Valdosta Daily Times

Business

September 22, 2013

The couple that works together

-- — MaryAnn and Jeff Godwin have been working together for going on 30 years. It's easy for them to keep track of it because that's how long they've been married to each other.

It was 1984 when they got married and Jeff started working for MaryAnn's father, Horace Stephenson, Sr. Stephenson and his wife, LaVerne, had been running Horace Stephenson Jewelry for years. Mary-Ann had grown up around it and was already designing jewelry pieces. For Jeff, he threw himself into it, learning repair and design, even making custom pieces.

MaryAnn still has the first piece he made, a string of small pearls that lead to the centerpiece of a small diamond, with a larger jewel hanging down.

After a couple of years, Jeff and MaryAnn opened up their own place at the old Brookwood Plaza: MJ Jewelers.

They spent over a decade there, working together every day, building up a reputation, honing their repair and design work.

“There's not much in jewelry repair we can't do,” said Jeff.

In the late ‘90s, as competition in the local jewelry business started to become more fierce, Jeff looked around and realized no one in the area specialized in Harley-Davidson motorcycle repairs.

“When he told me that he wanted to do it, I thought he had lost his mind,” laughed MaryAnn. “But we're so close, I trusted him.”

In 2000, Jeff went to Harley School in Orlando, Fla., opening up his shop, American V-Twin, in Valdosta in 2002. And Mary-Ann was right there with him.

They found themselves in reversed roles, with Mary-Ann having to learn everything from scratch just as Jeff had done years ago. She threw herself into it as well and now, she's as familiar with everything as Jeff.

They never really gave up on jewelry work completely. Some of their old customers still come into American V-Twin, dropping off jewelry for repairs. They keep up a fair share of custom work, designing and creating rings, necklaces, and other pieces of jewelry.

“I like repair work,” said Jeff. “I like to see somebody smile as they walk out the door.”

After nearly three decades of working together, you might think they'd be ready for a change, but nothing could be further from the truth.

“I wouldn't want to work with anyone else but her,” said Jeff. “We don't want to be apart.”

“He's my soul-mate,” said MaryAnn. “You can work through most things if you love the person you're with...We try not to take each other too seriously, and if we have a problem, we don't let it brood. We talk it out.”

“Oh, if I get on her nerves, she’ll tell me,” laughs Jeff. “Communication is the biggest thing. We love each other so much, we can tell each other what we're thinking and we don't take it the wrong way...And we don't take each other for granted.”

Their relationship is also strengthened by their faith. Before they open up the shop every morning, they pray together. When they find themselves stuck on a repair job, they do the same.

Now, they're ready to come full circle, reopening their jewelry business in the back of American

V-Twin.

“I feel like God's leading us down that path,” said Jeff. “People have been coming in out of the blue, asking me to repair jewelry, saying they miss me. We're ready to go full-blast with it.”

It's almost like nothing's changed and, in a lot of ways, things haven't. They work together every day, both in work and in marriage, praying together, working through whatever comes up.

“We are blessed,” said MaryAnn. “God has watched over us.”

MaryAnn and Jeff started out working together, but for Clinton and Jeana Beeland, who have been working together for 17 years at CJB Industries, it was a gradual process.

Clinton had been working for Griffin when he decided to try getting into business for himself. The couple had a three-year old daughter and a newborn son at the time and Clinton's job had him on the road for two weeks out of every month. When that started to shift into him being on the road four weeks out of every month, Clinton started looking for a change.

“We had the opportunity to look into doing something different and we took it,” said Clinton.

Jeana, who was working in management at the local Levi-Strauss factory, decided to stay on there while Clinton tried something new. But this was in 1997, when Levi-Strauss was in the process of moving their manufacturing overseas. Jeana could see the writing on the wall and in October, after CJB had been running for six months, she left Levi to come to work with her husband.

“I started off part-time,” said Jeana. “It gave me time to work and also be a mom.”

Gradually, as the business grew and the kids got older and started school, Jeana got more and more involved, moving into full-time in 2001. By this point, CJB had grown from six employees to 30.

Family is just as important to the Beelands as their business is and, as the kids grew, they found themselves balancing each other out. Jeana would get to work earlier while Clinton got the kids ready and took them to school. In the afternoon, Jeana would leave to pick up the kids while Clinton would work later into the

early evening.

“We both had flexibility,” said Clinton. “As the business grew, it really became about communication.”

In the early years they would occasionally find themselves stepping on each other’s toes, but as the business grew, they each learned to divide responsibilities between themselves. It's something they recommend to any business partners, especially to partners who are married.

“We have very complementary skills and talents...You each have to agree about what the goals are and what lifestyle you're looking for.”

They also had to learn to carve out a little time to not talk about work, something that can be difficult when you're both steeped in the company.

Like the Beelands, Ron and Tammy Borders are a couple who started working working together after years of working separate jobs.

It started when Tammy was working as Director for United Hospice, as well as working as a nurse. United Hospice was looking for a building to rent and Ron, a real estate agent, helped them find one.

He also found Tammy and, after a year of dating, they were wed.

Ron kept building his real estate business and Tammy stayed in nursing, eventually shifting over to teaching classes at Valdosta Tech.

She started getting into real estate when Ron was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives.

“I loved my job,” said Tammy. “It never crossed my mind to do anything besides nursing...Now I can't imagine doing anything else. It's been a rewarding career.”

Starting in February on 1999, Tammy took to it quickly.

“Her personality is a lot more outgoing than mine,” said Ron. “I'm somewhat introverted...but she has a more engaging personality than I do. She's more of a people person.”

It's something she brought over from her career in nursing, along with referring to customers as patients and to her files as charts.

“She's uniquely suited to be a nurse, a realtor or anything that involves helping people solve a problem. She gets a lot of satisfaction out of it.”

“We are truly polar opposites,” said Tammy. “He bases all of his decisions on logic and reasoning. Mine is more on feelings, more emotion. We balance each other out really well...I think that's the way God intended it to be.”

Fittingly, Tammy works more on the residential side of the business, while Ron focuses more on the commercial and management side.

“There are days we don't see much of each other, then there are days we're together almost all day,” said Ron.

While they're focused on different areas, their offices are located next to each other and they eat lunch together most days. Tammy likes getting in a little earlier, while Ron is more 9-to-5.

Both are owners of the company, along with a third partner.

“I would say she's the backbone of the business...the glue that holds the company together. The growth of the company is attributable mostly to her.”

They're polar opposites in a lot of ways, but they share a lot of mutual interests. They're both avid readers and love to exercise. They both have a creative streak, with Tammy making custom jewelry and Ron making custom light fixtures.

“It keeps us together, and we both know who the boss is,” smiled Ron. “That's her.”

They've also managed to raise a family, juggling it along with work.

And while Tammy admits that her cell phone is rarely off, they have a standing Friday night date. They usually go to the movies, turn everything off, and just sit in the dark, together, watching a movie.

“It's pretty easy to get along if you don't have much in the way of conflict. I support her in what she does and she supports me in what I do.”

“He truly is my best friend.” said Tammy.

And after 15 years of working together, they have a little advice for other couples.

“Find common interests,” said Ron. “Try not to be critical of each other. People are going to be who they're going to be.”

Try not to be critical of each other. Communicate. Divide responsibilities. Agree about goals and the lifestyle you're trying to create. Make time for each other. Don't take each other for granted. If you have a problem, don't let it brood. Don't take each other too seriously.

It's good advice for any business partners.

Even more so if you're married.

Folow VDT Business on Twitter @VDTBusiness.

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