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Drs Iroshini and Kevin Chua at their clinic.

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Drs Iroshini and Kevin Chua at their clinic.

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The Chuas on holiday in Fiji.

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Rebecca Ting and Daniel Chew, founders of Beyond The Vines.

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(Left) Yip Jie Jing and Yeo See Wee. (Right) Jie Jing fully supports See Wee’s lion dance hobby.

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The Wees designed their home together.

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Rishi Naleendra and Manuela Toniolo at their flagship restaurant Cloudstreet.

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Comedians Rishi Budhrani and Sharul Channa choose to be best friends first, then spouses.

Working Relationships

What’s it like when you’re married to your business partner? Five couples share how they thrive at both love and work.
Feb 14, 2020 5:50 AM

TAG TEAM
Iroshini Chua and Kevin Chua of Dr Kevin Chua Medical & Aesthetics

 

Aesthetic doctors Kevin and Iroshini Chua first met some 25 years ago, and have been together ever since, and they would not have it any other way.
A mutual friend had introduced them, when the Chuas were both studying at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

“She first saw me when I got on stage to perform, and I knew her as the girl from Sri Lanka,” recalls Kevin.

Like in the movies, they started hanging out all the time and soon became best friends, despite their different personalities. “Kevin is more of a homebody, whereas I liked going out,” says Iroshini.

They didn’t become a couple until a few years later, but by then, Kevin was already smitten with Iroshini. “One time, I went to fetch Iro and her friends, and the moment she stuck her head out of the car, it hit me that this lady was not just a friend,” he recalls.

Iroshini also wondered where their friendship would go after graduation. “Would we go our separate ways? I came to realise that I didn’t want to be without Kevin,” she says.

And when they did become a couple, Kevin delivered a line that struck Iroshini. “On our first official date, Kevin said, “I don’t date. I’m going into this relationship with marriage in view,” Iroshini recalls. That sent her into a panic, and after that date she immediately called her mum in Sri Lanka. “I panicked because I wasn’t even thinking about marriage. I was more concerned about graduating,” she says.

Her mum told her to go with the flow. “I did listen to my parents,” says Iroshini.

On his part, Kevin says with a laugh, “Shoot first, think later.”

The proposal happened a few years later during a visit to Dromoland Castle. He did it on the spur of the moment, and caught her so off guard that she burst into laughter. “A few seconds later, I realised Kevin was being serious. Three days later, I said yes,” she says.

The Chuas say they are not only strong partners in life but at work too. During their medical internship in Ireland, they would help each other out even though they were on different shifts. “When we did that, it meant that the other party could get some sleep. By working together, we halved the workload,” says Iroshini.

The couple are now the founders of Dr Kevin Chua Medical & Aesthetics, with a stylish clinic on Orchard Road. Iroshini explains that her name isn’t on the door because “Kevin has a bigger reputation particularly for tattoo removal,” says Iroshini, who has her own jewellery line.

At work, each person has their own set of clients. “Some patients prefer a female doctor, some prefer seeing me,” says Kevin. But they don’t hesitate to work together, often discussing what’s best for patients, or how the clinic can improve its service.

Iroshini says, “it’s important to have a good partner to work with, without having to worry about stepping on eggshells. We can be totally honest with each other, and this benefits our patients and staff.”

Outside of work, they both enjoy rock climbing, as well as travelling. They often take trips together, travelling to exotic places such as Fiji, Tanzania and Chile.

They say despite their many hours together, they much prefer it this way, rather than have to spend time apart. In fact, Kevin reveals that when Iroshini goes on holiday with her girlfriends, he’s often unable to switch off at night. “I hardly sleep when she’s not there with me,” he says.

But of course, when you see your spouse nearly 24/7, some “me time” is needed. “Kevin paints miniature soldiers, while I enjoy doing travel research,” says Iroshini.

The couple don’t have big Valentine’s Day celebrations choosing instead to mark their wedding anniversaries. “But without fail, Kevin will always get me roses and chocolates on Feb 14,” says Iroshini. – TSC


FIRST LOVE
Rebecca Ting and Daniel Chew of Beyond the Vines

“Our marriage comes first. Without our marriage, there is no business,” says husband-and-wife team Rebecca Ting and Daniel Chew of local fashion label Beyond the Vines.

