Power Couples Need Love and Logistics

Financial News, November 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

Power Couples Need Love and Logistics


Dual-career households are increasingly common. But how do two people, both with demanding and successful careers, find the time to sustain a marriage? At the London Business School's Women in Business conference last week, two high-flying couples discussed how it is done.

Under the spotlight were Maryann Gallivan, executive director at Goldman Sachs, and Paul Bell, president of Dell for Europe, Middle East and Africa; Debra Earp, partner in PwC's global capital markets group, and Michael Pratt, a director in PwC's transaction services division.

They fielded questions on everything from childcare to working abroad and housework. The conclusion: life in a "power couple" can be hard, particularly when there are children, and particularly for the woman. But careful planning can make things easier, as can a balanced approach to meeting the needs of both individuals.

Travel and time constraints emerged as the chief sources of hardship during the early stages of a relationship. Meeting in a different city each weekend is not uncommon.

Earp said: "We were newly wed, but we weren't spending any time together. It was going to take us 20 years to reach the seven-year itch." If one partner is posted abroad there are extra complications. Invariably, someone has to compromise and become the "trailing partner".

Earp followed Pratt to Hungary, a move that she did not see as benefiting her career, but which at least meant that she and her husband were working in the same city. Earp's move actually worked out well for her career, but ideally a move abroad should be planned so that it benefits both partners from the start.

Gallivan and Bell have managed to synchronise their stints overseas so that they can both spend more time together and advance their careers. Stranded in Boston and Austin, Texas, respectively, Gallivan and Bell spent months "signalling" to Goldman Sachs and Dell that they were keen to work in London, the only place, apart from Shanghai, where the two companies have offices where both could realistically work. They moved last year.

In some cases, employers help couples to co-ordinate their dual careers. Stephen Sidebottom, human resources director for equities at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, says that the bank will co-ordinate with a partner's employer in an effort to ensure that both members of a couple can move internationally. He says that partners with established careers tend to be less flexible and that the number of trailing partners who are men is on the increase. Even when locations have been favourably synchronised, difficulties may still arise.

Gallivan is expecting a baby and Earp, who has a six-month-old son, suggested that this can change a couple's attitudes.

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