Mom’s the Boss

Sometimes being part of the family business means working for Mom.

Hers is the first heartbeat you hear, the voice in your head reminding you to eat your vegetables, the hug you need when life is not on your side. You can count on Mom to love you, feed you, and cheer you on. That’s what mothers do for their children.

But what if Mom is your boss or your coworker?

These four families share a little about what it’s like when being part of the family business means working with Mom.

Patty Artis & Beth Artis of Artis Home Gallerie

When your family has been in the same business for more than 80 years, it starts to become part of your nature. So it’s no surprise that both Patty Artis and her daughter Beth are interior designers; Patty’s husband, Beth’s father, is descended from C.J. Artis, founder of the original Artis Furniture Company in Des Moines. For the Artis women, working with family is just part of life.

“We have never had an issue working together,” says Beth. “We have different tastes and different approaches at times, but she brings something to the business that I don’t and vice versa.”

Patty says it helps that they don’t take each other too seriously. “We both love people and we love each other, so we’ve learned to recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses as well as our own and play to those.”

The mother-daughter duo has worked together for years, as well as pursuing work independently, which has helped them grow as designers and as a company.

“We’re a full-service design studio,” Beth explains, “and we really strive to fit our customers to their furnishings and their space the way you want your clothes to fit your own unique shape. To do that, you have to be able to listen and to focus on the nonverbal cues. The same thing applies to working with each other.”

“Our situation is unique in some ways,” Patty says. “My daughter and I do so much of the same thing, and our personal situation may be different than those of other families who work together. But I think you really have to take advantage of each other’s skills. Sometimes that means acknowledging the generational differences and letting go of control of every detail.”

Whether it’s generational or personal preference, Patty believes Beth is more comfortable and more talented with the techy side of the business, so she leaves her in charge of things like the newsletter and the website updating, as well as CADD work for design/build projects.

Patty and Beth have worked together in various roles for more than two decades, reteaming again a few years ago after Patty went through a lengthy illness. That experience served to reinforce the already strong personal and working relationship the two shared. Situations like that only strengthen your bond.

“You know, life is too short to let little differences become an issue,” Patty says. “We enjoy each other and we enjoy working together. If you can learn to enjoy what matters and let go of the rest, when life throws you curves—and it will—those curve balls just bounce right off.”

Robin Von Gillern & James Von Gillern of Coldwell Banker

James Von Gillern was fairly young when his mom, Robin, entered the real estate field.

“I didn’t realize how much he was absorbing,” Robin says. “He saw what was required to do this successfully, and I think he learned how important a good work ethic is.”

James first thought about selling real estate around the time he finished high school. He earned his realtor’s license as a freshman in college. “I liked the flexibility it offered, you could be your own boss and your success was determined by how hard you worked,” he says.

When he expressed his interest in following her example, Robin encouraged James to take the classes for his real estate license. “Mom told me if I was going to do it, I needed to do it right and really learn the business,” he explains.

Originally he worked in commercial real estate. But after a few years, he decided to move back to Iowa, and he chose to focus on residential property instead, like his mother. Today, both work from Coldwell Banker’s West Des Moines office, their desks side by side.

“We’ve never butted heads working together,” says Robin. “You have to separate being a mom from being a coworker. You can mentor them, but you have to make sure they know they have to pull their own weight.”

James agrees. “If family members are thinking of working together, I think it’s important to make your own path.”

For James, that different path led to a focus on new construction rather than re-sales exclusively. “I do residential property, too, like my mom,” he says, “but I’ve been more involved with groups like the HBA and the new construction side of the industry.”

His past involvement with the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines also included serving as chairman for its annual HomeShowExpo a few years ago. Robin’s specialty, on the other hand, is re-sales and relocations, where her years in the business have resulted in a large referral base. One of the top real estate professionals in central Iowa, Robin has set a high standard for her son to follow—and he’s on his way to doing just that.

“We work some things together and help each other out,” she says. “But not all our business is done as a team, so we can each have our own lives.”

Working side by side, but independently, has given both mother and son new respect for the other’s skills. “I never doubted he could be successful in this profession,” Robin concludes. “But I’ve really enjoyed watching him excel.”

