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“Annie, you’ll be late,” Kate O’Connor reminds her business partner, vigilant that Annie leave the office in time to pick up her children from school.
Ms. O’Connor has more of a vested interest in the event than an ordinary colleague would: Besides the business affiliation, she is grandma to the waiting children and mom to Anne O’Connor Bodine, the other principal in the executive training firm O’Connor Associates Reource for Training Inc. It is a dual relationship both the women and their clients appreciate, they say.
Ms. O’Connor and Ms. Bodine are melding their professional and personal lives in ways that seem to enhance both. Like them, another Evanston mother and daughter – Anne Branning and her daughter, Meredith Branning Schreiber – are finding their shared history and divergent personalities and styles can foster both their mother-daughter bond and their dynamic business partnership in real estate sales.
The image of the proud father hanging out a “John Doe and Son” shingle still prevails. But while there are no statistics, mother-daughter ventures are apparently on the increase, and individual stories belie the old notion that the relationships behind them need be thorny.
In “The Chic Entrepreneur,” Elizabeth Gordon theorizes that “men tend to bond through rivalry and competition,” while “mothers and daughters bond over helping each other grow.”
Sometimes that growth accompanies a certain role reversal, with daughters teaching as well as learning from their mothers. Ms. Schreiber and Ms. Bodine each joined her parent’s long-established business as a full partner. Both are using their expertise to help their mothers spread their wings and the companies expand their reach. “She’s bringing me into the 21st century,” Ms. O’Connor says of her daughter.
Ms. Schreiber joined her mother at
@properties after 13 years in the hospitality business. She applied her corporate experience – most recently as director of operations of Levy Restaurants, where she oversaw the 400 employees, 25 chefs and managers at the four restaurants, 12 concession stands and catering facilities at Arlington Park – to establish systems that help her mother avoid “reinventing the wheel” with each transaction, says Ms. Branning.
“I had been running in place,” says Ms. Branning. Ms. Schreiber began working for her about a year ago, at first providing behind-the-scenes computer support, as her late father had previously done. Soon she was going further, rallying statistics and compiling data to help her mother and her clients determine the worth of a property. She made task lists for sellers and buyers and, with her mother, drew up marketing plans.
The systems worked. In the tough new real estate market, says Ms. Branning, the “seat-of-the-pants” approach that had brought her such success in her 25-year career needed the sort of grounding her daughter could provide. Ms. Schreiber obtained a real estate broker’s license, and the two formalized their partnership. “Last year was a very good year” for their business despite the bad economy, Ms. Branning says – something she says “could never have happened” without her daughter.
Choosing her daughter as partner was “a business decision, not a charity deal,” says Ms. O’Connor. In 18 years of presiding over various training businesses, Ms. O’Connor had drawn on her master’s degree in human relations development, experience in teaching and a stage presence born of an ongoing acting career. Looking last year to restructure her company after a change-of-life situation, she turned to her daughter to help her “get back to [her] roots” in effective communication.
Ms. Bodine’s master’s degree in teaching and a writing expertise honed in part at the RoundTable would be valuable. But she is also in her late 30s and hip to technology-based communication, able to tweet and link in with the younger executives now making decisions about training programs.
Ms. Bodine’s youth and skills are sharpening the company’s focus. “It’s turning into a different business,” says her mother – one that shows multi-generational executives how to communicate effectively. Delivering programs on topics like email etiquette and getting the message across in a conference call, mother and daughter model intergenerational interaction. “How we communicate becomes part of the discussion,” says Ms. O’Connor.
Their age means both daughters bring a younger set of contacts to the business. It also means each brings an appreciation of the flexibility that working with her mom gives to a family with three young children. “My sick child is her grandchild,” says Ms. Bodine.
The O’Connor Associates regard their very different personalities – the mother a “socializer,” the daughter a “thinker” – and their preferred modes of communication – oral for the actor, written for the journalist – as business assets.
Ms. Branning and Ms. Schreiber say their opposite approaches work well in real estate negotiations. Ms. Branning characterizes herself as “a talker” and her daughter as “understated, calm and reasoned.” They say both styles are useful in “taking the pressure off a transaction,” even given that buying a house is “the largest purchase people make in their lives,” says Ms. Schreiber.
The fact that she and her mother know each other so well means they “can be brutally honest” with each other, says Ms. Bodine. Still, she says, the familial relationship can be “a challenge.” As communications specialists, she and her mother warn prospective mother-daughter partners not to “pretend baggage isn’t there. Make a list; talk about it.” They advise “talking through what your business relationship will be” in advance, including expectations, responsibilities and financial issues.
“We’re over the ego; we don’t argue,” says Ms. Branning. To an extent she and her daughter work independently, touching base by email and meeting for property showings. “It’s been a treat for me,” she says. “I learn from her and see her more, and we have a mutual respect that allows the business to grow.”
Mutual respect characterizes the O’Connor team as well. Ms. Bodine says she saw the partnership as “no-risk. I was entering a business run by a capable, smart woman.”
“I knew I could count on Anne,” says Ms. O’Connor. Envisioning the future, she says she believes with the business she is “creating a legacy” for her daughter.