From wearing high heels and makeup to wearing helmets and boots, Agnes Mueni Onyancha made a drastic career change when she quit her lucrative job in the banking sector to work with her husband in his Juakali construction business.

She shares her story and offers some lessons on working with your significant other.

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“When I made up my mind to quit my job it was not an easy decision. We had discussed the issue with my husband for close to two years, and I still found it hard to jump in when the time came.

I had always worked in the corporate circles, but here I was, joining my husband’s business. We had never run a business together. I had my set ways and he had his. How were we going to reconcile our styles?

My name is Agnes Mueni Onyancha, and that was my initial feeling when I bid farewell to my lucrative job in the banking sector and joined my husband at Houseman General Contractors, a family construction company based in Nairobi.

I studied in a completely different field. That was Commerce – marketing option for my degree – and later Entrepreneurship for my master’s degree. I also pursued a diploma in hospitality and worked for nine years.

CAREER JOURNEY

I started by working in the airline industry as a customer experience manager. Ten years later, in 2009, I joined the banking sector as a relationship manager.

I was at the pinnacle of my career when I called it quits to join my husband in his construction business.

It was strange at first. I felt I didn’t have the business language to excel in the Juakali sector, having been in formal employment for the whole of my career life.

But, I felt the need for change. I wanted a more meaningful work-life balance, where I could do things that connected with my personal beliefs, serve in my community and take care of my family.

At the family company, I became the finance and administration manager. The position was created for me. I was to help smoothen our processes and systems.

STRENGTHS

But soon after, conflict arose. Working together as a couple has its rough edges. We faced differences of opinion when it came to decision-making, especially on money matters.

What helped though is that I found my space in the business before joining him. I’m strong in administration and finance, and he is very strong in technical matters; thus, we both occupy very clear roles.

But that wasn’t the only hurdle. The construction industry is very manual. I work with craftsmen at most times. My work entails planning, project financing, overseeing them and execution.

Initially, it was tough having come from a corporate setup where systems are automated. But then, this was our business. I could make and implement decisions. I needed to focus on growing it and our team.

To up my skills, I joined a business networking group, attended a few conferences but also chose to do my master’s in entrepreneurship.

WORK ENVIRONMENT

In my new job, I needed to also get used to dirt. We have a workshop that does timber welding and other manual work. I also visit construction sites which are normally dusty, muddy or full of debris.

This meant that my style of dressing had to change. I came from an extremely feminine style that included high heels, neatly applied make-up and fitting suits, but had to settle for a helmet, boots and overalls look.

It took me about a year to adapt to this different environment. Still, I have not completely thrown away my feminine side.

I sometimes take my time to look pretty. Fridays are my slow days. I get the time to give my body and face a complete TLC (tender, loving and care).

What I love about joining my husband’s company is that it has given me time to be with my children. I am 44, and my children are aged 17 and 14.

FAMILY TIME

I plan my work around them, and when they are on holiday I am out of the office by 3pm. This flexibility would not have been possible if I was working my corporate job.

My husband has been my greatest inspiration. Apart from being the founder of the company, he supported my decision to join the industry. He is my mentor and teacher in the business.

For me, the future looks bright. I see an open industry and lots of opportunities to expand the business working side by side with my hubby.”

TIPS

Things to ponder on before joining your spouse in their business.

1. You need to do some major reflection before making a decision this big.

2. You have to accept that your personal and work life will be intertwined.

3. You get to know each other on a completely different level. Are you ready to have your work husband and your real husband be the same person — and for both relationships to function well? If yes, go right ahead. But give it a thought.

4. You will quickly realise conflicts are unavoidable. You will disagree and fight, but you need to find the right balance.

Courtesy/ Saturday Magazine