They started solely as an e-commerce platform in 2015 but today, the brand has three retail stores in Singapore, as well as branches in Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines.

Even before Beyond the Vines (they both were in real estate previously), the couple has never have worked at separate jobs and can’t imagine not working with each other. And as they are both invested in a committed relationship as husband and wife, that continues into their business.

“Trust is key,” they emphasise. And, knowing that they have each other’s back through the highs and lows of the business is what really matters.

Beyond the Vines was conceptualised because they saw a gap in the market for quality designs with accessible pricing.

Rebecca came from a family of creatives and artists, and had an eye for design. Daniel naturally took care of business development. Both of them want their branding to go beyond just garments and prefer to label themselves a lifestyle brand – one that’s focused on customer relationships and experiences. That’s why the brand’s flagship store in Funan is fitted with their design studio so the designers can interact with the customers as well. Their new monthly store stocks are also produced in small batches as they are driven mostly by their customers’ feedback.

The brand’s aesthetics are largely inspired by design and architecture – and it’s evident in its asymmetrical shapes, and proportions as well as their signature colour-blocking techniques.

All their clothes are effortless yet super chic – and all priced affordably. They also prefer fabrics that are natural and more breathable so you’re assured of a flattering silhouette no matter your body type. Rebecca is quick to point out that when she designs, functionality is always top of her mind. This design philosophy is perhaps one of the reasons why Beyond the Vines continues to thrive – last November they launched their debut unisex collection as well as opened their latest boutique in Manila.

Rebecca admits that because this business is their main source of income, they work 24/7 and hardly have any quality time together. It’s therefore easy to fall prey to the all-work-and-no-play routine.

Thankfully, they are very committed to their time alone together. She says: “We’ve got to intentionally take time out of the business to invest into our marriage – date nights, holiday without the kids.” Daniel reinforces this by saying that no matter how busy their work gets, they always make sure every Tuesday night is just for them.

So, what does this power couple have planned for themselves on Valentine’s Day? The decision was a unanimous one – “Netflix and cook!” – LK


DESIGNER COUPLE
Yip Jie Jing and Yeo See Wee of Wee Studio

Cheesy as it might sound, Yip Jie Jing declares that “everyday for us is Valentine’s Day.” And if you expect that to mean that husband Yeo See Wee showers her with fancy dinners, presents or flowers daily, that’s not the case. “We work long hours and often don’t have time to have proper meals. But when we can, we do, so that already feels like Valentine’s Day,” says Jie Jing.

See Wee adds, “We do try to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but somehow, something at work will crop up and we have to change plans.”

The couple dated for a decade, and have been married three years. They are partners at Wee Studio interior design firm, which See Wee founded in 2011.

They knew of each other back in their Singapore Polytechnic days, but it was more of a “hi and bye” situation. They crossed paths again when they both worked in the same design firm.

“We worked on projects together, got along well professionally, and it was easy to discuss ideas,” says See Wee. Along the way, a romantic relationship developed. She liked him for his kindheartedness, while he liked her for being thoughtful.

Later, both left the firm, with See Wee starting his own company. Jie Jing had taken time off to attend to family matters, and when See Wee’s business started growing, he asked her for help.

See Wee says he is grateful that his wife is also his business partner. “Our trade requires us to work long hours, sometimes from 8am till midnight, coming up with design concepts, preparing client presentations and site visits. Not every spouse can understand the long hours and that may affect work and the relationship,” he says.

At work, their roles developed organically. See Wee is the one who usually meets clients and is the big picture person, while Jie Jing focuses on the details. But they both come up with design concepts, and yes, there are times when both parties do not see eye to eye.

“We are our own critics and we bounce ideas off each other. When we both disagree, we take a step back and see whose idea benefits the clients’ needs best and go with it,” says Jie Jing. “We don’t take it personally if an idea is not accepted, nor is there a competition.”

Once a concept is approved, the couple work together on it, because “two pairs of hands make the workload lighter,” says See Wee. “We are not calculative with each other, but rather we give and take.”

