years. This was because I wouldn't let them go. Visionary Living was one - it ran for three years - and we tried again with our Healthy Living Show in 2011.
These are show subjects that I'm so excited about and would love to present a major event around, but the timing or state of the industry wasn't right. That doesn't mean they weren't great shows, only that they were dragging our successful shows down because they couldn't pull their weight financially.
Gavin patiently let me carry on until he finally insisted I give them up - for the health of the business. He was right, but anyone else giving me that advice wouldn't have offered it as kindly and with as much understanding as Gavin.
Gavin: There have been no real bumps. Sometimes Dona can be impatient and we have to calm her down, but really, all things considered, working together with your best friend and life partner on shows that give us such a buzz has more highs than lows.
What are your top tips for successfully running a business as a couple?
1. Respect each other's strengths and let them get on with their job.
2. Find someone, or engage the right people to take over roles that are each other's weak spots.
3. Celebrate the victories and never dwell too long on the failures.
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