I distinctly remember my mom preparing to ask for a raise so that she would be earning the same salary as her male physical therapist peers. I even remember the number; she asked for a 12% raise and equity participation. Her boss said no. What I don’t remember is seeing her feeling dejected, which she must have felt. Maybe she hid that for the benefit of us kids; I was 8, my brother 5. What I do remember is her being frustrated, then angry, then resolute. She was going to quit and start her own business.
She prepared a business plan and found a space to rent. I remember her excitement and nervousness. I remember my dad’s support. I think money got tight for a while, but I don’t remember feeling that as a hardship. It was 30 years ago but I still recall all the details of that first clinic space - the tiny treatment room inside of a suburban gym, the weight-lifters and trainers she was friends with, her tiny desk and cordless phone (the first cordless phone I had ever used!). I even remember her pager number that I would call to tell her I got home from school.
I remember her moving the clinic to a bigger space as business grew (three times!), negotiating leases, hiring employees, buying equipment, investing in systems- all the pieces that go into running a business. I remember the first time she made a big push for new business. She started advertising and decided to take doctors to lunch and ask for referrals. The doctors were almost all male, and she was venturing into new professional territory. She brought me shopping with her to help her pick out a business suit to wear to those “doctor lunches.” I still remember the boxy teal business suit, matching blouses, geometric jewelry (hello early ‘90s), and coordinated shoes. This was not the way my mom usually dressed but she accepted that doctors who didn’t (yet) know her for her great work would judge her by how she looked- so she made sure to look the part.
It was around that time that I stopped just watching- I asked questions and my mom talked to me about the business- employee issues, financials, leases, and frustrations with men that didn’t treat her as an equal. I enjoyed seeing her successes- her expanding clinic, now with her own gym and many treatment rooms; seventeen employees on staff; thousands of patients helped. Healing patients was clearly her passion- an extra degree of movement in a knee, the ability to participate in sports again- these were achievements of her patients, but also her successes. I know her focus on her patients is what propelled her business to its success.
But my interest was always on the business side of the clinic. By the time I was a teenager, my mom was asking me for feedback and insight on business issues and I loved it all- negotiating challenging employee issues, systems organization, marketing, and effectively positioning the business for a manageable amount of growth. When people ask me about how I got into financial services, I often credit my dad, who introduced me to the space. But being COO then CEO of my old firm, starting my own business, and helping other business owners run their businesses effectively- that credit goes to my mom, my #1 role model for succeeding as a woman in an overwhelmingly male business, and for running a client centered business with kindness and integrity.
As for the physical therapy clinic, my mom sold the business 13 years ago. Ever an entrepreneur, she was retired for about 30 seconds before launching her current business, which uses all of her skills distilled from decades of healing patients while adding her own passions for dance and yoga to treat the whole person- a business that truly reflects her authentic self. My mom continues to inspire me on both the business and personal side.
Happy Mother's Day!