When it came to designing their own home, they naturally did it together. “During that period, we would sit down on the weekends to discuss what we wanted, and we could really push the envelope with our ideas, such as having a mirror on the living room ceiling,” says Jie Jing.

Their friends often ask if they are bored of each other, since they both work and live together, but Jie Jing says no. See Wee nods in agreement. “We often look for couple things to do outside of work,” says Jie Jing, such as visiting museums or attending concerts.

One is seldom without the other. For example, when See Wee goes off to train his lion dance troupe, Jie Jing waits patiently by the side for him to finish. See Wee on his part, says he gladly accompanies his wife when she goes shopping. “Even though we are together in the same office, that’s work. That’s why it is still important to spend time as a couple after work,” says Jie Jing.

And when one party is frustrated at work, the other understands and gives space. “We talk it out before bed and know that it is not personal,” says See Wee.

On their relationship, Jie Jing concludes, “since day one, we do not have expectations of each other, that’s why it has worked out well.” – TSC


RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
Rishi Naleendra and Manuela Toniolo of Cheek and Cloudstreet restaurants

Rishi Naleendra named his first restaurant in Singapore Cheek by Jowl for his wife, Manuela Toniolo. It described his relationship with the lady he has spent the last 14 years with - 10 of them as husband and wife - literally working cheek-by-jowl to build up their own restaurant business.

Cheek by Jowl would go on to win a Michelin star (even when it was renamed Cheek) and spawned an even bigger, more ambitious restaurant, Cloudstreet, which has been a roaring success from Day One.

While Rishi has largely been the ‘star’ of the duo, Manuela has never been far behind as she handles the operational as well as front of house side of the business. “It’s been our dream to have a restaurant together, and Cheek by Jowl was the first opportunity that came to us to do that,” says Rishi. “And I really wanted it to reflect our relationship and what we do together.”

The pair met in 2005 in a family-run Greek restaurant named Lindos in Melbourne, where Rishi was an aspiring chef who’d moved from his native Sri Lanka when he was 18 to study architecture but was convinced by a chef he met to study cooking instead so he could apply for permanent residency faster. He never expected to fall hard and fast in love with cooking, not to mention Manuela, who would later convince him to leave Australia to make a fresh start overseas.

They moved to Singapore, where he had his first bumpy start as chef of the now defunct Maca, but a serendipitous meeting with Unlisted Collection’s Loh Lik Peng set him on a trajectory that shows no sign of ending.

With Cloudstreet well established, Rish is set to open a new restaurant Kotuwa in April that celebrates the Sri Lankan classic cuisine
that he grew up with.

The dynamic duo have come a long way in just five years in Singapore, and even as their business grows, so too has their relationship.
“I am so proud of Rishi and it is such a nice thing to see how he has grown and progressed in his career, after all the hard work that he has put in,” says Manuela, adding that they celebrated their 10th anniversary on Jan 20.

She adds that there was never any question about them working together from the start. “We really enjoy working together,” she says. “We met each other in a restaurant and we worked there a couple of years. We knew we could work together so it wasn’t a hard decision to do it again and this time for ourselves.

“We have an understanding that when we are home we are home, and rarely talk about anything work-related.”

Being a married couple in business also has its advantages. “We both have the same goal. We want to be successful and do well. It’s really important especially in the last 5.5 years since we’ve been in Singapore. We wanted to make the most of what we’ve got and we’ve worked really hard for it.”

Of course, it doesn’t mean it’s all a bed of roses.

“Rishi does tune out my voice, so sometimes when I’m wanting to speak with him I have to repeat his name quite a number of times before he answers,” laughs Manuela. “But I love working alongside someone just as passionate about the industry as I am.”

Adds Rishi: “We always make decisions together. I’ve always gone with gut feeling when it comes to making some decisions and we’ve made a few risky ones while we’ve been together. But once we make a decision we try not to look back. There’ve been a few occasions when I went against what she thought and I failed horribly. Now I even get her to read emails before I send them out if I think it might affect someone or work.”

