WORK/LIFE BALANCE: HOW THE MILLIONAIRE MOMS DO IT

Anne Tergesen

Tamara Monosoff is the founder of Mom Inventors, a Walnut Creek (Calif.) company that licenses consumer products from entrepreneurial moms. The company handles the manufacturing and distribution, paying the “momtrepreneurs” a royalty. Some of the company’s big hits: Sandwich cutters that come in cool shapes and table covers with elastic edges that cling the way a plastic shower cap does.

Monosoff, a mother of two young children, is also about to publish “Secrets of Millionaire Moms” (Full disclosure: The publisher is McGraw-Hill, parent of BusinessWeek). In it, she profiles momtrepreneurs who have hit the big-time, earning millions in the process. Women profiled in the book include: Julie Clark, founder of Baby Einstein; Maxine Clark, creator of Build-A-Bear retail stores; Cookie maven Karen Belasco (www.goodfortunes.com), and catalog pioneer Lillian Vernon.

I recently spoke to Monosoff about how these millionaire moms handle the elusive work/life balance.

Q: How do they do it?

A: Managing children and a career – I call it an extreme sport. I have a chapter dedicated to work life balance. You are setting yourself up for failure if you think you’re going to achieve perfect balance as an entrepreneurial woman with a business and family. There needs to be fluidity: At times, your family will need you more and you will need to be there. Other times, your business will need you more. Some people look at their lives as a pie chart and try to cut it up into equal parts. If you’re going to try to fit yourself into perfect quadrants, you will be disappointed. It’s not going to work.

Q: What sorts of childcare arrangements have these women used?

A: Karen Belasco, who has a cookie and chocolate factory in Los Angeles is a good example of someone who tried something different. When her kids were small, she created a play room in her factory and had a nanny come there. Karen was able to come in and out during day. Maria Sobrino came from Mexico and started a gelatin dessert company from her own kitchen while also caring for her two small girls. She would drive to mom and pop shops and at first, no one would order it. She told the shopkeepers to keep the product and if people bought it to order more. Now she makes 60 million units a year. She would take her girls and a nanny on her business trips and have her meetings at her hotel. She could do hour-long meetings and then dash back to see the girls. Several of these women had young children when they began their businesses. Interestingly, some of the children have now joined their companies.

Q: What overall lessons can you take from these women?

A: To do whatever works for you and not let outside critics affect you. The 17 women I interviewed, even through they externally are very different—some are high school graduates, some have college degrees, one has an MBA, some come from privileged backgrounds, some were very poor, they range in age from 40 to 80, some are extroverted, some are much quieter—but what I noticed across the board was an intense focus and determination to succeed. What stunned me was that even after these women had turned their businesses into multi-million dollar enterprises, they are all still working so hard. I had an illusion that they would all be sitting back. But they continue to be driven. And now that their businesses are so big, the companies are even more complicated. They are just passionate about what they do.