Could YOU work with your mother? With twice as many women than men losing their jobs, the smart ones are reinventing the family business


Could YOU work with your mother With twice as many women than men losing their jobs, the smart ones are reinventing the family business

Mothers and daughters have a unique bond. Our mums are often our best friends, our biggest supporters and sometimes our harshest critics. But what would it be like to have your mother as your business partner

As new unemployment figures show twice as many people are losing their jobs, a rising group of women have found a way to protect themselves from the brunt of the recession.

‘We are definitely seeing a boom in mother-and-daughter businesses,’ says Maxine Benson, co-founder of Everywoman, the UK’s largest women’s business network. ‘It’s a positive way to get around issues such as flexible working hours that can hold back women in the corporate world and bring a better work-life balance.’

Bags of ambition: Julie Deane and her mother Freda Thomas set up the Cambridge Satchel Company together, to great success

Bags of ambition: Julie Deane and her mother Freda Thomas set up the Cambridge Satchel Company together, to great success

We asked three successful mothers and daughters how they make their business partnerships work.

Julie Deane, 44, from Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire, set up the Cambridge Satchel Company at her kitchen table in 2008 with her mother, Freda Thomas, 73. From a start-up investment of just 600, their turnover is now 10 million.

JULIE SAYS: My daughter Emily, now 12, was being bullied at school so we needed to find an environment she and her brother Max, ten, could thrive at.

The school we fell in love with was private — my husband Kevin and I knew it was right for them, but couldn’t afford it unless I went back to work.

Before I became a mother I was a Fellow at Cambridge University, but soon realised that running my own business would allow me to spend more time with my children.

Reading Harry Potter to them inspired the business. I became obsessed with buying them traditional satchels like the ones Hermione and Harry might use at Hogwart’s, but couldn’t find any. So we designed our own.

We had just 600 to start up the business. We sketched the prototype at the kitchen table and found a craftsman in the North-East.

Mum and I thought the market would be just school children and we made three a week, so it was a real surprise when orders started flooding in from adults, too.

GIRL POWER

Women account for 46 per cent of the UK workforce

We’ve upped production to more than 3,000 satchels a week and employ 53 people. The satchels sell for between 74 and 113.

We’re a close-knit family and going into business was the natural thing to do — it was a lot less scary with that support.

Mum and I have different strengths. I design the bags and am qualified as a chartered accountant, so I’m comfortable with the financial side, while mum has a better eye for choosing colours and is a marvellous organiser — together we get things done, and have fun, too.

It’s easier to juggle home life if the person you’re working with is happy to muck in and have a vested interest.

FREDA SAYS: I’d never had a job before this. I had helped Donald, my husband, with his taxi business, but little else. Embarking on a proper career at the age of 70 has given me a new lease of life. I’m so excited about the business. I almost run in through the door every morning.

Initially, I had a few problems with the technological side of things. Now my role is mainly checking invoices and making sure the right satchels get to the right people, so I don’t need to be too tech savvy.

When we started the business, our office was in Julie’s kitchen and we had calls from people we now know are big in the fashion industry — but at that time I wasn’t familiar with such things.

When Erdem phoned I asked for his last name. He laughed and said: ‘No, it’s just Erdem.’ I later discovered he was one of Samantha Cameron’s favourite designers.

Working here keeps me on my toes. I love that I share this business with my daughter.

Joanna Hansford, 36, joined her mother Jo Hansford in her eponymous Mayfair salon. Founded 19 years ago, the company has high-profile clients including the Duchess of Cornwall and Liz Hurley. Last month, mother and daughter invested in a new salon.

Styling the stars: Jo and daughter Joanna Hansford run a leading hair salon in Mayfair, London

Styling the stars: Jo and daughter Joanna Hansford run a leading hair salon in Mayfair, London

JOANNA SAYS: When I had my children Elsie, now five, and Tierney, three, I wanted a balance, so even though I was the company’s managing director, I decided to work just four days a week.

I had to challenge some of Mum’s preconceptions about working around the clock. I’ve shown her that it’s about having a great team around you.

Our roles are separate. She is the colour artist and I am the business backbone, but because we are so close we know how we will react to something.

Moving to bigger premises was a big decision. I was more nervous than Mum was — probably because I knew every detail of the financial commitment.

Also, I have a young family and a large mortgage, while Mum is financially secure. However, so far, moving the brand forward has been amazing. I know it’s right. We haven’t fallen out over anything except the budget, which I have been trying to stick to and she hasn’t!

JO SAYS: Joanna came in and helped me out on reception 18 years ago to save money for her gap year. Things evolved from there and she became interested in the business side of the company.

'We haven't fallen out over anything except the budget, which I have been trying to stick to and she hasn't!'

When Joanna took over as managing director ten years ago, I had a lot of confidence in her, but she didn’t.

So we invested in a university business management course, which gave her self-belief. I admire the way she dealt with all of the negotiations for our new salon.

Joanna has banned me from a few financial meetings because of my temper — I have no patience! We work as a team because we have different roles.

Neither one of us could do this without the other and it feels good to know that when I throw in the towel, the business will be safe in Joanna’s hands.

Catherine Hoff, 37, and her mother Sue Sawyer, 60, live in Lewes, East Sussex, and set up their shop, The Bedroom, selling fine bed linen and home accessories last August.

CATHERINE SAYS: We were out walking one day when we saw a beautiful French-influenced boutique selling some lovely home accessories.

Off the cuff, I said: ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a shop like that!’ That was it.

We found a shop to rent, took out a small business loan and began to stock cushions, throws, radios and bed linen.

Perfect partnership: Sue Sawyer and daughter Catherine Hoff set up their own shop, The Bedroom

Perfect partnership: Sue Sawyer and daughter Catherine Hoff set up their own shop, The Bedroom

I was wary about going into business and I wouldn’t have done this with anyone else. I know I can trust Mum completely. I manage the financial side, while she is better at being creative and making the shop look appealing.

The only downside is that we find it hard to snap out of work mode. Over Sunday lunch with my children, Thomas, 12, William, eight, and my step-daughter Louise, 16, Mum will say: “Don’t forget we need to put in this order on Monday.”

'I was wary about going into business and I wouldn't have done this with anyone else. I know I can trust Mum completely'

Starting a business with your mother is not for everyone. You’ve got to have an honest, open relationship.

SUE SAYS: I was made redundant from my role as an executive PA in 2009 at 58. But now, at the end of my working life, I’m finally doing something I enjoy.

We like to think we have a good balance. It’s an advantage having a partnership spanning two generations. I feel in many ways that I’m in the background working away, which suits us both perfectly.

The only thing I miss is that Catherine and I often used to see each other socially — we’d meet for lunch or go shopping.

Now we can’t do that because we have spilt the working week between us: when I’m working she’s at home and when I’m at home she’s in the shop. But then you can’t have everything!

ADDITIONAL REPORTING: INDIA STURGIS