Live, Laugh & Work

Ever wondered if it is possible to reach the pinnacle of professional success and still maintain a healthy relationship? While some couples might buckle from the pressure of striving for that elusive work-life balance, Julia and Guy Hands have clearly found the winning formula for a prosperous partnership beyond the boardroom.

Julia’s role as CEO of Hand Picked Hotels, following a career as a City lawyer, is matched by Guy’s enviable reputation within the world of global finance as Founder of Terra Firma. Together, they talked to Hand Picked magazine about why Guy will never enter politics, Julia’s inspirational support and the importance of four-hour date nights.

Where and when did you meet, and who chased who?

Guy: We met at a Sixth Form New Year’s Eve party.

Julia: Guy did all the chasing.

Have your careers changed paths since or because you met, or has it always been ‘business as usual’?

Julia: For two kids from modest beginnings, we have both challenged each other to achieve more than we individually thought was possible.

Guy: Julia made huge career sacrifices in raising our wonderful children, and then changed course from her legal career to taking on the CEO role at Hand Picked Hotels. While my career trajectory seems like it was a natural progression, in reality, Julia influenced it enormously.

Julia: I married Guy on the condition he never went into politics. In return, I supported him fully in the City. When, at times, he wanted to quit and do something far more low-key, I always made it clear it was his choice, subject to no politics.

Guy: Julia’s input and advice have always affected all my major decisions.

What about finding time as a couple? How do you make time for each other, and what do you do to relax and switch off?

Julia: We make sure we allocate time for each other in our diaries at least a few weeks in advance and carve out regular time for Friday night dinners and morning walks at the weekend.

Guy: Julia can switch off by listening to Radio 4 or watching TV. I, however, find switching off impossible. It is something that I am working on.

How do you support each other’s careers?

Guy: Julia provides me with constant feedback on how I can incrementally improve and is my sounding board.

Julia: I am more involved in keeping things running on the home and family front, as well as managing my role at Hand Picked so that Guy can focus on his portfolio of businesses with as few distractions as possible.

Guy: I only provide Julia with advice when I radically disagree with the direction that she is taking the business in. I must say, at that point, I’m far less gentle than Julia in my comments.

There is a lot of talk about finding the perfect worklife balance. Do you think it’s possible?

Julia: I think this depends on one’s personality type and how one is wired. Many people strive to find the elusive ‘perfect’ work-life balance, but in reality, it is almost impossible to achieve.

Guy: For me, it will never be possible, though I continue to make changes to try and get a little bit closer to it.

What advice would you give to young couples embarking on their professional paths who want to maintain their relationship?

Guy: Make sure you carve out time for one another and be very strict about having ‘couples time’ at least once a week minimum.

Julia: Schedule at least one four-hour date night per week with absolutely no distractions, including phones or iPads.

Your individual success is evident but do you have any professional achievements you would still like to realise together?

Julia: We have the shared goal of making Hand Picked Hotels the leading country house hotel collection in the UK and Channel Islands with a portfolio of destination country house restaurants

What about things you would like to do together? For example, are there any places you would like to visit or hobbies you would like to master?

Guy: We have been lucky enough to see a lot of the world, but there are still many places we would like to travel to and many adventures we would like to go on together.

Julia: We both share a love of photography and would like to do more classes and travel related to that together.

Managing so many businesses and a home and family is tough for most people. What is the hardest part of working/living together, and what are the benefits?

Guy: The benefit of working and living together is that we can work longer hours and achieve more business-wise. However, that is clearly also a negative because it erodes the boundaries between work and home life.

Julia: That is why we have to be careful to schedule date nights with no distractions and no ‘work chat’.

Tell us one thing that Guy can’t do that you can, Julia, and one thing Julia can’t do that you can, Guy.

Julia: Guy cannot remember colours or shapes or visualise what a room will look like once it is built, decorated and furnished.

Guy: Julia cannot do statistical analysis in her head or ‘feel the numbers’, while I can both do the statistical analysis and get huge pleasure out of it.

Quick-fire Round

What is your signature dish?

Guy: Duck à l’Orange
Julia: Sunday Roast

What is Guy/Julia’s strangest habit?

We both enjoy cold, leftover Chinese takeaway for breakfast

What are your secret talents?

Guy: Photography
Julia: Karaoke

Comfy chair of your own or comfy sofa together?

Guy: Comfy sofa together
Julia: Comfy sofa on my own

Paperback or Kindle?

Guy: Neither
Julia: Both

Most memorable time together?

Going to Antarctica with all the children and marvelling at the wild life and incredibly beautiful snowscapes

Who wins the most arguments?

All arguments are won by Julia

Who makes the coffee in the morning?