Devoted to Success: Mothers and Daughters in Business Together in Marin

Mother daughter illustration

Every entrepreneur knows running a business comes with the perks and headaches of being your own boss. Combine that with a partner who is your mother or daughter, and you’ve got an unshakeable formula for success.

Conventional wisdom among MBAs used to forecast the demise of family businesses by the third generation, but don’t tell that to the women entrepreneurs in Marin. That old nugget, it turns out, is false.

Family-run businesses have a distinct advantage, according to a 2021 Harvard Business Review article. Family owners focus more often on resiliency rather than rapid growth, and adapt better to changing circumstances. “That means working hard not only to preserve cash but also to ensure the well-being of employees and communities,” the authors concluded. “In many studies, family companies have been shown to be better employers and community citizens than their non-family-run peers.”

In Marin, 19 percent of all businesses are owned by women, according to 2017 census data. Perhaps that number should be higher — in a recent Forbes article, women entrepreneurs were found to outperform men. Part of that is attributed to their desire to contribute to society. “Most female founders are motivated by intrinsic factors like autonomy and making a difference,” the author notes.

All over Marin are thriving women-led businesses that have lasted for decades. These powerhouse pairs inspired us.

Mama and Lisa

Kitti’s Place restaurant, a Sausalito classic and frequent gathering place, was founded in 1996 by the Suthipipats. It’s been a family operation since the beginning, named for husband and father, Kitti.

Payao Suthipipat, who goes by Mama, takes care of all the food preparation and cooks every single dish made to order. “I like to say that my mom is the brain and the heart of the place,” says her daughter Lisa. “I am the arms and the legs, keeping things running.”

Lisa, who has a degree in international business, runs the front of the house, goes shopping, and does everything else in between. She considered working as a “big shot” business person but has never left the restaurant. They serve classic Thai food as well as vegan-friendly and Thai-influenced Californian dishes.

She’s inspired by her mother. “My mom is a very strong person,” Lisa says. “She shows me how hard work pays off and to never give up.”

Mama, who moved to the U.S. from her native Thailand in 1983, appreciates that Lisa can handle the day-to-day stress. “She is very calm in hectic situations,” she says. “She’s focused when there are a lot of things going on.”

They’ve learned to work together. “I tell her to speak less and do more,” Mama says. “Action speaks louder than words.”

It drives Lisa crazy that her mother never stops working or takes a full day of rest. “She has lots of energy and is always moving all the time,” says Lisa. “She’s an Energizer bunny.”

Their relationship has evolved over the years, shifting to more than mother and daughter to partners. “Now I listen and talk less, and let my daughter make most of the decisions,” says Mama.

Lisa laughs and says there’s no doubt who is the boss: “Mama, of course.”

Lydia and Magda

Lydia Sarkissian has been in the luxury real estate business for more than 30 years. Originally from Jerusalem, she came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked for a travel division of Neiman Marcus. She switched to real estate for the flexible hours, and has been with the same agency ever since, although the name has changed a few times.

Her daughter Magda Sarkissian, after two years with SB architects, joined her mother at Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty when she was 25.

“The first year was challenging! I was mothering her too much, bringing her lunch,” Lydia says with a laugh. “It was embarrassing. I had to stop mothering her in front of clients.”

Magda credits her growth with the insights she gained through travel and attending Burning Man. “I developed my voice over the years, and got more comfortable,” Magda says. “We have the same intentions, the same goal.”

Mother and daughter work together on business development and reaching out to clients. Magda does more of the marketing as well as handling stagers and inspectors. The division of labor is often shared. “Sometimes the lines get blurred,” Magda said. “She has more high energy, years of wisdom. I create peaceful environments. I’m more calm and methodical.”

Occasionally they get on each other’s nerves. “I don’t want to hear ‘Mom, calm down, it’s not a big deal’ when I’m all hyper,” Lydia says.

“I’m not a morning person, and I’m not ready when I get a call at 7 a.m. about work,” Magda admits.

Despite minor conflicts, working with her daughter is the best part of her life, Lydia asserts. “She’s an amazing child, who pulls up her sleeves and gets to work,” she says. “I’m always in awe to see her around our clientele. She’s so well-respected.”

