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Making love and entrepreneurship work – a Valentine’s Day tale

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On the day that I was married - with my wife’s complete encouragement - I went to work as usual. On the day that Talya and I recently celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary – we both were at our desks the entire day.

We couldn’t be a happier couple.

One of the most valuable assets, if not the most valuable asset, any small business or professional practice can cultivate is a strong marriage, whether one or both spouses works for the company.

Talya and I are certainly not marriage experts. However, one of the secrets we found to synchronizing our relationship as husband-and-wife with the roles we also play as colleagues, is that when push comes to shove, we always put our couple and our family first.

Ironically, knowing that we truly love and value each other above any possible business consideration, has freed us innumerable times to do what it takes to make our business prosper. That meant working on the day we were married and doing likewise on our 30th anniversary.

Let me explain.

It was never our intention to get married back in January 1984. At the time,

I was busy building a reputation for myself as a dogged reporter for The Wall Street Journal, working from its Dallas bureau.

Talya and I had actually planned on marrying later that year, in June, at a lovely chateau in France, feting our union with flowing champagne and strolling violinists. We had already set the date, alerted our closest family and friends so they would have ample time to make travel arrangements, and contracted with the facility and the caterers.

Talya was born and raised on the outskirts of Paris, so a romantic French wedding seemed perfectly conceived.

Yet life, like business, seldom follows the script.

On the day in 1984 before we rushed to the courthouse in downtown Dallas to exchange our vows, I kept a long-scheduled meeting with an immigration attorney. I had contacted him to make sure that all of Talya’s paperwork would be in order to eventually facilitate her smooth path toward American citizenship.

I felt no urgency to meet with the lawyer. I was just being prudent.

Little did I understand back then about U.S. immigration law. As the lawyer pointedly schooled me, Talya had originally entered the U.S. on a visitor’s visa, which she had already overstayed. If she left the country, even to get married to me – an American citizen – she likely would not be allowed back for at least 6 months – perhaps longer.

The only possible solution, if we wanted to keep our planned June nuptials in France - and not then be separated for half a year or so - was to get married immediately – tomorrow in fact – and instantly file her paperwork.

If we were lucky, the lawyer explained, with Talya now my legal spouse, the immigration service might process her paperwork by our scheduled June departure date, such that she could reenter the U.S. as a legal immigrant.

There was not, he made clear, a moment to waste.

That night, I rushed to the Zales jewelry store at the closest mall and purchased the least expensive his-and-her gold wedding bands that the jeweler had in stock. We had no intention of wearing those rings but once – the next morning when we arrived at 8 am sharp at the door of the Justice of the Peace – whom we hoped would legally marry us and allow me to be at my post in the Journal’s Dallas newsroom no later than 9 am.

Understand, Talya and I both viewed “this” marriage as a formality, a step we had to take to allow us to pursue our dream wedding later that year in France.

My job was demanding, and I was responsible for covering any breaking business news that might arise in Texas that morning. I had already taken several personal days recently and would have been seriously testing the tolerance of my bureau chief and the patience of my colleagues had I asked them, without notice, to cover for me yet one more time.

Talya understood. She could have made a big deal out of me planning to work on the day we were wed, but instead she encouraged me to honor my job responsibilities.

So we showed up at the Justice of Peace’s promptly at 8 am, only to discover that the office wouldn’t open until 9 am. That would be too late for me to get married and get back to work on time.

I asked around and learned that we could legally be married by a sitting judge, albeit the only one available at that hour was in criminal court, adjudicating parole violation cases.

Talya and I entered his courtroom to the stares of men and women adorned in orange jail jumpsuits. A couple of them stopped me to ask if I was their lawyer. I approached the bailiff, to whom I explained my dilemma. The bailiff conferenced with the judge.

From his bench, His Honor stared down at me and my bride-to-be, and instructed, “Step forward.”

So Talya and I found ourselves in Dallas criminal court, our witnesses parole jumpers, our wedding rings as cheap as they come, about to be joined in holy matrimony, so I could get to work on time.

Bless his heart, the judge quickly realized the awkwardness of our situation, and instead invited us into his chambers, asking his secretary and a legal clerk to serve as witnesses.

I don’t recall his exact words, but the judge spoke movingly to Talya and me about the sanctimony of the bond we were about to enter, and then formally pronounced us man and wife. We were back in the car, on the way to the office, by 8:45 am.

Zoom forward 30 years.

Having followed the instructions of our immigration attorney, Talya did get her green card on time, and we did travel to France for our real June wedding. Thanks to the generosity of my in-laws, it was an embarrassing lavish affair – fit for royalty.

Our hearts, however, have always looked upon our first ceremony – the one in the judge’s chambers – as our real wedding. There was something magically romantic about it. And to this day, those cheapo Zales wedding bands are far more treasured by both of us than the significantly more elaborate and expensive bands we had custom designed for our chateau ceremony.

In 1987, three years after we were married, I left the Journal and – with Talya – founded the business publishing and consulting concern that together we run to this day. Talya and I have worked side-by-side to nurture and grow TJFR Group, Inc., the eldest of our three “children”. The other two, Maxwell and Avital, joined the family business in 1992 and 1996, respectively.

Avital had planned an elaborate adventure for our 30th anniversary celebration, a romantic treasure hunt and stroll down memory lane. It would have been the 2014 equivalent of our chateau wedding.

But as fate would have it, one of our business’s best and longest clients, found himself in a full-bore crisis, requiring us – his consultants – to work feverishly if we were going to help him through his time of need.

So with Avital’s blessing – she is, after all, our daughter – we put our anniversary plans on hold and the entire family spent that special day at our desks, helping our client and serving our business.

This time there was no judge to remind us of the sanctimony of marriage. But the fact that we were all together, working as one toward a shared purpose, turned out to be a perfect way to celebrate our marriage and the vows we took three decades earlier.

In successful marriages, it’s not what you do, but how you do it, that counts the most.

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