Babson Magazine

Spring 2013

Working with Mom

What happens when your mother also is a business colleague?

Victor ’13 and Judy Achar
Photo: Luis Garcia
Victor ’13 and Judy Achar

Victor ’13 and Judy Achar — Mitz

One of a parent’s main responsibilities, Judy Achar believes, is to instill in her children a concern for their fellow man. “We live next to poverty,” says Judy, who’s from Mexico City. “We see it all the time.” Through the years, she taught her three kids not to ignore the poor. The family volunteered at a medical clinic and organized drives to collect food and blankets for those in need.

“My mom made sure to keep us involved in the community,” says her son, Victor Achar ’13. “This was always a part of our family.” Victor remembers how the family would hand out food to the homeless around Mexico City and head out of the city to the mountainous area of Toluca to deliver blankets. “For them, a blanket would really make a difference,” Victor says. “It gets cold there in winter.” Those experiences influenced Victor as he grew up, made him wonder about the ways he could make a difference. “You’re always thinking beyond yourself,” he says.

Today, he and his mom work together to help others through her nonprofit, Mitz, which Judy founded in 2003 as a way to support underprivileged children at a local Montessori school. She had worked at the school as a teacher, then as a fundraiser, but she realized that donors can be fickle. To provide a more reliable revenue source, she started Mitz, which sells hand-woven items such as bags, wallets, and cases. The weavers live in low-income areas where job opportunities are hard to find, and the items are made from leftover food packaging, so Mitz not only helps the school, but also gives poor people work and reduces waste.

Victor was a teenager when Mitz began, and he and his siblings helped their mom with the nonprofit any way they could. They sold items to friends, assisted her when she set up shop in a bazaar, and collected trash. Nowadays, Mitz receives waste packaging from companies such as Kellogg, Kraft, and Mars, but in Mitz’s early years, the nonprofit scrambled to find usable trash. Whenever a friend was eating a candy bar or bag of chips, Victor asked them for the empty wrapper. He also organized a regular trash collection at his school.

Armed with his Babson education, Victor now helps Mitz with branding and with locating stores that may want to sell its products. Judy doesn’t have a business background, so his help is appreciated. “My mom is extraordinary,” he says. “She is extremely hard working. She is a strong believer in what she does.”

Graduating in May, Victor is approaching decision time. Where will he go after Babson? Right now, he’s leaning toward working in the U.S. for a year or two. “My parents want me to move back to Mexico,” he says. “They miss me. But whatever I do, they’ll support me.” Wherever he goes, he plans to stay involved with Mitz in some way, and that pleases Judy. “I am very proud to know Victor is following in these footsteps,” she says. “It fills me with satisfaction. I feel proud to work with my son. Victor’s contribution has been a cornerstone.”

Ava ’16 and Kim Anderson

Photo: Michael Piazza
Ava ’16 and Kim Anderson

Ava ’16 and Kim Anderson — Ava Anderson Non-Toxic

The idea for their business came suddenly. Kim and Ava ’16 Anderson, mother and daughter, were watching the TV news when a report came on about teenagers affected by potentially harmful ingredients in personal care products. “I was shocked and wanted to make sure I wasn’t exposed,” says Ava, who was then a freshman in high school. “I ran right to my bedroom.” She didn’t like what she saw and began searching online for more information on ingredients. “Every piece of data spurred me to do more research,” she says.

Ever since she was little, Ava had a strong sense of right and wrong, her mom recalls, and that news report struck a nerve. “It changed her life,” Kim says. She watched Ava grow more and more concerned about the chemicals in products, watched as she started tossing things in the trash. Shampoo, mascara, deodorant, lipstick. Ava scrutinized not only the products she used, but also those of her mother and grandmothers. “She threw everything out in the house,” Kim says.

She may have been a teenager, but as her concerns about ingredient safety continued to linger, Ava eventually had a big idea, to start her own line of products. Doing so would require the help of her mom, a successful businesswoman who recently had owned a thriving home-goods store in their hometown of Barrington, R.I., but was now retired. To convince her mother, Ava took Kim to a cosmetics store to stroll the aisles and examine products and their ingredients. “She had had a year of retirement, and I said, ‘Back on your feet. It’s time to get back to work,’” Ava says. Starting a company would be hard work, but Kim was convinced. “I got it. I supported it,” she says. “I was blown away by her knowledge. We’ve been lucky as a family that we have everything we need. We decided to take this on.”

