While most parents think about starting a business to create a family legacy and have their kids work for them, imagine being a parent who works for their 19-year-old’s million-dollar business. At just 9-years-old, Zandra Cunningham started Zandra Beauty a plant-based skincare company with products in Target, Costco, Wholefoods, Wegman’s, and more.
Now, with her mom, dad, two brothers, and nana working behind her, the beauty executive is also an author, a speaker, and change-maker using her career as a platform to teach other teen girls how to own and operate their businesses.
Below, her mom Tamara Zantell talks about the steps she took to build and maintain trust with her daughter as a business owner and the family policy for navigating conflict.
AfroTech: Regardless of a family’s level of success, disagreements about business matters will occur. What’s one piece of advice you would give someone for starting a family-owned business?
Tamara Zantell: The advice I would give a family starting or building a business together would be to first commit to running the business like a real company.
The business will need to be respected as such. Many of us tend to operate differently when we have a 9-5 or corporate job. We show up on time, take
reasonable breaks and follow the policies and procedures. Yet, when it comes to our businesses we lack the same discipline and structure. So the first order of business should be to establish each family member’s role/title within the business, complete with job descriptions and the appropriate handbooks.
AT: What about when it comes to working through conflict or a difference of opinion?
TZ: This is where the policies and procedures come into play. If a system is established for handling disputes, a dispute is resolved quickly. However, it can be extra emotional working with family. One of the things we have implemented is a clear communication policy. Our clear communication policy consists of three elements; also known as A.I.R. (Articulation, Intelligence, and Respect). If a team member is incapable of honoring this policy, they cannot be recognized within a discussion.
AT: Secondly, across your social media channels, you make it known that you work for Zandra. How do you separate being a mom vs manager?
TZ: Now, this was tough for me initially. My kids will tell you that I am a very hands-on mom, a little helicopter-ish even. Having a mom this way with me, trained me to do the same. But with Zandra, I had to make a change. As she grew and worked toward mastering her craft both as a maker
and a business owner, I realized that the tighter I held her, the harder it was for her to fly.
I wasn’t the only family member that had to adjust. After I left corporate to work for Zandra her father soon followed. Today our team consists of her two brothers, her uncle and her nana.
AT: How have you learned to trust your daughter as a business owner and let her make her own business decisions?
TZ: I had to assess our relationship and respect that she knew more than I did when it came to how she wanted to launch and grow her dream. It wasn’t easy to refrain from correcting her, over-talking her, thinking for her or get her to do things my way. I had to respect her for who she was and who I knew she was becoming. She was going to be my boss and I had to get ready. Also, we were strategic at making sure she was educated within her industry. Graduating from the University At Buffalo School of Management Business Program after a full year boosted her confidence in business and my confidence in her. I also watched her pitch her business in highly stressful situations across from adults and win many pitch competitions. I have watched her chat with corporate executives and build relationships with retail partners with no help from her dad or me.
Those instances were all signs that she was ready to truly own her place as the CEO/founder.
Today it’s easy, I trust her to do her part and she trusts me to do mine. I will always by her mommy first though.