Lessons in Business: What I Learned from My Mother

“Con ganas se puede”  – Josefina Nuez

English translation: With desire you can!


They are negotiators, conflict resolution experts, educators, technology gurus, project managers, caregivers, domestic engineers, researchers, resourceful, and wear many hats at once. Who are they? Mompreneurs.

As the number of female-owned businesses continues to rise, so are the number of women who are pulling double duty as moms/primary caregivers and entrepreneurs. It is estimated that one in every three female entrepreneurs is a mother and that number is expected to keep rising.

For some, it may be surprising, but for me, it isn’t since many of the skills you need to run a household can easily be applied to running a business. In fact, one of the biggest influences in my personal entrepreneurial journey was my mother. I suspect that many women my age will feel the same even though it was a different time and mothers, or women for that matter, weren’t seen as potential.

My family immigrated from Cuba in 1963 when I was 14 months old. We moved to upstate New York where the dark and dreary weather was a stark contrast to the sunny, Caribbean lifestyle they were accustomed to. Despite this, my parents were grateful to be in America and proceeded to build their own version of the American dream.

My work ethic comes from my parents, especially my mother’s. She cooked, cleaned, took care of my sister and me, and also worked. She was a force to be reckoned with. While in Cuba, she wanted to be a nurse. She finished her first year of college, but due to the revolution she was not able to continue, and soon after it ended, she was married.

When my parents first arrived in Rochester, both worked at Bond’s clothing factory in addition to other side jobs. This was partly because my parents, as the first in their family to flee from Cuba, felt compelled to help sponsor other family members, and this added to our expenses. However, another part of it was that my mother was a fiercely independent person. She did not believe in handouts. She believed in working for what you needed.

Way before the word “side-gig” was coined and became ubiquitous, my mother was juggling multiple side-gigs in addition to running a household. She sold Avon ever since I can remember. I have many childhood memories of visiting friends and knocking on doors in our neighborhood, in what were in essence sales calls, to chit chat and drop off products. She also sold clothing with my aunt. She sold silver jewelry, handmade decorative pillows, and because cooking was one of her many passions, she sold her delicious flans, tamales, and empanadas.

My mother’s resourcefulness, perseverance, and tenacity would be put to the test when my parents divorced my senior year of high school. Now a single mother with two daughters and a mortgage, she embraced her inner entrepreneur and started a child daycare in our home. Through her hard work and determination, my mother was able to provide for us and made sure we graduated from college.

When it came time for me to build my life and career, I was deeply influenced by my mother. Having grown up in a home where faith, hard work, and entrepreneurial ingenuity went hand in hand, I never shied away from thinking anything is possible. It is part of my personality, but also part of the environment I grew up in.

When I started working in the insurance industry, women were mostly relegated to administrative positions. In fact, the first agency I worked at there were 40 agents, 38 of them were male. I was the second female agent they had hired in 15 years. This lopsided male-female ratio continued throughout my career, but it did not deter me from opening my own insurance agency in 1998 when my daughter and son were nine and six years old.

Perhaps, the greatest lesson I learned from my mother was how she dealt with people. She had amazing powers of persuasion and was passionate about educating others. I remember all of the cards I received from people who knew her after she passed away. I never doubted that she was appreciated by many of the people that came into her life. The reason people genuinely cared for my mother was because she genuinely cared about them. Like many entrepreneurs, my mother’s driving force was not to make a sale, but to help people. Whether it was through her Avon, jewelry, handmade pillows, food or childcare, she took the time to get to know people, offer them advice and help them in whatever way she could.

I’m not sure if my mother ever realized she was an entrepreneur.  Women of her generation were not taught to see themselves in those terms. Although she was often recognized for being a top seller in her organization, she was never able to recognize and embrace her superpowers. She simply saw herself as a friend and mother who was providing for a family by any means necessary. Fortunately for me, I was able to see her for who she was, the skills she had and follow in her example.


Fayette Woman

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