Being in the service industry means they can’t celebrate major holidays such as Christmas or, yes, Valentine’s Day, but they don’t mind. “We have never had the need to take a day off to celebrate anything apart from our 10th anniversary which Manuela said, ‘make sure you don’t work’,” says Rishi. “We don’t celebrate a lot. We always get things we need when we need and then say this is a gift for an occasion that could be months away.”

Despite fears over the coronavirus, Valentine’s Day bookings have been unaffected, with Cloudstreet fully booked in advance. While the couple doesn’t celebrate, one of their favourite things to do at home is a barbecue. “We have a small outdoor area and a Weber grill, so we buy a nice piece of beef or King crab legs and cook that, with a glass of wine and a movie.” says Manuela.

So what’s the best and worst part of working together?
“The best part is we get to share most of our time together. The worst is she pretty much knows everything I do,” laughs Rishi. – JE


MY FUNNY VALENTINE
Sharul Channa and Rishi Budhrani, Stand-up Comedians

There is a whiteboard in the home of standup comedians Sharul Channa and Rishi Budhrani. When Rishi does something nice for Shahrul – like buy her flowers or compliment her dress – she would add a point or two on the board. When he does something bad like lose his temper, she would subtract a point or two. When the tally hits 15, “I will have sex with him,” she says matter-of-factly.

“To put it in perspective for The Business Times readers, it’s the STI of our romance. But since only she controls the index, this country’s a dictatorship,” Rishi says.

“I’m on my period today. I will bite your head off if you annoy me.”

“I know. You fired multiple warning shots today.”

Singapore’s only married stand-up comic duo are staging a show on Valentine’s Day called The Rishi And Sharul Show2, a sequel of sorts to their sold-out show staged in 2015. There will be stand-up performances, sketches and newly-composed songs centred on their 13-year romance.

“So many people have come up to us to say: ‘If you two break up, we would lose all faith in marriage.’ Imagine that? The pressure we face from our audience to keep our marriage together?” says Sharul.

“So we thought we might as well make some money off it by staging a show about our marriage,” says Rishi.

“That’s right. There’s nothing better than counting money with your husband backstage after a show.”

The couple say the secret to long-term romance is managing your expectations of what romance is supposed to be.

“Romantic love is such a myth,” says Sharul. “It’s more important to be best friends who help each other grow as individuals within that relationship. One must accept that people change and the person one married years ago may not be that same person today.”

The couple admit they are not always in love with each other – there are times when they fall out of love. “We are like a river that sometimes diverges into separate tributaries, and then converges somewhere downstream,” says Rishi. “We’re not always attuned to each other. But we try to reconnect.”

“We’re not always in the same sentence or on the same page, but we try to be in the same chapter,” says Sharul.

The business of entertainment is tough. But it’s even tougher on a marriage because, “let’s face it, there’s a lot of cheatin’ going on in the entertainment industry,” shares Sharul.

The two are often invited to perform in other countries – but not necessarily together. Once, Rishi called her late at night and said he had to tell her something. Sharul’s instant response was: “What? Did you cheat on me?” It turned out that a well-known entertainer had tried to kiss Rishi, so he thought it’d be best to come clean with his wife and let her know nothing happened.

Sharul says: “A lot of married couples feel a need to put up a front and make people think their marriages are great. But we don’t want to do that.”

Stand-up comedians make their living out of telling the absolute truths about their lives – however embarrassing or humiliating they might be. So Sharul and Rishi have no filters when it comes to discussing theirs.

“We sometimes wonder, will this last forever? I mean, we love each other. But anything can happen tomorrow, or the year after,” says Sharul. “Maybe I’ll run off with a rich man who’ll give me a life of stability.”

“And maybe I’ll find a nice woman who’ll make me perfectly-round chapatis and pop out a few kids,” says Rishi.

“If that happens, will you invite me to dinner to try her chapatis?”

“Absolutely, I’ll make sure the kids call you ‘Auntie’.”

The couple look at each other and start laughing affectionately – suggesting that, at least, on this Valentine’s Day, their love is rock-solid. – HY

The Rishi and Sharul Show 2 runs at Capitol Theatre on Feb 14. Tickets from Sistic.