Get professional help: Moxley Carmichael

Clients of this PR and marketing firm get two experts for the price of one.

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When Cynthia Moxley invited her husband, Alan Carmichael, to join her public relations and marketing firm in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1998, the couple proceeded with caution. Juggling 15 contract clients, Moxley needed a partner to help her with a growing business- even though she had run Moxley Communications alone for six years and enjoyed her independence.

Carmichael wasn't so sure about teaming up either. "A lot of people said I could never work with my spouse," he says.

And so they did what many modern couples do when they hit a bump in the road. They called a therapist - specifically, Dianne Lemieux, a friend and clinical psychologist who agreed to meet with them for two one-hour sessions.

They learned that they had very different styles. He was accustomed to a militaristic, hierarchical approach; she had a more collaborative, horizontal one. Lemieux insisted that for the venture to work, someone needed to adapt.

So Carmichael tried working her way. Before a month was up, he told Moxley, "I like it better." To be sure the peace would last, though, they waited a year before adding his name to the company stationery.

Clients liked the arrangement, too.

"I got two for the price of one," says Susan Brown, a former client who worked with Moxley Carmichael when she was vice president of Rural/Metro Corp (RURL). "They're not clones. They bring different expertise."

Since Carmichael joined Moxley Communications, which now does business as Moxley Carmichael, the firm's client list has doubled and revenues have soared by 86 percent. A former communications executive at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVC), Carmichael used his management experience to foster more productivity among the company's staff of 16.

Business partners for almost 10 years, the two now share the title of co-president. But "Cynthia is the founder," he points out. She gets the corner office with a view of the Tennessee River. "I was here first," she pipes up amiably.

Mixing the personal with the professional doesn't worry them, perhaps because they like their work so much. (Both career-minded, they decided not to have kids.) Work comes up in conversation all the time, including at dinner.

"We only stop if someone gets fed up," she says.

"And it's usually Cynthia," he adds. "We have our moments of disagreements, but we always know when to say, 'Let's just go watch Desperate Housewives and revisit this later.'"

At home they split the chores. He does the laundry, vacuuming, and yard work. She handles everything in the kitchen: "Cynthia's an excellent cook, and I'm better off staying away," he says.

About the only time they are apart (and have the chance to vent about work to other people) is during her annual January-weekend getaway with girlfriends and his weekly golf games. She joined him on those outings at first but finally quit. Carmichael explains, "She doesn't want to do anything unless she can be really good at it" - which is probably why their unlimited partnership works so well. -Linda Lee

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