In the Leave-It-To-Beaver households of the 1950s, the husband made the money while the wife made the beds. Then came feminism and inflation, propelling the wife into the workplace. Do the traditional gender roles of the 1950s carry over to the office when the wife goes to work and, more particularly, when husband and wife work together? We studied the working relationships of three high-profile financial planning couples to test this theory, and you may be surprised at the results.

Michael And Karen Kabarec

About 30 miles northwest of Chicago in Palatine, Ill., Mike and Karen Kabarec operate Kabarec Financial Advisors Ltd. Married in 1975, the Kabarecs met and worked together in the corporate world, with which both became disillusioned. Mike left in 1981 to form the financial planning firm; Karen joined him two years later.

"Mike was sick of the corporate world, and I was ready for a change," says Karen Kabarec, who has her master's degree in microbiology. Because he is a CPA, Mike's financial planning practice included tax work, so Karen helped him during tax season. "Karen was my only employee at the time, besides a receptionist," says Mike. "She's intelligent and picked things up quickly."

But they were so busy at the time they didn't think about a long-term plan. "Neither of us thought about where it would end up," says Karen.

Now, 23 years later with four additional employees and 150 ongoing clients, Karen and Mike have settled into fixed roles in their firm after trying on a number of different hats. Says Karen, "I was going to become a planner and have my own clients. Now I have my CFP and a couple of clients, but [what we'd envisioned] is not really the way the business evolved."

Karen is now the "managing partner" at Kabarec Financial Advisors. "I realized I wasn't the best person to get on the phone and chit-chat with the clients," says Karen. Apparently, her skills are better suited to her present role, which is strategic planning, budgeting, bookkeeping, compliance, dealing with personnel problems and, most recently, planning the physical move of the firm into new office space. "At one time, Karen had a sizable client base, both tax and financial planning, but she transitioned most of the clients to me and our staff CFP," says Mike.

Mike says his role is "marketing, client relations, and golf." It might be a bit exaggerated to call him the firm's rainmaker, though, because after 23 years new clients appear at their doorstep without too much effort on Mike's part. Their clients come from NAPFA referrals, inclusions in "best-of" lists by Worth and Money magazine, and the occasional golf partner. "In the mid-80s, we got a client who was a senior Motorola exec who has since referred us about 12 high-level clients," says Mike.

In other words, the Kabarecs fit the age-old profile of a husband and wife's typical division of responsibilities. "Maybe it's a kind of evolution," says Karen, "where the woman stays home and takes care of the house which evolves to taking care of office." Says Mike, "It wasn't my dictate to her to manage the office; it was her clear choice."

Are the Kabarecs the norm, or is a different kind of evolution taking place elsewhere?

Lew And Karen Altfest

Like Karen Kabarec, Karen Altfest joined her husband, Lew, in his Manhattan-based firm several years after he opened L.J. Altfest & Company in 1982. Lew had been director of investment research at Lord Abbett & Co. "I didn't expect to become part of the firm, initially," says Karen. "I'd gotten my Ph.D. in history and was going to be a historian, but there were no jobs in the New York area when I graduated. I'd been hanging around Lew's business and meeting interesting clients, so finally I put two and two together."

Karen's job was loosely defined at first. "I just helped out, calling myself a client advocate. My job was to see that clients got everything they needed and to make sure things were getting out on time," Karen explains. This caretaker role was presumably familiar to Karen, having raised a son and a daughter since marrying Lew in the late 60s. But things changed. "I'm still a client advocate, but I do much more now," says Karen. "I enjoy clients' stories. That's what makes this business come to life for me."

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