Chemists and a manufacturer were found, and in 2009, Ava Anderson Non-Toxic was launched with six products. Throughout high school, Ava didn’t pursue sports or extracurricular activities. Her company was her focus, and she and her mom became business associates. Ava was CEO, and Kim was president. During dinnertime, the pair talked shop, which annoyed Ava’s father. “He’s been totally supportive, but he wanted to keep that talk away from the dinner table,” Ava says. “It’s hard to separate business and personal life.”

The company has grown steadily. It now offers about 60 products and has a sales force of 2,000 consultants spread out over every state. Ava has received much media coverage, appearing in Glamour, Seventeen, and Teen Vogue, and she has lobbied Congress members on product safety. “I’ve watched her grow into a confident, strong woman in doing this business,” Kim says. “I’ve learned a lot from Ava, and she’s learned a lot from me.” Indeed, Ava closely watches her mom in action. “I get a ringside seat to how skillfully she handles all situations,” Ava says. “She is truly kind to everyone, all with as much grace as anyone can muster.”

Now that Ava is a college student, Kim takes the lead in running the business. But the two talk every day and exchange tons of emails. “When she finishes, she can come home and run the company,” Kim says. “I’ll always be involved, but it’s her baby.”

David, MBA’07, and Sandy Hu — Special Fork

When raising their two boys, Sandy Hu and her husband were dedicated to eating dinner together every night as a family. It wasn’t easy. She worked in public relations. He was a CFO in Silicon Valley. Both were busy, but they made it work. Whichever parent rushed home first would rustle up the meal, and then the four would sit, eat, and talk about their days. “We were committed to family dinner hour,” Sandy says. “I think it is so important.”

Her son, David Hu, MBA’07, remembers how those meals were a constant in their hectic lives, and he remembers the simple yet delicious food his parents would make, the pasta, fried chicken, and chicken teriyaki. “There were very few leftovers,” he says.

David, MBA’07, and Sandy Hu — Special Fork

Photo: Annie Tritt
David, MBA’07, and Sandy Hu

Today, Sandy and David work together, and their venture has its roots in those long-ago meals. They are co-founders of San Francisco-based Special Fork, a mobile recipe website that focuses on everyday meals that can be prepped in 30 minutes. “You come home and have to put something on the table,” Sandy says. “We are trying to solve the dinnertime dilemma.”

Sandy’s PR work had centered on the food industry for years, and she long had the idea for a recipe website for easy-to-make meals. She simply didn’t have the needed technical and business know-how to make the venture a reality. A product manager at Virgin Mobile, David had just that. “This was only an idea in my head,” she says. “It takes someone to work that idea out. In comes David.” The site launched in 2009 and took its name from a long-time family ritual. During dinnertime, whenever he truly enjoyed a meal his parents prepared, David’s younger brother, Chris, would swap his dinner fork for a mismatched fork out of the utensil drawer. This quiet sign of approval began when Chris was 6 or 7 and continued until he went off to college. The mismatched utensil became known as the “special fork.”

Sandy may be David’s mom, but at the office, they keep their relationship formal. “The hardest thing is to refer to her by her first name,” he says. “It’s a little weird.” Otherwise, they work well together. They have the same interests, same temperament. “We don’t fight,” he says. “Even as a kid, we didn’t fight. We’ve always had an open line of communication.” Of course, they occasionally have differences of opinion, but they talk them out, like the time they disagreed about what kind of recipes to focus on. “I felt Special Fork should have recipes for everything,” David recalls. “I didn’t think it should be 30 minutes. Sandy laid out her position. It took me some time to realize she was right.”

Sandy says the duo may have founded the company together, but there’s no doubt who’s the leader. While Sandy serves as vice president for content and communications, David is CEO. “David is my boss,” she says. “You can only have one boss.” Not that he’s a tough person to work for. “For me, to spend this much time with David is a joy,” Sandy says. “I spawned the perfect partner for me.”