Brandy and Stephen Lewis are partners in life and work. Here's how they keep a happy balance.
Stephen Lewis, approaching 40 when he got divorced, didn't think he had many options for finding love. He wasn't into the bar scene or online dating. “I have enough insecurities in daily life, so I didn't think I needed to add in another element of fear and rejection via Match.com or eHarmony,” he says.
Brandy Gray, CMP, director of meeting services at a medical education company in Atlanta, was doing a lot of business travel and felt she wanted to slow down and improve her quality of life. She went on a ski trip to Colorado and decided the Rocky Mountain state was the answer for her. She didn't know anybody there, she just packed up her stuff and moved — but she did find a job first, as director of Medical Education Collaborative, in Golden, where Stephen served as president.
That was in 2004. On April 20, 2007, they were married. Soon after, they left MEC, taking positions at different companies. But they missed working together and jumped at the opportunity to reunite at the Global Education Group in Littleton, Colo., where Stephen now serves as president, and Brandy is vice president. They even earned their Certified CME Professional (CCMEP) credentials together this July, along with other members of the first graduating class.
We asked them why they enjoy working together and how they balance partnerships at the office and home — and we found out how this CME love story almost didn't happen.
Kick in the Butt
Stephen: It almost wasn't meant to be because I was traveling a lot for MEC and, unfortunately, I kept sort of blowing off my interview [with Brandy]. I think you were a little frustrated.
Brandy: I was ready to give up on it altogether, so finally I sent him an e-mail that said: “It sounds like this isn't a good fit. We may have different corporate values. Thanks for your time!” That got his attention. It's kind of indicative of how we communicate. I'm the one who's a little more focused and Stephen's the one coming up with all these great ideas.
Stephen: She's my kick in the butt.
Brandy: The first year it was just a traditional manager/employee relationship. Stephen actually was ending a divorce and I was in a relationship.
Stephen: Colleagues kept saying that we made a great team, but I guess I was a little slow to put two and two together. I didn't ask her out for about six months — it took me that long to realize that a great work team also could be more. That was my “V8 moment.”
Brandy: We very quickly got our board of directors involved, which actually worked out nicely because two of our board members had been married at a former organization. They recommended that Stephen not make any of the decisions related to my salary and annual review. I had to accept his business and strategy decisions on a day-to-day [basis], but when it came to my annual review or my pay increase, that was [handled] by my board of directors.
Stephen: Operationally, things didn't change a lot, but it took the pressure off of both of us because everybody else knew — [regardless of] whether I was supportive of Brandy's decisions or I had changes to them — that her salary or any promotion opportunities [would not be affected].
Brandy: The other piece of advice they gave us was to let people know. We got the staff together and [told them]. We had 13 folks on the staff and all of them were very supportive.
MM: What is it that you like about working together at the same company?
Stephen: I'm very open with my thoughts, arguing for what I believe is right. I come at things from more of a regulatory background, and Brandy comes at things from more of an operational, kind of Six Sigma, standpoint. I might come up with ideas and bounce them out, and Brandy can say, “Here's how to effectively deploy that. Here are the glitches in that idea.”
Brandy: Stephen thinks about things, he makes decisions quickly. Being from an operations background, it's very hard for me when I have a manager who wants to sit and take three months to make a decision that I think you should be able to make in three days.
MM: What are the challenges of working together?
Brandy: I'll answer this one because I think I feel it more than he does. [Stephen laughs.] The biggest challenge is that even though you're husband and wife, there has to be a “boss” at the end of the day. If I have gone to bat with ideas and been told by my manager, no, we're not doing that, I go home kind of upset with my manager; but the next day I feel fine. But when you go home to your husband, you don't have that buffer, and that's probably the hardest [part]. Because he's my husband I think I should be able to persuade him, as I would in the home environment, to respond to what I want.
MM: In that situation, is there somebody you talk to?
Brandy: Usually I've gotten buy-in from some of the other staff. I'll vent with them, respectfully, as I would in any situation: “We're not doing it, and here's why I feel frustrated. But let's think of how we can get around that.” Before I go home at the end of the day, I try to feel better about it by coming up with another idea, or perhaps coming up with an [alternate] plan if [his plan] doesn't work. I do still try to use other people besides Stephen as a sounding board — friends and family. It is important to have other outlets so that when you go home at night after a tough day, you can just keep it personal and not talk about business anymore.
MM: What about you, Stephen, what are the challenges?
Stephen: If Brandy really wants to get her point across, she'll probably push that point a little bit further than another employee. It's frustrating sometimes, but it also pushes me to think more. I would never want to make an arbitrary decision — but there's no way at all that I'm going to get away with that with my wife. At the end of the day, we are here to work, and that's the hat we are wearing. We not only owe it to each other to keep that top of mind, but we owe it to the people around us. You hear about places where husbands and wives will either get into a tiff or bring emotional baggage into work. We never want to do that.
