Mothers and their children turn to familial ties to strengthen their businesses
By Michelle F. Solomon
Sometimes it can be a challenge keeping family and business life separate—especially if you happen to work with (or for) your mom.
In this issue, Pinecrest honors Mother’s Day by featuring mothers and their offspring who not only have found ways to work together but have been able to build on that relationship to create successful, flourishing business environments.
Evan Goldman credits his mother, Hazel, for his entrepreneurial spirit. He says she taught him the importance of hard work and how to successfully build a brand. Although he’s now a partner in Hazel’s Homes, which Hazel founded 40 years ago, Evan says he had to earn his way into her real estate business. “No matter how much she loved me and no matter how close we were,” Evan says, he had to prove himself. And he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Evan didn’t always dream of becoming a partner in his mother’s firm. A little over 12 years ago, he was working in sales for a small manufacturing company in California.
“I really liked sales, but I wanted to move back East,” he says. His mother had been hoping to groom someone as a potential partner, working with different people for years with that intent. “It never really worked out,” he confesses. “When I showed some interest, she thought I’d be a perfect match.”
Their styles—hers more traditional, his a bit more modern—work with the variety of clients looking to buy homes in Pinecrest. Evan says some potential buyers prefer to work with his mother, who has decades of experience, while others may want someone from a more technological background who is “in with the changing of the times in terms of real estate.”
Ultimately, they end up working on transactions together. “We both have a personable approach, knowing that houses are usually people’s biggest asset,” Evan says. “There has to be a personal side to what we do.”
Hazel was an entrepreneur well before it was commonplace for women to run their own businesses. Evan says she is a “true residential sales pioneer” and “an encyclopedia” of just about every house in Pinecrest. “She remembers so much detail about every house she’s ever been in or sold. My contemporaries will call me about a house they’re interested in and Mom will know the history of the property.”
One of Evan’s fondest memories is when he would do his homework in the back of the car as his mom shuttled him to an open house. “We weren’t the type of family where mom was home at 3 or 4 in the afternoon cooking dinner,” he says. “That was definitely not us.”
For this mother-son team, there’s no place where business and personal lives disconnect. “We’re very intertwined in each other’s lives,” Evan says. “The advantage of working together is that we get to see each other often; but it can also be a disadvantage. In our time off, inevitably a business question will come up.”
They also can’t take vacations together. “In real estate, you can lose business or not get business if someone needs immediate attention,” Evan says. “Yes, we have assistants, but clients usually want to talk to one of us.”
Evan says he and his mother find satisfaction in knowing that at the end of the day, “When we make a deal, everything is going to us and our family. I have four kids, and I know my mom feels good because every piece of business she does, even if I’m not involved in it, helps our family.”
Cristina Courtney Boland remembers the home in which she grew up was always beautiful. “My mother had this thought, and I carry it with me today, that having a pretty and organized home is important for a family, especially for kids,” she says. “It’s helped me to want the same for myself and my family.”
Cristina’s mother, Margarita Courtney, founded Margaux Interiors in 1988. Even though Cristina spent her teen years filing, unpacking boxes and doing other chores at her mother’s design store, she ended up working in the furniture and design industry for Bergdorf Goodman and ABC Carpet & Home in New York.
“At one point, my mom shared that she was in a good place with the business, and she said, ‘If you’re interested, just come back,’” Cristina recalls. In 2000, that’s exactly what she did; she has worked with her mother ever since.
Sure, there are ups and downs in being involved in a creative business every day with your mother, but Cristina says their recipe for success is that they work as a team. “We have different strengths and talents,” she says. “Because of that, we have been able to be successful together.”
There are personal perks as well. “I have two small children, 5 and 8, and I can bring them with me to work whenever I need to,” Cristina says. “When my 8-year-old was a baby, he came with me to the store almost every day. I had only taken a month off before I went back to work. But with him being there, it made it OK for me.”
The mother-daughter team has also traveled the world together. Cristina says she had the “experience of a lifetime” when they traveled abroad on a buying trip to Thailand, India and Indonesia. “I would have never had that opportunity if she wasn’t my mom,” she admits.
Together, with Margarita’s natural-born talent and Cristina’s strengths in running the business, the pair has created some amazing projects.
“We are so grateful because we have designed some beautiful homes, and I don’t think either one of us could have done that alone,” Cristina says. “Just growing up around her helped me to be a better designer.”
Jon Wilson was 16 when he started working for his mother, Espy, in her insurance restoration business. “I’d get fired two or three times a week for being late,” Jon admits. He’s now the owner of an insurance claim business, where Espy works with him. “Now, she can’t fire me!”
It was Espy’s knowhow in restoration and insurance claims that led Jon to create Intellaclaim. “She’d help contractors negotiate with insurance companies,” he says. “One day, one of the contractors offered me a job chasing disasters around the country.” When Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005, Jon and Espy were in demand. “That’s what began Intellaclaim.”
Jon says their skills complement each other in business. “She’s very hands on, day-to-day in getting the job done, and I’m the more analytical and networking person,” he explains. “She likes to settle claims and meet with clients. I’m more comfortable running the business,” which he says also means taking care of the company’s marketing and advertising.
When asked what the advantage is in having his mother working with him, he says, “Where do I start?”
There’s a comfort level the two also share. “Working with a family member either works or it doesn’t,” Jon says. “If you never got along with them in your personal life, chances are, you won’t in business either.”
Jon also says there’s an upside to having your mother be part of your business: “On the weekends, I don’t feel like I have to go and visit my mom—I see her every day.”
When her son, Adam Levy, joined her Pinecrest real estate firm, he brought with him a unique skill to the profession, says Wendy Levy-Jackson, who started the business 35 years ago. After he attended the University of South Florida, Adam built homes. “It separates him from most Realtors,” Wendy says.
“I can explain what’s behind the walls to the buyer,” Adam adds.
So what made her son decide to transition from building homes to selling them? “He had been working on a job site in Boca Raton that had been going downhill,” Wendy says. “He knew I’d been talking about hiring an assistant; he came to me and said, ‘I want to be that assistant.’”
According to Wendy, Adam coming on board helped the business in many ways. “The business was doing well, but it was getting more technical,” she says. “Adam coming in seemed like a great opportunity.”
In addition to her son’s computer/tech-savvy skills, she found they complement each other as sales partners. “It’s the ‘man-woman,’ ‘younger-older,’ thing,” she says. “You’ve got to be two people to do this job.”
Wendy cites a huge advantage to working with family: “I’ve got a wedding to attend in St. Augustine, and I didn’t have to think twice about leaving,” she says. “Adam knows the business. There’s the accountability and reliability factor.”
Adam, who joined his mom’s firm 18 years ago, says the comfort level makes them more productive. And watching his mom in action taught him the business.
“I was going to learn the business the real way,” he says. “I had her teach me every step of the way. I don’t think I could’ve done it without my mom’s help.”
“We found a niche with time,” Wendy says, adding that Adam’s wife now works for the firm as well.
When family time arrives, they try not to talk real estate, Wendy says. “It doesn’t always work, but we try.”