How to fire your spouse

Marja Hillis, CEO of Molok North America, decided her husband wasn’t working out in the COO role. Here’s how she broke the news

 
Molok North America CEO Marja Hillis.
Molok North America CEO Marja Hillis.

Marja Hillis, CEO of Molok North America, explains what she did after hiring her husband for a job he turned out to be ill-suited for:


When I first hired my husband, Mark, he had a good solid job, making good money. I was really needing someone to help me with what was, at the time, a very small startup. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I needed help. I was just exhausted, and it was affecting everything. So I convinced my husband to quit his job come work for me.

It actually brought us closer together because we were able to talk about absolutely everything. There was nothing we couldn’t talk about. We could share things.

That was 13 years ago. As the company grew, the situation changed. We sold part of the business to another company, and Mark left to work for it for a few years, to get them going. Then he came back to the company, as COO.

When Mark came back, we quickly realized the job was really not a good fit for him. We’ve always had an understanding that if something isn’t working, we’ll make changes—that this is business.

It’s my company, and I have to be able to say stuff to him when I don’t think things are going in the right direction or when he’s dragging his butt. It’s different than a “honey-do” list. The business has to run properly.

We try to talk about issues right away, so things don’t build up. So we talked, very honestly, about problems as they arose. We also interviewed some employees about his performance, which helped, because it made it about more than just the two of us. So when I suggested he leave the role, it didn’t come out of the blue.

If it got to the point of me saying, abruptly, “get out of here,” then it would have led to divorce. But it didn’t, because we were 100% honest with each other.

I’ve since hired him as VP of business development, and it’s all cool now.

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