Sarah Grant & Rachel Eubank of Sticks, Inc.

When you grow up with an artist for a mother, joining the family business can be an intimidating prospect. Just ask Sarah Grant, founder of Sticks, and her daughter Rachel Eubank.

“I had worked at Sticks part-time in high school. But I never really had any interest in being an artist,” Rachel says.

Sarah adds, “I did not think she would ever be a part of the Sticks business. When she went to the University of Iowa and majored in political science and marketing, she was really focused on systems and how things work, not in the artistic side of things.”

So Rachel’s development into the chief operating officer at Sticks, the popular home furnishings and decor company based in Des Moines, came after an unexpected twist in her career path. Unbeknownst to her mother, Rachel was the top applicant when a position opened up for an events manager at Sticks.

“Our HR manager showed me a résumé and said, ‘I have this wonderful, energized young woman I think would be great for the events management job.’ I said, ‘Hmm. I know her,’” Sarah remembers with a laugh.

In the 12 years since Rachel joined the staff at Sticks, she’s learned all aspects of the business, from events to marketing to retail sales, and is now chief operating officer. This has enabled Sarah to step back from the day-to-day management of the company and focus on the artistic aspect, which was her first love.

“Anyone who grows up in a family business knows that it’s a 24-7 job because it’s more than just a job,” Rachel says. “Mom and I have butted heads occasionally, but we both know we’re in it for the long haul. And what we both want is what’s best for the company.”

Sarah says that despite some tense times as Rachel’s role in the company evolved, she’s gained an even greater appreciation for Rachel’s gifts. “It’s been hard at times, especially because I equate everything with the Sticks name as having my name on it. But Rachel has demonstrated a real understanding and interest in every aspect of the business—except making the art, which is what I’m good at. So when her sisters said we needed to make it official and put Rachel in charge of the business side so I could focus on the art, and let some of the stress go, I realized they were right.”

“I don’t know how to describe Mom’s position right now,” Rachel says. “She’s the artistic heart and soul of Sticks, and I think she’s able to focus on that again.”

Sarah has no plans to retire, but she says she’s enjoying just getting out of Rachel’s way and seeing where the business goes.

The Aeschliman Family of Valley Pool & Hot Tubs

When Joe and Christy Aeschliman started Valley Pool & Hot Tubs in 1989, they knew they wanted a business that allowed them time with their young family. As it turned out, the family grew and the business just became a part of who they are. The Aeschlimans raised five boys while building their business, and every one of them learned the value of hard work alongside their parents.

Valley Pool builds and services in-ground pools and hot tubs, provides pool maintenance services, and sells pool products at its West Des Moines location.

More than 20 years after opening the company, four of the five Aeschliman boys continue to work for Valley Pool, and Christy runs the business with the help of an office staff that feels like an extension of the Aeschliman family.

“You really can’t separate your children from your employees,” Christy says. “You have to treat them all equally. But it’s so wonderful to see what each of the boys has accomplished, how they each have a facet of the business that they really excel at.”

According to the oldest brother, Mike, who, like all the boys, spent summers working for the company throughout high school, “I don’t think any of us really have trouble separating work from family.”

Mark, the youngest of the brothers, agrees. “We all grew up in the business, so everyone here is family,” he says.

“We’re closer to each other because we work together every day,” Mark explains, which is high praise coming from low man on the totem pole. As the newbie in the crew, Mark is assigned to pool cleaning for the foreseeable future, not one of the glamor jobs.

They may be working for the family business, but Mom doesn’t let any of the Aeschliman boys coast on the family name.

“It’s great working outside, working with family and friends,” Mike says. But the brothers acknowledge, it’s real work, even when you’re not on the bottom run of the family ladder.

But the pros of working with family far outweigh the cons, though, as all the Aeschlimans will attest. After Joe’s death in 2013, the presence of family on a daily basis became even more valued for all of the Aeschlimans. The entire, extended family lives nearby, including all seven of the grandchildren.

“We are so blessed,” Christy says. “We work with people we enjoy, we live just a couple miles away, the kids and grandkids are in and out all the time, and our customers are our friends.”