MM: Are there big CME issues that you disagree about?
Stephen: The short answer is yes. We disagree every week.
Brandy: I'm the black-and-white thinker. Stephen is not.
Stephen: Brandy will read the Standards for Commercial Support and say, “No, it means this.” I'll say, “But they aren't clear here. This is what I think the intent is.”
Brandy: I probably look at [issues] a little too conservatively and Stephen looks at them a little too liberally, but that's one of the benefits. [Otherwise our decisions would] probably go too far in one direction or the other. But because we do both have such different beliefs about some of these things, we come together nicely when we make a decision.
MM: How do you give yourselves time out from your professional lives?
Brandy: We couldn't seem to find the right balance between work and everything else until we really separated the two. We used to joke around and share pretty much every idea that came to mind during work or at home. We both know that at any point in the conversation after hours we can say, “I don't want to talk about work anymore,” and we table it until the next morning. That's really important because sometimes there's a lot going on in the CME field; you are really excited and you want to talk about it over dinner. One person may want to talk, the other may not, and you have to respect that it should stop at some point, and we should just focus on our home life.
Stephen: We keep an eye out for that glazed look. If I'm talking and I notice that Brandy isn't giving me feedback verbally, and it's a little silent — or she's talking and excited about a topic, and I'm sitting there listening but not really responding much — at some point you say, “We've had enough.”
MM: What happens if you have a personal argument and then have to work together?
Stephen: We both hate arguing. We're both kind of natural fixers. A friend of ours told us this story about his grandparents. They had a pair of boxing gloves they kept in a night stand next to their bed and when they were ticked off, one of them would pull out the boxing gloves and set them on the bed. They said, we're never going to go to bed upset with each other, we're going to box this out. Even though [Brandy and I] don't have boxing gloves, if we're frustrated at the end of the day, before we jump into bed one of us will say, “I'm pulling out the boxing gloves.” Before we go to sleep we'll work through it, and even if we don't have the perfect solution, at least we know we're not going to bed angry with each other.
MM: Are there particular activities that you like to do together to relax?
Stephen: We're both runners. Brandy's been trying to teach me tennis. Brandy has implemented this idea in the last few months. We got married in Mexico on the Pacific coast, and then we did our honeymoon on the Caribbean coast. We really love Mexico — that laid-back environment. Probably once a month during the summer, on a weekend day, instead of cutting the grass or working, Brandy will say, “It's Mexico Day.” We go to our back patio, put on music that reminds us of being in Mexico, break out margaritas, and pretend that we're in Mexico.
MM: What advice would you give other couples working together in CME?
Brandy: Keep your team cohesive, and keep the lines of communication open. It's very important that staff feel included. We don't want them to feel that if they are really unhappy with me or really unhappy with Stephen, there's no one they can talk to.
MM: Any additional thoughts?
Stephen: Before we came into CME, we had jobs. Then we found what we feel is a career for the rest of our lives — and then we found each other for the rest of our lives. It's our love for CME that brought us together. And we're in it for the long haul.
MM: On both counts?
Stephen: That's right. On both counts.
Sidebar: CME Power Couple
Brandy G. Lewis, CMP, CCMEP, vice president, Global Education Group, Littleton, Colo., has eight years' experience in medical education and meeting management. She's an active participant in the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association and the Alliance for CME, and has delivered presentations at CME industry conferences on guidelines, regulatory issues, and best practices.
Stephen M. Lewis, CCMEP, president, Global Education Group, Littleton, Colo.; and president-elect of the North American Association of Medical Education and Communications Companies, has 18 years' experience in the medical education field. Prior to joining the CME profession, he served as a lobbyist and U.S. Senate press secretary.
Sidebar: Chores and Children
When Brandy and Stephen Lewis first got married, dividing household chores along traditional lines seemed like the best fit for both of them. Stephen enjoys working with his hands, and has experience in construction work and auto mechanics, so they agreed that he would take on home and auto repair. Brandy is a baker and chef, so they decided she would take charge of meals, laundry, and cleaning.
That traditional arrangement lasted about a week, says Stephen. “Brandy will catch me cleaning the kitchen or scrubbing toilets on a Sunday afternoon, and I'll look out the window to find her mowing the lawn or painting the trim on the house.”
Although responsibility for many chores usually still falls along traditional lines, “the two of us don't think twice about tackling a project usually handled by the other,” says Brandy. “We really trust each other's work ethic, so whoever identifies the task just starts working on it.”
Adding to their chore list are Stephen's three daughters, Collene, 17; Kate, 15; and B, 14. The girls live with Stephen and Brandy half of the time and with their mother the other half. “We get the girls 50 percent of the time, but they create about 90 percent of the laundry and cleanup needs,” jokes Stephen. “They are so busy with school, sports, and friends that it's hard to track them down to check on their chores. As long as they keep bringing home good grades and attitudes, we let some of their chores slide on to us.”