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Married Partners Find Dividing Helps Them Conquer Challenges

September 20, 2000|CYNDIA ZWAHLEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Humor is the lifeblood of their company, comedy label Uproar Entertainment Inc., but David and Sheryl Drozen have discovered that running a family business, especially from home, is no laughing matter.

Over the years, the Westlake Village couple have worked out their own solutions for coping with the inevitable stresses that come from living and working together under the same roof.

Job responsibilities are sharply divided: David handles the marketing and the artist side, including overseeing recordings of live acts and editing the material. Sheryl, who has an MBA, takes care of business matters. The two often keep different office hours. And every Thursday night is date night.

The Drozens have hit on several of the keys to successfully working with a spouse who is also a business partner, said Ed Cox, a family therapist and partner in Doud/Hausner & Associates, a family business consulting firm in Glendale.

"It's important that you have territories where you are the expert and that you have priority in those areas," Cox said. Otherwise, couples tend to compete for the same roles and second-guess each other's decisions.

He also counsels families in business together to set up regular family time away from the company. That time can serve two purposes. It can be a fun time out for family members. And the anticipation can help them get through tough times during the week.

"If they don't know that release is coming, it can escalate conflicts during the week," said Cox, who is also president emeritus and a faculty member at Phillips Graduate Institute, an Encino organization that trains family therapists.

Their weekly night out is needed downtime away from the business and the "mommy/daddy pressure," said Sheryl, who also takes care of their 8-year-old daughter. Date night, which started out as a night to visit comedy clubs to look for new talent, has become just a social event, although business is often the topic of conversation, she said.

"We talk about business a lot. Fortunately right now, talking about it is OK because it's doing well."

*

That hasn't always been the case for the Drozens.

An earlier business, Optimism Inc., a jazz record label the couple started in the mid-1980s as newlyweds, eventually filed for bankruptcy. David largely blamed a retail sales slump in 1991, around the time of the Persian Gulf War. Stores were sending back so many unsold CDs that the company's cash flow was hammered, he said. The company also was weathering a legal dispute with one of its artists.

David, ever entrepreneurial, tried to generate more cash to keep the label operating by setting up a small mail-order business on the side to sell his collection of used sports memorabilia. And the couple moved their office into their home. But by 1993, Optimism was out of business.

"We toughed it out for as long as we could," David said.

He returned to his roots two years later when the couple founded Uproar Entertainment.

David had owned another comedy label--Laff Records--with his father, Louis, who founded it in the 1960s. The label produced five Grammy-nominated comedy albums by Richard Pryor, one of which won the award in 1981.

After 15 years, David left Laff Records in what he said was a disagreement over the direction of the company. He wanted to move the comedy label into music, particularly contemporary jazz. His father, who has since died, did not.

*

Today, after a setback when an equity partner left the venture early on and filed a lawsuit, which the Drozens say they settled for a small sum, the business side of their life appears to be running more smoothly.

The company's 50-title catalog includes CD and cassette recordings of award-winning new comics John Pinette, Richard Jeni and Margaret Cho, as well as Pryor, Redd Foxx, George Carlin, George Burns and Groucho Marx. And the business has recently entered new markets.

In addition to helping him spot hot new comics, a fine-tuned funny bone has helped him overcome some of the tough times in his string of family businesses.

"I try to not lose my sense of humor two days in a row," he said.

He also works on keeping things in perspective. If business stresses build up, "We say, 'You know what? Let's go to a movie.' "

The ability to shift from work to the personal mode is an important skill for families in business together, Cox said.

"We think of that as maintaining balance in your life," he said. "The balance being between the business focus you have to do to survive and the family focus you have to do for your relationship to survive."

Maintaining that balance is sometimes more difficult for Sheryl, she said. She thinks more about how to maintain a boundary between work and the family life on the other side of the office door. At times, she's wondered whether David should take an outside office.

"Sometimes I'll be in the kitchen and he'll come in with a contract to look at and I'll have to say, 'My head isn't in that space right now,' " Sheryl said.

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