Valentine’s Day 2017 Celebrating Industry Couples: Michael Merrithew & Loulou de Grandpre
Here’s a couple who not only work in the industry – they work together every day. Michael Merrithew, President and CEO of Merit Travel and his wife Loulou de Grandpre, Merit’s COO, have seen their business grow from just two employees in 1991 to 442 today under the umbrellas of Merit Travel, Merit Biz, Merit Loyalty and Merit Leisure.
How did you meet?Michael: In 1978 at UNB in Fredericton. I was studying business administration and Loulou was taking a degree in PhysEd. I thought she was a bit shy because she avoided me. Why would anyone want to avoid me? (laughs) Loulou: There was no cafeteria in his residence so the guys had to eat in our cafeteria. He was very English, had a very loud laugh and a huge mustache.
How was your first date?Loulou: Michael studied full time and had two part time jobs, one working in a pub and one working midnight to 8 am Saturday and Sunday nights as a campus janitor, mopping floors. So our first date was at the pub, where he got free drinks!
Tell us about the big proposal: Michael: We were living in Toronto and driving on the 401 to Montreal to visit family and I said “Maybe we should get married?” and she thought sure, that would be good. Loulou: Everyone assumed I was pregnant!
When did you get married?Michael: Sep 26, 1981, in Montreal. It wasn’t a big wedding - half Anglican English and half French Catholic. The reception was a brunch at a Club.
Where did you go on your honeymoon?Michael: London and Paris. For our 35th anniversary last September we recreated the trip with our three sons and their partners. Loulou: I remember on our honeymoon the accommodation was a bit basic. In Paris we stayed in a tiny hotel where the bathroom was so miniscule you could sit on the toilet and wash your hands in the sink at the same time! But still, it was fun.
What’s the most romantic destination you’ve travelled to? Loulou: We’re not very romantic! But we did travel on business to Tahiti and travelled out a couple of days early. That was nice. We actually travel a lot with the boys, cruising and ski vacations.
Do you recommend marrying someone works in the same industry as you do? Loulou: We never started out this way, I worked in banking for many years. When he started his business, I was home with a two year old and a three month old and he called me to ask “How do you start a payroll?” I told him to go to Grand & Toy to buy a payroll book, and started working Saturday mornings in his office. And now it’s 24/7! Michael’s very sales-oriented and I’m an administrator, so it’s been ideal. You can’t trust someone in business as much as the person you live with. I think it’s harder for our employees who get worried if we don’t agree with each other. It’s a healthy discussion, not an argument. When they were growing up, our sons thought all husbands and wives work together!
What are the pros of working together? Louou: Trust is paramount. We trust each other 100%. Michael: And you really understand what each other is experiencing and feeling because we are experiencing and feeling it together. Losing or winning a big account. Making an acquisition. You don’t have to go home and either not talk about it, or talk about something the other person doesn’t really understand. We both really understand.
And the cons?Michael: It’s hard to get away, to make a break from the business. You need to remind yourself that you have a personal relationship as well as a working relationship. Loulou: Yes there are cons, because that’s all you do. Most couples come home and say, “What happened in your job today?” But if you own the business it’s a different matter.
What do you think is the secret to a happy marriage?Michael: Communication. And I don’t believe that’s a cliché. Understanding how to communicate to the other person. Loulou: “Happy” means different to different people. There’s always give and take - it’s never 50-50. Like any team we have to do stuff together. We’ve been incredibly lucky, we now have two of our kids in our business so it’s now even more all-encompassing. There are good days and frustrating days. It’s a journey. In our case we both believed from the start that it was for a lifetime.
How will you be spending Valentine’s Day this year?Loulou: This year Michael will be away but we usually go to a local spa for a day together. Michael: Theoretically we could go anywhere but to spend a day together with no cell phones? To us it doesn’t get much better!