By Suzy Frisch, Photo by Dan Marshall
Graduate students in the Carlson School of Management learn plenty about finance, marketing, and strategy. But a key subject often doesn’t get covered in class: How do you balance marriage, family, and the stress of being an entrepreneur?
Enter Carlson alumni Caryl and Larry Abdo (both B.S.B. ’69), informal advisers on that question and gracious hosts at their triennial Abdo Dinner Conversation series, where they share how they’ve stayed married for 44 years while working together most of that time. The Abdos started hosting the dinners about a decade ago at the Nicollet Island Inn in Minneapolis, which they own, because they wanted to connect with Carlson MBA students as a couple about entrepreneurship and relationships. Three times a year they treat eight couples to dinner and lively, candid conversation. Today, the dinners are so popular there usually is a waiting list.
The Abdos firmly believe in uniting family with business, giving both equal care and attention.
“We’re passionate about it, because we think it’s important to view your life as a full spectrum and not as some fragmented graph of things you do on different days,” says Larry, who met Caryl when they were juniors at the U. “It should be seamless between your relationship with your spouse, your children, and your business. That’s what these dinners are about.”
Being an entrepreneur, Larry says, presents the opportunity to put as much into a relationship as a business. “If you don’t spend as much energy and creativity and concern on the success of your relationship as you do your business, you’re really missing the best value of working for yourself,” he says.
Caryl likens the dinners to couples therapy. No matter what the couple’s situation is, common issues tend to arise, such as how to handle money, kids, time management, and communication about uncomfortable topics like one person’s reluctance to take out a $100,000 business loan. “We give them dinner and enough wine, and they talk. They share more than they thought they would, and we have some interesting conversations. It’s rewarding to give back to these kids,” Caryl says.
The Abdos have plenty of experiences to share. Over the years, they and their four adult children have started or acquired 27 brands. Today the family has 10 companies under its Abdo Market House umbrella, including the My Burger chain, Saguaro restaurant, Big Fat Bacon and the Gopher State Ice Company at the Minnesota State Fair, Paulxo Property Management Company, and real estate holdings.
The Abdos involved their children in their business endeavors from the time they were small. Paul Abdo (B.A. ’06) recalls sneaking into his mom’s car at a young age so he could accompany her to their restaurants. Before long he was doing inventory and helping customers. Paul earned a degree in English while working in real estate development at Abdo Market House, where he is a vice president. Now married with three children, ages 6, 3, and 7 months—with the older two already pitching in—Paul has learned many lessons from his parents on how to successfully integrate family and business.
“My parents have bought, sold, run, and shut down almost 30 businesses in the lifetime of their marriage, and they are still married,” Paul says. “You learn about teamwork, equity in a relationship, give and take, and everything that goes on in a personal relationship and a business relationship. The way they conduct themselves is rare to see, and it was a huge thing I’ve learned from them.”