April 24, 2009
What happens when an unemployed husband finds that his next boss is his wife?
Detroit Free Press
DETROIT — Sometimes in the offices of Brides-to-Be Shows, where lollipops peek out from a pink basket and a heart-shaped photo hangs on the refrigerator, Don Evanowski forgets. He acts as if he and Cyd LaChiusa Evanowski are just husband and wife.
But then they have a disagreement. That's when, he says, "I always cave in when I realize she is the boss."
Evanowski, 60, is vice president of Brides-to-Be, a company owned by his wife that hosts bridal expos throughout Detroit. He joined the staff in late 2007 after taking a forced retirement from Chrysler.
Entrepreneurial wives like Cyd LaChiusa Evanowski are finding their companies may be the best places for their out-of-work husbands.
It's an employment prospect that changes the professional power dynamic while complicating the nature of marriage.
"I feel a lot of stress," says LaChiusa Evanowski, 54, who estimates her husband brings in $50,000 less a year since his retirement. "Brides-to-Be was an extra to his income — a very, very nice extra. Now it's very primary."
Don Evanowski has a lot of male company.
The reason men may be hit harder by the recession than women is that manufacturing and construction, industries that tend to employ more men, have been battered, according to Rick Waclawek, director of labor-marketing information and strategic initiatives for Michigan's Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth
For couples with work arrangements like the Evanowskis, the initial discomfort with the wife as the authority figure is exacerbated by the societal perception that husbands should have the higher incomes, says clinical psychologist Irene Swerdlow-Freed.
"The expectations of roles would have to fluctuate and change, and communication would have to be improved" between the couple, says Swerdlow-Freed, who co-owns her practice with her husband, psychologist Daniel Swerdlow-Freed.
"Otherwise, they're going to be kind of arguing all the time."
Susan Myers, 53, says when she and her husband, Monte Myers, decided he would become her office manager, "all my family thought we would be divorced in a week. Our children were begging us not to do it. But we are still here."
In December, Monte Myers, 55, joined his wife's Center for Wealth Management, an office of MetLife.
He reached early retirement as a senior manager of heavy-duty truck interiors at Chrysler, with the intention of working for suppliers or auto-related consultants.
But the suppliers he used to deal with weren't hiring and he thought, "Maybe I should just focus on helping make her successful."
At first, taking orders from his wife felt strange.
"Just having to learn to take direction from your wife throughout the day can be a little uncomfortable for some, and it was for me," says Myers. "What you do comes directly from her all the time. It's not a 50/50 thing, as it would kind of be in a marriage."
When the Evanowskis have a disagreement at Brides-to-Be, Cyd says, "I think this office goes a little crazy."
Patty Gammicchia, vice president of sales, and office assistant Germaine Salinger have worked for Brides-to-Be for more than two decades.
They joke they close their doors when they sense a husband-wife argument, but there's no uncertainty about which one they take their orders from.
"Don signs my check," says Salinger. "But I have to listen to Cyd."
The wife-as-CEO circumstance also puts her company at the forefront of providing for the family's financial needs.
At its peak, Jan Leon Woznick's job as a marketing executive brought in a steady six-figure income, more than his wife, Pam Ode-Woznick, made as a freelance photographer and interior designer.
But he joined Focus on You Photography, the company owned by Ode-Woznick and based out of their home, after advertising and marketing business from auto-related companies grew scarce.
The couple, who are in their mid-50s, have had to dip into their retirement savings and are more conscious of expenses.
"I can't tell you the last time either one of us had a major clothing purchase," says Woznick. "We hang around in our Levis and sweatshirts."
Like Ode-Woznick, CEO wives have to assign tasks and responsibilities that fit their husbands' skills and, in turn, that will help their company thrive.
Don Evanowski, who worked in program management at Chrysler, has taken over the more technical aspects of Brides-to-Be, like billing and bookkeeping.
Woznick's management of marketing and logistics for Focus on You Photography has almost doubled client volume in the past year.
Ode-Woznick remains the creative head and ultimate decision-maker, though her husband jokes that "every once in a while, I disagree with her, and I don't get dinner that night."
Husbands working for their wives say they have taken on more domestic duties and even found some palatable.
Don Evanowski, who works about one-third of the hours his wife does at her company, has discovered a fondness for cooking: "Salmon, roasts, pasta. I'm really into that."
Monte Myers is an office manager at his wife's company.
He has become familiar with grocery-store aisles, especially on his extra day off, Thursdays.
That's the day he does the grocery shopping — after taking care of home repairs and laundry.
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