Originally published as a cover story in the May 2006 issue of Bay Area Business Woman News, which itself went out of business in 2010.
Sipping imaginary tea and locking horns over un-heeded weekend curfews is over for mother-daughter duos Liz and Julie Stevens, Paula Stewart-Felix and Kishna Suterfield, and Jacalyn Evone and Nicole Scott.
Together they’ve successfully transmuted a lifetime of shared experiences into partnerships steeped in the love, trust, and friendship of the mother-daughter bond. Three duos reveal how they’ve maintained businesswoman and mother-daughter harmony alike, while two therapists examine the ties that bind.
17 Jewels Salon and Spa/Windermere Real Estate
After 20 years spent building the largest Prudential Realty office in Northern California, Liz Stevens finally decided to launch her own Berkeley-based brokerage, Windermere. One month earlier, Julie Stevens launched 17 Jewels Salon and Spa in Oakland’s Temescal district after 20 years as an independent hairstylist.
“My mom told me how opening my business inspired her to become an entrepreneur,” says Julie. “Having this woman who’d inspired me all my life tell me I’d empowered her meant so much to me.”
It’s a remarkable role reversal considering Julie’s arduous search for direction as an artistic teen drawn to creative projects such as painting and design. Today, her salon serves as a walk-in portfolio where clients can appreciate her artwork while being pampered.
But Liz concedes that she at times didn’t know how Julie could purposefully employ her artistic talents, especially since she seemed to spend her youth devising ways to frighten her mother.
“Julie was into driving fast on motorcycles and seeing how far she could push her body,” says Liz. “She was a fearless risk taker who experimented with some pretty scary stuff.”
According to Oakland therapist Matilda St. John, difficult stages during which daughters wrestle their way towards adulthood are not uncommon. “When daughters are particularly close to mothers during childhood,” states St. John, “it may be harder to declare independence.”
Julie’s struggles have since paid off, as she now works to soothe others, not frighten them. Moreover, once the doors of 17 Jewels close behind you, you forget you’re on the bustling Telegraph Avenue at all. And because Liz has employed the same architect that designed Julie’s salon, Windermere just may beget the same vibe.
For Kishna Suterfield and her mother, Paula Stewart-Felix, transforming their San Leandro home into a daycare for foster and special-needs children was an intuitive decision.
“I’ve fostered and adopted some special-needs children,” says Paula, “so starting a daycare wasn’t a far stretch because we know these kids need a place where they can feel understood.”
At 34, Kishna is the eldest and sole biological child of five children, a position that contributes to her fluency in the dialogue on children’s needs. “I’m able to listen to kids because my mom was able to listen to me,” she asserts. “She taught me they have a right to express their emotional needs and wants.”
But as a child, Kishna couldn’t conceive of Paula’s needs and wants beyond mothering. “I didn’t see her as a woman with a woman’s feelings,” she laughs. “Now that I’m older, I understand her need to focus on different parts of herself and that’s what I try to allow her.”
“As children, we need to believe our mothers are capable of anything because it helps us feel protected,” says St. John. “Once a daughter is older and can see her mother as a person,” then her expectations become more realistic.
Perhaps Kishna’s eventual humanization of her mother is why she now recognizes and encourages Paula’s strengths as an emerging businesswoman, though Paula sometimes denies them.
“I’m just not very good at certain things,” admits Paula, “like creating children’s activities. Kishna’s much better at that.”
“I see her differently than she sees herself,” replies Kishna. “I try to show her how business-minded she is, but she doesn’t think so.”
However, Dr. Susan Waldman, a San Francisco-based therapist and psychology instructor at San Francisco State University, insists, “We can’t give self-confidence to someone that never had it to begin with. Rather, moms and daughters should list their strengths and weaknesses to determine where improvements are needed.”
The daycare is scheduled for an early-September launch, though the two realize that co-working begins with the alignment of business objectives, a difficult task they say has enabled them to witness each other’s professional growth.
The Bay Area Real Estate Ladies
“Jacalyn was a bad mamma jamma!” says Nicole Scott, borrowing an ’80s pop song title to describe how she perceived her mother as a child. Not an unfounded correlation considering the spunk it must’ve taken for Jacalyn Evone to leave a major real estate corporation after just five years to create The Real Estate Ladies, a Richmond and Oakland-based brokerage.
Since its 1998 inception, Jacalyn pleaded for her daughter’s partnership, but Nicole chose instead to write and recruit for Gap, Inc. Eventually tiring of corporate America, Nicole severed ties with Gap, Inc. to pursue her broker’s license, and ultimately join her mother in 2004.
“I was elated,” says Jacalyn, emphasizing the difficulty of finding earnest employees. “There are many qualified people out there who don’t have a stake in what I’m doing, so they come for the paycheck. Nicole is here because she cares about me and this business.”
According to Waldman, without stipulated boundaries, emotional choices can muddle professional goals.*
But St. John trumpets the benefits of combining personal and professional codes of conduct. “Working with family members means we’re familiar with the stress styles that surface at work,” she says, adding that coworkers who already love and respect one another are more likely to cooperate.
Jacalyn doubtless cooperated with Nicole to dispel the fast cash notions her daughter held when she entered the business. “I quickly learned that this is a sales job,” laughs Nicole. “You really have to know how to build relationships and sell houses!”
Though Nicole learned an instant lesson, Waldman warns that unrealistic business expectations is another impediment to achieving professional goals. Both expectations and goals should be clearly outlined with the help of a consultant.
“This can truly make a difference,” says Waldman. “Mom-daughter pairs tend to believe they’re inherently skilled at solving problems because they’ve known each other for so long, but it doesn’t work like that. They should seek consulting, just as couples seek therapy.”
But allowing familial values to inform professional ones has been a company staple since day one and this duo seems to possess enough acumen to become consultants. “Our love for one another spills over to our clients,” says Jacalyn. “We’re honest and we care about them.”
These “bad mamma jammas” are an industry force to be reckoned with, but they reckon with compassion.
Their tea is real now and the curfew forever lifted. And as Waldman suggests, “If mothers and daughters make time for laughter and self-reward, seek outside help when needed, and deny the business any chance to ruin their relationship,” then they’ll soar.
Freelance writer Angela J. Bass [was] the daughter-partner in the mom-daughter biz B&B Animal Care & Services.
*Ed Note: Neither Waldman nor St. John has treated the women mentioned in this article.