The respect goes both ways. “She’s able to straddle male and female energies very well, to get to the point in a soft way,” Magda says of her mother. “She gets people. She loves the challenge of thinking outside of the box and works to find a solution.”

The duo doesn’t quite agree on who is in charge. “We’re the bosses of the things we own,” Magda explains.

Lydia has a different view. “Magda is the boss,” her mother says, laughing. “She gets me to do what she wants me to do!”

Julianna, Judy and Caitlyn

Julianna Foris, originally from Budapest, came to the U.S. in the 1970s. She and her husband Thomas and daughter opened Julianna’s Fine Jewelry in Corte Madera in 1985. The couple already had a successful wholesale gold chain jewelry business; their daughter Judy White, who studied business in college, was a welcome third partner in the family-run business.

The business has continued into the next generation. Judy’s daughter and Julianna’s granddaughter Caitlyn Fung joined in 2012. Caitlyn, who majored in English and film, realized she didn’t want to live in Los Angeles. “I started really liking working with my mom,” she says, during the years her husband was finishing his degree. “And then twelve years passed!”

Julianna, Judy and Caitlyn share the job of buying jewelry and watches, but they divide up other responsibilities. Judy runs the day-to-day business of the store as well as the custom designing of one-of-a-kind pieces. Caitlyn is their luxury watch expert.

Julianna works with her special customers and handles most of the payables. “Selling or making special occasion pieces for customers is our favorite part of the business,” she says.

Judy loves the creativity involved in custom jewelry, too. A few memorable pieces include a wedding band that the bride wanted to look like confetti with tiny gemstones. For another couple who wed on 8-8-88, Julianna and Judy created an anniversary present of a four-sided pendant with eights that looked like infinity symbols.

“My favorite thing is helping close friends and family pick their engagement rings and being a part of that special moment in their lives,” says Caitlyn.

Julianna is still respected as the matriarch of their family business. “It’s very rewarding to be with my family every day as well as challenging at times,” Judy says, acknowledging that they argue sometimes. “Each of us tries to get our own way!”

Julianna is impressed by how her daughter has run a successful business for almost 40 years. There’s one thing that amazes Judy about her mother. “She has the energy of a 30 year old!” Judy says.

Caitlyn doesn’t take for granted working with her mother and grandmother. “It’s absurdly cool to be a part of a successful, all-female-run business,” she says. “It’s an amazing experience!”

Eva and Eva

Eva Claiborne worked in her native Hungary for over ten years, after earning her Master Aesthetician certification. When she moved to the United States, she found too many of the skin care products were “over perfumed, (with) too many chemicals.”

She created more natural products, and works often with dermatologists and plastic surgeons. “(Products are) often missing the calming and soothing ingredients that rehabilitate the skin,” she says. Her eponymous beauty and wellness clinic has been in Tiburon for over thirty years.

It was a dream, she says, to have her daughter follow in her footsteps. Both women love to share the story of young Eva, massaging her dolls after kindergarten, waiting for the work day to end. “She was amazing, working her little fingers,” her mother recalls.

Eva Temby, whose day job is as an owner’s representative for high-end real estate construction, joined her mother’s business two years ago when she earned her aesthetician certification. She specializes in teen facials and her mother works mostly in anti-aging, providing before and after post-operative care for skin.

“I learned from my mom, she’s one of the best,” says Eva T. “I respect her so much. She’s so talented and an amazing teacher.”

Working together is easy and wonderful, they say. “We are best friends,” Eva C says. “In the treatment room, I’m not her mother. I’m her teacher.”

Eva T. was drawn to her mother’s work during the pandemic. “There’s something magical about working on someone, pampering them and having them relax and rejuvenate not only their skin but also their well-being,” she says. “I didn’t think I would fall in love with the industry as much as I did.”

“I love her passion and I love her heart,” Eva says of her daughter. “It’s more than a facial. She works with her hands, her heart, her soul.”

Although they say they don’t boss each other around, her daughter is clear about who is in charge. “Of course she is!” Eva T. says with a laugh. “She still tells me what to do. If I’m feeling sick, she asks, ‘did you take your vitamins, are you eating?’”

They work in harmony, Eva T says. “The closeness and openness we have — I hope every mother-daughter shares that bond.”