A Family Affair

When Your Mom is the President

Article by:

Steve Gatena
EO Los Angeles
Judy Gatena
EO Los Angeles

Steve Gatena is the founder and CEO of REP Interactive, a video marketing agency that helps businesses engage new clients and strengthen brand awareness. Fun fact: Steve played football at the University of Southern California (USC). Contact Steve at [email protected].

Judy Gatena is a serial entrepreneur, mother of two and loving wife. Fun fact: In addition to being president of REP Interactive, she’s also the COO. Contact Judy at [email protected].

When most people think of a “family business,” they likely think of a company that’s been handed down the family chain from generation to generation. I took a different approach. When I was 22, I launched REP Interactive, a global video and broadcast media production company. Bucking the trend, I chose to hire friends and family to help me realize my vision, knowing full well that running and maintaining a business was going to be a challenge.

Of special note was the hiring of my mom, Judy, as president. It was a bold move, but leveraging her considerable experience was important to me. My mom is a self-made entrepreneur who almost single-handedly helped our family transition from living on welfare to reaching upper-middle class. I grew up watching her build a successful business from scratch. She never made excuses and she never settled for “no.” Naturally, I was excited to have her on board. But as the company started to expand, I realized that our mother/son relationship made it difficult for me to give orders and provide direction.

Working alongside a family member is tough enough— trying to run a business with your mom is considerably more difficult. If she didn’t like what I wanted to do, she would simply reject it. Having already made it as an entrepreneur, she often felt the need to challenge some of my decisions. I struggled with that at first. Eager to keep the company—and our relationship—afloat, I studied interpersonal communication, researched business fundamentals and spent a lot of time observing behavior. Along the way, I realized that my communication style with my mom had to change in order for our business to stay on course. I had to learn how to better communicate as her son, even while I’m making a request as the CEO.

As I adjusted my approach and paid more attention to my delivery, we began to get “in sync.” I started to see my mom as someone I could truly rely on. I’ve learned to trust her advice, and she lets me make mistakes. We now ebb and flow with the rhythm of business, and best of all, we’re able to learn together. By speaking to one another as mother and son instead of drawing a line between our familial and professional relationship, we’ve grown faster than we ever thought possible. I’m definitely thankful for that, and I’m glad to have my mom on board. I’m sure if you asked her, she’ll agree that it’s been an interesting journey, to say the least.

When Your Son is the CEO

I was the first person in my family to drop out of high school and start a company, one that I owned and operated for nearly 30 years. So when it comes to watching a business go from birth to brick-and-mortar, I have plenty of experience in that space. When it’s your own son that’s doing all of the business building, however … well, that’s a little different. That’s when a mother’s patience is really put to the test.

Until I joined REP Interactive, I had never had business partners with whom I was required to cooperate. Add in the fact that your son is the one making all of the calls, and it certainly takes some getting used to. Building a company with my son and his friends began as a cool experiment, but it was challenging early on. When we started, I was working with a group of kids who lacked business etiquette and the basics of organizational development. But they were brilliant “creatives,” eager visionaries who could see a need, create a solution and adopt new technologies in record time. And they eagerly met every challenge that popped up along the way.

As we grew the company, our employees began to transition from skilled labor to managerial roles. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the right management team in place to sustain a multi-mil- lion-dollar business. So, in 2012, Steve received a scholarship to USC’s Marshall School of Business, and upon finishing the pro- gram, he began to replace a few founding employees and make major structural changes. It was very emotional watching him lay off people we had worked with for years. I wanted to step in and help guide the process, to be a mother in the workplace, but I let him learn from his mistakes. I placed my complete trust in Steve, stepped back and watched him grow into the thriving business owner I knew he could be.

It was an incredible journey! Along the way, I wound up learning a lot by observing how my son handled everything, and for the first time in my entrepreneurial career, I was given a new outlook in business. Since Steve made those key adjustments, our company has grown by 300% and we’ve won dozens of awards. Five years ago, my son approached me with a home- work assignment that turned into REP Interactive. Watching him act on his dreams has been incredibly exciting and rewarding. I never expected any of this, but I’m definitely a proud mom, and I love where our company is headed.

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