SARAH AND MARCO ARAUJO ARE CELEBRATING A DECADE OF ARAUJO ATTORNEYS’ SUCCESS. THEY SHARE WHAT CAN ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS THEIR INSPIRATIONAL JOURNEY IN BOTH THEIR BUSINESS AND PERSONAL LIVES, WRITES ANNE SCHAUFFER
What happens when an accountant meets a lawyer? No, it’s not one of those Englishman meets Irishman jokes – although Marco and Sarah Araujo do laugh about their courtship. The two met at a rugby game in Durban … and four weeks later, Marco left South Africa to take up a pre-arranged post in Bermuda. Marco grins, “Clearly, the candle never went out,” and one year later, he cut short his contract, returned home, and they were engaged shortly thereafter. They’d only spent four months in the same country before committing to life together. Meant to be? Seems so.
When they married, Marco was financial director at Trellidor, and Sarah an attorney specialising in property conveyancing. She’d used her time wisely when home alone – Marco in Bermuda – and completed all her board exams, notary and conveyancing exams. She loved property law, so when Marco suggested she open her own company at home, she was tempted, but not quite ready. A talk by Cindy Norcott at the Robin Hood Foundation sealed it for her: “I was so inspired to go it alone. I got home and said to Marco, ‘I’m ready. Let’s do it’.”
Araujo Attorneys began life in the loft of their two-bedroomed townhouse in Somerset Park – Sarah as attorney, and (after working hours), Marco as accountant and administrator. That was 10 years ago. Expecting their first child, the business growing well, the couple moved to a bigger home in La Lucia, one with potential for a private office.
And then life changed dramatically. Their son, Cruz, suffered brain damage at birth, and this young couple who had their lives mapped out, were left floundering: “It was a massive turning point for us,” says Sarah. “Our life changed in an instant. We’d both been career driven, wanted a family, and now we’d been given a special needs child who would need a great deal of our time. It was the start of a very different journey.”
At three months, Cruz was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, with no confirmation from the paediatric neurologist as to whether he’d ever walk or talk. At eight months, he began experiencing epileptic seizures, which escalated to 30 a day. Marco remembers, “For the next 18 months, we tried everything. We spoke to seven different specialists around the world, from the UK and Portugal, to the USA and of course South Africa. Ultimately, there was only one solution – disconnect the right side of his brain. As the eminent surgeon in Cape Town told us, “‘It’s not the most dangerous surgery, but it’s the most radical that exists. You have to do it early, you can’t wait’. So, in a sense, we had no choice.” In addition, the professionals told the couple that in all likelihood the seizures would be drastically reduced, but there was no guarantee they would stop.
The operation was deemed a success, but two years later the seizures returned, and the operation had to be repeated.
Today, Cruz is seven years old, walking, talking and defying many of the dire diagnoses. Most of that is clearly due to the Araujo’s persistence, and their wholehearted determination to provide him with every opportunity to be the best he could be. Both sets of the couple’s parents live within a few minutes’ drive, and their support throughout was invaluable. Still is. So, too, their church, and their colleagues at Araujo Attorneys.
Araujo Attorneys had moved to far bigger premises, The Space in uMhlanga, and during the family’s month-long stays in Cape Town when Cruz was undergoing surgery, this growing team of attorneys gave their all to the business. Marco laughs, “We had our best month ever, when we were in Cape Town with Cruz! That’s how this team is.”
When Cruz was two, Marco took the tough decision to leave Trellidor and join Sarah in the business – that way, they’d have the flexibility to grow the business and still be there for Cruz: “Something had to give, and it couldn’t be family,” says Marco. “I knew I could help in Sarah’s business, and she couldn’t help in mine.” Marco describes the couple’s symbiosis during those unthinkably tough days, months, years, “We’re good as a team.”
The Araujos met many people through Cruz’s journey, people who’ve had similar or tougher challenges; going through worse than they were. As Marco says, “You either pull together or fall apart. We chose to – or perhaps it made us – stronger together. Sarah adds, “Some people say ‘God gives special needs kids to special people’. We don’t believe that. He gives them to ordinary people, and you have to become special for that child.”
At Araujo Attorneys, that self- same teamwork played out just as successfully. Marco laughs, “It took me a while to learn that Sarah was boss. Many couples can’t work together, but being an accountant, I’m very admin strong, logical and analytical, whereas Sarah loves the marketing, legal side and client interface.” Sarah agrees, “Marco has the ability to detach, whereas I’m fully in it with my clients! He took over aspects of the business I didn’t enjoy (like admin), which freed meuptodowhatIdobest. And he’s the strategist, the bigger picture person.”
Araujo Attorneys has a different model to most. They have a staff of 12, but unusually, eight are attorneys, Marco is a CA, two doing articles, and one is an intern, completing his LLB. Everyone does their own work. “We encourage them to build their brands within our business, and we’re very comfortable if a client asks for an attorney by name – that means that person is building their brand, and that makes them satisfied too,” says Sarah. “We believe in creating an environment where everyone is happy.” The couple have strong ties in the community in which they grew up and live, and took the decision not to spread themselves too thin. Geographically, Araujo Attorneys has concentrated on uMhlanga/Durban North, and three years ago, a branch in Ballito, headed up by Ralph Schroder, partner and shareholder. “Three of our staff are now directors and shareholders, and that has been a win-win for everyone.”
As Marco says, “We never set out to create an empire. We are very blessed with how it’s grown. We have an excellent bunch of people, and a great business to come to. We’re very strong on our culture – it’s a kind, collaborative, and helpful environment.”
The Araujos now have three young sons – Cruz, Dominic and Luco – so although the family demands are substantial, they manage a good balance between business and home. Having a loving, caring support team in their parents, church and community makes a world of difference.
Meeting this warm, involved couple, makes one realise that anything and everything is possible. They tell of a Global Leadership Summit they attended at Grace Church in uMhlanga entitled, ‘How Much Is Enough?’, and how it resonated with them so strongly. As they say, “How do you define enough? We often remind ourselves of this question, examine our lives, and know that we live a very good life without the fanciest of trappings. We don’t need to work 24/7, we can give that time to our family.”