Kennedy McRae and James Dale are the co-owners of Earth Inc., a successful landscape design firm. They are also the husbands of Rajini and Sandra — two accomplished women who played an integral part in that success, offering emotional and financial support as well as hands-on help, especially in the early days of the business.
By Hailey Eisen
Looking back nearly 20 years since they first started their business, Kennedy McRae and James Dale — co-owners of Earth Inc., a Toronto-based landscape design firm — agree that the real credit for their success should go to their wives. While there’s no doubt that Kennedy and James are the creative brains behind the operation, they recognize that without their wives, their foray into entrepreneurship would likely have not made it past the first year.
Both women have impressive careers of their own and over the years, especially in the first few, were relied upon for emotional and financial support, as well as their business acumen.
From providing “office space” in their small two-bedroom apartment, to managing the books and developing financial projections for the company, to covering the expenses at home until Earth Inc. became profitable — both women stepped up to ensure their husbands were able to make their creative vision a reality.
Having been raised with the belief that a good husband “provides for his wife,” Kennedy says deciding to leave a secure job with a salary to start a business from scratch was quite stressful. “That jumping-off point is catastrophic and often stops people in their tracks,” he says, “because if you don’t have the support and backing — which, in our case, was provided by our wives — then how can you take that leap?”
It was their ambition and a vision for a more creative and innovative form of garden design that pushed James and Kennedy to leave the design studio they were working for and start out on their own. Their wives recognized their passion, and believed in their ability to transform it into a successful venture.
“Our wives are powerhouses, unwavering to the core,” says James. Kennedy agrees, and adds, “We wanted to impress them as much as we wanted to impress ourselves. But we never had to question their confidence in us.”
Like in any new business venture, the early days brought their share of challenges. “Starting their business in the small rental apartment where James and I lived at the time was a great decision, as it allowed the guys to focus on building the business without worrying about finances,” says Sandra Dale, James’ wife. As James explains it, “Kennedy and I set up shop in our small second bedroom, and Sandra was basically footing the bill for us — paying our rent and letting us work in the apartment, as long as we agreed to clear out by 5pm when she got home from work.”
“Our wives are powerhouses, unwavering to the core.”
Sandra was busy in her own right. Her days were spent operating Forest Hill Montessori School, which she’d co-founded a few years prior to provide education for preschool through Grade 8 students. While she shared her husband’s entrepreneurial spirit, she knew there would be sacrifices if they were both running their own businesses. This give-and-take has become a big part of the couple’s life, each handling different responsibilities in order to ensure the other’s success.
“My own children have always been my priority and I have always arranged my work schedule to make sure I could be there for them,” says Sandra. “But, as two entrepreneurs, we know that the success of our companies depends on what we put into work. We support each other whenever there are obstacles and when there are successes.”
When Earth Inc. was starting out, Kennedy’s wife, Rajini McRae, worked in Finance for IBM. An MBA grad with a background in finance and math, Rajini had a great understanding of what it would take to build a profitable business. She recognized the unique talent the men brought to the table, but knew where their struggles would lie. “They’ve always been extremely good at what they do, from a design perspective. They’ve both got passion, and they always have the client first in their minds,” Rajini says.
Fortunately for the duo, Rajini stepped in as a virtual CFO early on, driving the financial and strategy side of things. As Earth Inc. grew, they hired people to take over for Rajini, but she’s always stayed involved in the company’s progress and growth. Her goal has always been “to bring some structure to the creativity.”
Rajini and Kennedy have also established their own version of balance. “Kennedy does a lot with our kids, he drives them to their programs, and loves to cook,” Rajini says. “And I organize the kids’ schedules, manage the finances, etc. — we just partner where it makes sense.”
Fortunately for James and Kennedy, their wives and children (the Dales have two girls and the McRae’s have three boys) have always gotten along very well. They meet regularly to discuss business decisions, but they also travel together, spend holidays together, and support each other through life milestones.
These days, as Earth Inc. approaches its 20-year anniversary, Rajini’s got scalability and growth on her mind. She’s excited to see where they can take Earth Inc. in the next 20 years. “It’s a journey,” she explains, speaking about merging two families together for the purposes of a shared passion and business. “There will be ebbs and flows and the key to a good partnership is to support each other through those, and maintain that deep level of trust.”