My new business partner: My wife

partners_mccleod.top.jpgBob McLeod was regional sales VP for Lithonia Lighting. Now he works with Lisa Earle McLeod as the VP of Everything for McLeod & More.By Beth Kowitt, writer-reporter


(Fortune) -- Bob McLeod had mastered the corporate ladder at Lithonia Lighting: 23 years and eight positions after starting as a credit assistant, he was regional sales VP and says he oversaw 14 states and $300 million in revenue. But when a 2004 management shakeup meant he'd be demoted, he took a severance package.

These days the suburban Atlanta resident, 55, is a vice president again, but his business card now reads Vice President of Everything for McLeod & More -- the operation of author and motivational speaker Lisa Earle McLeod, his wife.

He handles everything from bookings to corporate pitches, and he's also her first read. "She can't spell for squat," he jokes. When Lisa gives a speech -- one of 50 a year -- McLeod is in the back of the room selling her books. "I don't have a bit of a problem with that," he says.

It isn't McLeod's first transition. Post-Lithonia, he thought he'd run his own show. "Somebody told me you never get rich working for the other guy," he says. He considered a wine franchise before he and a partner bought a commercial-sign manufacturing company for $2.4 million in 2007. They burned through their line of credit -- right as the economy tanked. "Every week was just eating me alive," he says.

Lisa, 46, came in to help with sales and marketing, and his two daughters answered phones, but the stress was intense. The couple had invested their savings, and in 2008 McLeod earned just $26,000. Finally, in early 2009, he threw in the towel, and the McLeods realized that they were sitting across from their next business partners. Now Lisa can focus on writing books like The Triangle of Truth and running training courses. The low-six-figure business should quadruple its revenue this year.

McLeod also feels personally satisfied -- no longer wondering what he's adding to a big company. "I felt like all I was doing was pushing numbers on a page," he says. He didn't get rich working for the other guy, but he seems to be doing just fine working with his wife.

Making the switch

Vary your skills. McLeod worked at the same company for 23 years, but he mastered new areas of expertise by holding nine different jobs. His years in Lithonia's financial and marketing departments have helped him run Lisa's business operations.

Stay connected. When you're working for yourself, it's easy to let go of your former network. So McLeod takes a walk every day and uses the time to call old colleagues in the hope that it will result in new business leads.

Draw a line. To set boundaries between work and family, the McLeods have a meeting every Friday afternoon, reviewing the numbers and setting priorities. The sit-down transitions the pair from work to family time. To top of page