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Spouses Take Vow to Share Job--Till Work Do Them Part

March 17, 1993|JERRY HOLDERMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For two people who exude such an air of independence and quiet confidence, Betsy and Jerry Jones certainly seem to enjoy their time together.

They commute to and from work together. They eat lunch together. They shop together. They travel together--on business and for pleasure. They even work together. Not only do they work for the same company, but they share an office--and even share a job.

It's a degree of togetherness that would strain or even sink many relationships. But for the Joneses, who work as account executives with Exhibitree Three Dimensional Advertising in Irvine, the unique working partnership has proved not only to be good for business, but good for their marriage as well.

"I've had buddies ask me, 'How do you do it?' " says Jerry, 47, who has worked with his wife for nearly 10 of the 11 1/2 years they've been married. "One friend told me, 'If I spent as much time with my wife as you do with Betsy, I'd be in prison for murder.' And he probably would be. I don't know many couples who could do what we do. But for us, it works."

What helps, says Betsy, 38, is the fact they share a passion for the high-pressure business that brought them together.

"We both thrive on the creativity and intensity of the exhibit business," Betsy says. "You've got a deadline, and you've got to meet it. There's no such thing as a good excuse. Clients invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a three-day trade show. If their booth isn't ready when the doors open, their reputation is down the tubes and so is ours."

Adds Jerry: "You can tell your husband or wife about your day, but they're never going to fully understand what it all means. They can't because they're only sharing part of your world. But when Betsy and I close a big deal, we share the rush. When we go to a major trade show and we complete a 50- by 110-foot exhibit hours before the doors open, we both feel the adrenaline pump."

*

When Betsy met Jerry in the mid-'70s, she was working in the public relations and marketing department for Varco International. Back then, their relationship was strictly business. But several years later, after both divorced and Betsy returned to Orange County after a brief stay in the East, their paths crossed.

"I was working for Smith International, and part of my job was buying our exhibit displays for trade shows," Betsy says. "It just happened that Smith was one of Jerry's clients, so we started working together again."

In late 1980, they began dating. Jerry, who assumed that Betsy's boss would consider their relationship a conflict of interest, took him to lunch and announced he was resigning the account.

"At that time she was spending about $100,000 a year with my company," Jerry recalls. "It seemed to me that even the appearance of a conflict of interest could be damaging to both of us, so I thought that what I was doing was the only solution."

But much to Jones' surprise, Betsy's boss saw their relationship as an asset rather than a liability.

"He just smiled and said, 'You're going to bust your butt making her look good, aren't you?' He was totally supportive. He told me he'd be checking my bids occasionally to make sure they were competitive, but he wished us nothing but the best. He knew that our personal relationship would only strengthen our business relationship."

Within a year, they were married. Their client/supplier relationship continued, but when the recession hit the oil industry, Betsy was laid off.

"I looked for a job for three or four months and would go to Jerry's office to use the computer and the copier," she says. "I started helping him out a little here and there. I found that I liked this end of the business even better, because no two days were ever the same. In the morning you're meeting with someone who makes heart valves. In the afternoon, you might be talking with a client about fighter jets."

The longer Betsy spent at Jerry's office, the less inclined she was to look for a job elsewhere.

"There came a point where we sort of looked at each other and said, 'Gee, this is working, isn't it?' " Betsy recalls. "Together, we were producing greater results than either of us were on our own. But even then, we were conscious of the potential for problems. We agreed up front that if it didn't work out, I'd be the one to leave the business."

*

Jerry says the reaction of his clients and employees to having "the boss' wife" so directly involved in the business was initially guarded.

"When we'd go into a new client presentation and introduce ourselves, they'd inevitably ask whether we were married," he says. "When we said yes, you could tell from their expressions that they had concerns. But once we explained how we worked together and how they would be getting a team that blends the best of both people, they were much more comfortable."

When the Joneses sold their $26 million business in 1991, they were weighing their options when they received a call from longtime competitor John Schumacher, president of Exhibitree.

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