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How to Work with Your (Romantic) Partner: Dr. Amina Gilyard James and Norland James, Dukes Ventures

The pandemic caused many of us to pause and reboot, and question everything we’re doing from how we work to who we work with. Do you have a fantasy of working with your life partner? Maybe you already do (hello, email us!)? This is the third in hertelier’s series on couples that work together: how they do it, their tips and tricks to keep both relationships running smoothly.


Dr. Amina Gilyard James, and her husband, Norland James

Meet Dr. Amina Gilyard James, and her husband, Norland James, the newest owners of the Quality Inn hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. With the help of a cohort of first-time African American hotel investors, the two were able to acquire the 70-room property located in the Raleigh neighborhood for $3.85 million.


Amina and Norland, are not new to the hotel biz. Between 2019 and 2021, the couple invested in two Hilton-branded hotels as passive investors, with the goal of owning their own hotel, and ultimately a portfolio of midscale hotel properties in secondary markets in the Southern and Midwest regions of the U.S. Love their ambition! We chatted with Amina and Norland about building a business with your life partner.


How did you meet and how long have you been married?


We met on a blind date, set up by friends and we’ve been married for 6 years and 5 months.

How long have you been working together?


We’ve been working together since 2019.


Dr. Amina Gilyard James, and her husband, Norland James
Amina and Norland on their wedding day in 2016

You’ve been married for 6.5 years, what made you decide to go into business together 4 years ago {in 2019}?


Well, we always wanted to do business together but Norland was stationed overseas for our first 2 years of marriage and I stayed in the U.S. Once he came back it felt like we could really start our life together and do all the things.


What made you decide to try being business partners (as well as life partners)?


Besides being in love we also get along really well as friends. We balance each other well as far as our temperaments but we are VERY similar in our drive and competitive nature. Then, when you throw in our complimentary skill sets, it just made sense to go into business together—especially the hospitality business. Norland is a 20-year Army Veteran with expertise in supply chain logistics, financing, and acquisitions. My background is in training, organization development, and quality management. When you put us together…we can make almost anything run smoothly!

You both are so accomplished, what drew you to the hotel business?


From a business aspect, we liked the potential of using real estate to build wealth. From a personal aspect, hospitality has always had a special place in our hearts. At first, we only invested in long and short-term rental properties. When we started learning about hotel investing and ownership, we felt like we’d get the best of both worlds. We’d get the real estate and the adventure of owning an operating hospitality business.


What are your roles in the business?


Are they similar to your roles at home? We are co-owners of Duke Ventures. We jokingly call ourselves the Co-CEOs with Norland also being the CFO and CLO and Amina also being the COO and CMO. We laugh about it because those formal titles align almost exactly with how we manage our home life and how our loved ones see our role in the family.

Did you worry that working together would put added stress on your marriage?


Not added stress but we worried that we would forget to relax and have fun. We didn't want to become the super serious couple who never laughs together.


Do you have children? Or elderly parents, or pet care responsibilities? How do you share those?


We have a dog and we mostly split those responsibilities. We are family planning and we like to be open about that because a lot of times we'll have people make comments about how it's easier for us to achieve things because we don't have kids (i.e. so we supposedly have extra time and money resources). However, we've been undergoing fertility treatments for more than 3 years. It has been time-consuming, expensive, and draining. I like to share so that people can think a bit more carefully about how they address a successful couple without children.


Thank you for sharing your family planning struggles, I hope it works out soon. Shifting back to the business for a moment, how do you make decisions?


Sometimes we have business meetings in the living room with an agenda. If we need to make decisions quickly, we check with each other. We also respect and trust each other to make executive decisions when we need to. But Amina could get better at being comfortable with not having input on every single business decision!


What do you think is the biggest challenge of working with your life partner?


We love being a power couple but we like to say that the power button is always on. Especially because our personalities are so similar and the hotel business is nonstop Sometimes it feels like we’re talking business 24/7 so we have to remember to go on dates and set aside non-business quality time.


Can you elaborate more on how you “turn off” as a couple? Do you schedule the dates? Do you have rules like “no business talk” for the next 3 hours …yes, I am nosy AF!


We do all the above. We stop talking about business after a certain point in the evening and not before a certain time in the morning. We LOVE traveling for leisure. Our birthdays are two days apart so each year in August we take a big trip to let loose.


If you’re almost always together, how do you keep the romance alive? 😉


Luckily we still have our day jobs so we are apart sometimes which gives us a chance to miss each other a bit. But mostly we keep the romance alive with acts of service and gifts as those are our main love languages.

What do you think is the best part of working with your life partner?


How intuitively we understand each other. Most of the time if we encounter a challenge, I can tell you how Norland would approach the solution and vis versa. Whether it is a solution we agree on or one we see differently. This makes it easier to make those executive decisions that have to be made sometimes. It’s like one person thinking for two simultaneously.


What is the most unexpected thing about working with your life partner?


That we’re not tired of each other by now! We’re so happy to be doing this crazy life together. Every day is like an adventure for us and we go at it together.


Do you suggest going into business with your significant other?


If you have a respectful, trusting relationship then absolutely. We believe your bond with a significant other is one of the deepest human connections you can have. If that power of connection is used wisely in business matters then a couple can be unstoppable in whatever they set their mind to,


Quality Inn Memphis, Tennessee
Amina and Norland's Quality Inn in Memphis, Tennessee

Tell us more about the Quality Inn, why did you pick Memphis?


The hotel has 70 rooms and is located in the Raleigh area of Memphis. Historically, the Raleigh neighborhood served as a hub for affluent African-American Memphians. Currently, there are revitalization efforts planned for the neighborhood. Memphis is an event city and also home to many corporate headquarters due to its ideal location in the mid-south.


What is next for Dukes Ventures?


Making sure our current project in Memphis is as successful as can be. We hope to acquire another hotel in the next year. After that we’ll see!

Finally, what is your best advice for couples looking to go into the hotel business together? Establish your long-term goals up front, be flexible, be patient, and have fun.


Quickfire


What is your morning routine like?

Amina: I wake up, shower, order Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, and settle into my office for work

Norland: Wake up, walk dog, shower, give Amina a kiss, go for a run, head to work


What do you do for self-care/exercise?

Amina: Deep breathing, walking, travel

Norland: Run, challenges himself with Nike watch run challenges


What is the best advice you ever got?

Amina: "Two life rules: 1. Don't sweat the small stuff and 2. Everything is small" Norland: "Your word is your bond"


What is the worst advice you ever got?

Amina: "Smile"

Norland: Too optimistic to remember any bad advice he ever got 😂


What books/podcasts/TV are you into right now?

Amina: The Purpose of Money Podcast, How to Buy a Hotel by Davonne Reaves

Norland: The Bible


For Norland, what is the best habit you learned from being in the military? Always be on time in the right uniform and with the right mindset.


1 commento


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