Being married to someone who is part of a family business is not always easy. The fact is that family business members bring their problems and worries home and tend to try and find solace in their partners when things get complicated. Being at the receiving end of this relationship can be a daunting task for two main reasons: There is often very little the significant other can do to mitigate the situation inside the family business, and secondly, many family firms omit to provide a clear definition of the role of spouses in the business.

The Alfagres Group has been manufacturing wall and floor coverings for over 52 years. Their product range includes ceramic tiles, quarry tiles, carpet, terrazzo tiles, cement pavers, paint, marble tiles and slabs. The family commercializes its products in Colombia, South, Central and North America, the Caribbean and Asia. The family also has real estate investments in a Free trade Zone on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

Ana Maria Matallana is the wife of Carlos Alberto Boggio Bertinet, shareholder and second generation member of the Alfagres Group. She holds a Management degree and started working with her husband’s family business part time in 2009 and is a board member for “Zona Franca la Cayena,” a Free trade Zone in the coast of Colombia. She is moreover involved in the non-profit foundation, Fundacion la Cayena, which helps the community around the Free Trade Zone to improve children’s education and providing a special program to give stay-at-home mothers a sustainable work alternative at home.

Her main role is to be her husband’s significant other and mother to their three sons, the third generation in line to take over the family business when they grow up. Ana Maria gives a candid insight into what it was like for her to become part of her husband’s family business, how she started to understand the implications it had on her own little family, and how family businesses can leverage on the commitment of the significant others.

How it all started…

When I got married, I was 23 years old and I had just graduated from university. We were living in Italy and my husband was not working for the family business yet. He was a strategic consultant in Milan, and I got my first job offer at a consulting company in Turin. When I got married, I did not understand that I was also entering into the complexities that come with being part of a business-owning family.

As my husband became involved with the family business, I also was affected on a daily basis, by both work problems, and issues with other family members. Even though I was always there to listen to him, I felt my views were not really taken into consideration. My husband is part of the second generation of his family business; he is the youngest and only male. Although his two sisters work for the business as well, his father and family have high expectations of him. This adds to the pressure that was already there. Because I am very close to my husband, it was very hard to help him make wise decisions while I felt uncomfortable with the business, and saw it as a source of problems for my immediate family and me.

The family business…

My father in law is not active in the business anymore due to health issues. The family members are all shareholders but the CEO is a non-family member. In 2006, the second generation, my husband and his two sisters, started working on the family protocol.

Understanding my role within the complex dynamics between the family and the business was probably my biggest difficulty. In many of their discussions, I felt like a stranger. However, I also realised that without spouses the family would not grow and eventually disappear; therefore, the role of the significant other should be an important one. I strongly questioned what part I was to play in this complex environment. I understood I had to keep a positive view, since my attitude would influence both my husband and his family. Moreover, I have a crucial influence on educating my three children, which will become the future owners of the business and possibly its leaders. If I had retained negative feelings about the business and the family, it is probable that I would have transmitted these subconsciously to my children, creating problems for them and their relationship with the rest of the family in the future.