Inspiring tales of how a mother’s love, wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit can influence the paths of successful professionals.

Our first mentors: How mothers shape our careers

Inspiring tales of how a mother’s love, wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit can influence the paths of successful professionals.
Mickey with her mom.

When I think of my professional career and where I’ve learned the most about business, it wasn’t in school or any one specific role. It was when I worked as a floral shop delivery driver in Burke, Virginia, with my mother — the new shop owner. 

My mother grew up around flowers her entire life, working in her own parents’ shop when she was young. When my dad’s Navy career brought us to Washington, D.C., she took a job at Burke Florist. The next year, she bought the business.

The shop itself was old and dated; Florists’ Transworld Delivery (FTD) ads of funeral arrangements were its only décor. Located in a dark and rundown strip mall, I couldn’t imagine how she’d make it work. But she had a vision, and it quickly became infectious. 

My mom spent countless hours repainting the walls, changing the logo and filling the shop with elegant arrangements. To save on costs, she worked by herself, and I became her delivery driver. After dropping off my deliveries each night, I’d stand next to her at the cash register as she clicked its keys and tallied the sales with fingers crossed, hoping we’d made $100.00 — that was our break-even amount. As I watched the creativity and magic unfold, I was unknowingly tucking away all these little business lessons I’d use later in life. 

In talking with some of my friends in the Utah Business community, I’ve realized I’m not alone in carrying what my mom taught me into my career.

Lessons in trust and helping others

When Strategic Storytelling founder Cesar Castro was seven years old, his family immigrated to Utah from Chile. His younger brother, Juanito, needed medical care that was best provided by Utah’s Primary Children’s Hospital. 

When they arrived, his parents had four children to support and only $600. To assist with expenses, Cesar’s mom began cleaning houses while the children were in school. She would take Juanito with her as she worked because he needed 24/7 care.

Inspiring tales of how a mother’s love, wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit can influence the paths of successful professionals.
Cesar Castro's mother and brother, Juanito.
Inspiring tales of how a mother’s love, wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit can influence the paths of successful professionals.

Her hours were long, and at first, she had just two large houses on her route. With dedication and perseverance, “Clara’s Cleaning Crew” grew to hundreds of homes with teams of people working for her. Cesar watched his mother help other immigrants, especially those from Latin American countries. She received lots of referrals for new employees based on her reputation for being willing to help others. Sometimes, that help included buying a car or paying someone’s rent. 

Cesar noticed how, sometimes, the same people his mother helped were ungrateful and would turn on her. When he was 15, he asked her why she continued to help when so many treated her this way. Her answer would stay with him throughout his life. She said, “Son, you need to trust people because most are really good. If you stop trusting others, you will miss so many people you can help.” 

Cesar says this advice has shaped his life, and her words have proved true. His brother Juanito defied the odds and lived to the age of 22, cared for by his mother during his lifetime.

Lessons in perseverance and purpose

Jen Wakeland, the strategic development director for Beaver County, credits her career success to evenings at her family’s dinner table. Her mother worked in the Utah County Recorder’s Office while she was growing up, and conversations over dinner covered topics such as boundaries, rights of way, property rights and critical infrastructure. 

“It’s where I cut my teeth to get where I am today,” Wakeland says. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mom was teeing me up for some interesting things I would do in my career.”

Inspiring tales of how a mother’s love, wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit can influence the paths of successful professionals.
Jen Wakeland's Mother, Andrea Allen.

Wakeland says her mom, Andrea Allen, poured herself into her job and learned as much as she could, sometimes taking on highly technical topics. Even without a college degree, she was able to advance and is now the elected official for this same office. 

“I’m just so dang proud of her,” Wakeland says. “I come from a line of women who work in government and whose husbands are entrepreneurs or self-employed. We work in jobs that serve the public but also provide health benefits for our families.” 

Wakeland’s grandmother retired from the state office of the DMV, and she has two aunts who work in city government. It wasn’t unusual for her to visit her grandma when she was working at the state office building in Provo and seeing elected government officials strolling its hallways. 

When Wakeland thinks of how she conducts herself today, she relates it back to her mom and the other great women in her family who taught her three important things: 1) Hard work will get you anywhere. 2) It’s going to be uncomfortable, but how you push through it will make the difference. 3) At the end of the day, you’re with your family, who you’re doing that uncomfortable, hard work for. 

Lessons in leadership

It doesn’t matter what the profession is — even the roughest, male-dominated roles can be heavily influenced by a mother’s example. 

Brig. Gen. Max Stitzer, who spent 40 years in the U.S. Air Force, says it was his mother’s influence that shaped his career.

Inspiring tales of how a mother’s love, wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit can influence the paths of successful professionals.
Max and His Mom

“Certainly, my dad had an influence on me — he was an engineer and taught me how to make things with my hands and how to reason,” he says. “The military is great at teaching you the technical stuff as well. But what we don’t teach are the ‘soft skills’— humility, being a good human being, treating others with kindness and caring for those who are less advantaged. My mom taught me those things, and I use them every single day.” 

Whenever Stitzer was awarded a big achievement, promotion or medal, he’d put it back in the box and ship it to his mom. 

“She has all of my original medals, and after I recently won an award for being a male ally, I sent her that certificate and said, “I want you to have this because I learned those things from you.” 

Lessons in resilience and commitment

After just a few months, my mom and I no longer had to cross our fingers at the register of Burke Florist. We were profitable, which meant she could hire a team of additional designers — just in time for Mother’s Day week. 

If anything could’ve gone wrong, it did. We had four weddings that weekend and not enough people to deliver. That was in addition to a mound of in-town deliveries people had ordered for their beloved mothers that all had to go out as well. The walk-in fridge where the flowers were stored was full to capacity, and then it stopped working. 

Inspiring tales of how a mother’s love, wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit can influence the paths of successful professionals.

Flowers are doomed without refrigeration, so a solution had to be found. While my mom worked to find someone to fix the cooler, the designers rallied to stuff their home fridges with fragrant buckets of mums and carnations. Everyone pulled together for her, and somehow, in some way, it all worked out. The flower shuffling held things together until the shop’s fridge was working again. To cover the weddings, she taught me and my dad how to decorate the churches, and off we went. 

It was one of the most exhausting days ever, and my deliveries kept me out until 9 p.m. that Saturday night. Just as I was arriving back at the shop, the phone rang. A customer who had missed her delivery was calling to ask if there was any way we could make the long drive out to re-deliver her bouquet. As I wildly waved my arms, giving my mom a silent scream of “NO!” I heard her say, “Of course! We wouldn’t want you to miss your Mother’s Day gift!” as she pointed to the door and handed me the flowers. 

Burke Florist, and the reinvention my mom gave it, was wildly successful. The one little shop turned into two, and my mom became so popular that the local community college asked her to teach floral arranging classes, which was how she found new designers to work in the shop. Within a few years, she was decorating The White House at Christmas, and she led the designers for former President George H. W. Bush’s inauguration in 1989 — all from her store in that rundown strip mall.

It’s been 40 years since I delivered flowers in the red delivery truck, but not a day goes by that I don’t utilize my mother’s flower shop wisdom.

To all the mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day.

Mickey is a freelance writer for Utah Business based in Lehi, Utah. She has worked in the high-tech space for the past 30 years in various sales, marketing, and operations roles, all focused on building a better customer experience. She was also a curator and speaking coach at TEDx Salt Lake City for four seasons and now does private speaker and presentation coaching for various companies in the area, always encouraging speakers to “find their story and tell it.”