It’s not easy to break into a 143-year-old business. Just ask the boss’s daughter.
Trisha Joseph’s first experience working at Josephs Jewelers—the fine jewelry business owned by her father, Toby Joseph, and her uncle, John—didn’t exactly point to her future vocation as co-owner of the West Des Moines, Iowa–based retail chain. “I worked as a gift-wrapper during the holidays when I was in high school,” recalls Trisha, who studied psychology at the University of Iowa before stints as a preschool teacher and in hotel management. “I never thought I’d join the business; I thought I was going to go to graduate school.” She and her brother, Jake—who’s also now a co-owner—currently manage one of Josephs’ three locations. Jake, who initially thought he would go into engineering or a computer-related field, earned his undergraduate degree in accounting: “But I quickly realized that although I loved solving problems, I had ants-in-your-pants syndrome and didn’t want to sit at a desk all day.” Toby, for one, is glad his kids didn’t jump directly into the business, which his great-grandfather founded in 1871. “It’s a good thing they were able to see other businesses,” he says. “That way, they get to see these different places, come to us, and really design their place here.”
Toby: I was thrilled Jake and Trisha wanted to try working in the business. I always thought once they’d tried it, they’d like it. It makes me feel really good that they’re a part of it, but it’s also a bit stressful because you want to make sure it’s not your fault it all ends.
Trisha: It’s always really hard when you start off in a family business and you’re the boss’s daughter. People were wary and expectations were high, and it was the first time in my life that I wasn’t friends with my coworkers. No one asked me to hang out. One person even said, “I think your dad put you here just to spy on us.”
Jake: When I was 16 or 17, I expressed interest in working in the business. There was a part-time position at a store and the rest is history. I pretty much knew right away it would be a good fit, despite the fact that I had an angry customer the very first day!
Trisha: I admire the way my dad works with customers. I had a customer say, “I could just watch your dad work with people all day.” He’s so intelligent and soft-spoken, and he takes the time to make sure that every little step is done. His motto is “Under-promise and over-deliver, no matter what.”
Toby: Both Jake and Trisha sell. If you look at the top five sellers at any point, they are always right in there. I always get comments on how professional and good Trisha is and how proud I must be. And that’s a really pleasant thing. Jake has worked very hard to change our repair operation. We used to handwrite every ticket, but, along with our CFO, he’s designed it all for the computer. He also does diamond buying for us, and he can take off on his own at this point—the baton is passing really smoothly that way.
Jake: Dad is always very professional out on the floor and a very classy person. It’s not about the glamour or glitz for him—it’s about taking care of people. Trisha is definitely more organized than I am, and she’s not afraid to deal with confrontation and difficult things. John definitely has a great head. We had been farming out our health insurance benefits, and the company went through the setup and said it was compliant with the government. And John ended up proving that the policy was actually not compliant. When it comes to cutting through the red tape, he’s a real asset.
Jake, Toby, Trisha, and John Joseph
Trisha: The nice part of being in a family business is that we get to spend a lot of time together. Family gatherings are never awkward because we know each other so well. It can be challenging spending so much time together, but Jake and I are like best friends—we get along really well. We still hang out outside of work!
Toby: So many people I know see their children twice a year. All of mine live close to my house. That’s the best part of working together.
Jake: There’s a little bit more freedom in a family business—and more of a sense of family, even among coworkers and employees. A lot of my friends work in the corporate world and it’s really different. They’re a [cog] in the machine. That’s not how it is with us.
Jake: My advice for anyone joining the family business would be: Remember what it’s like living with your parents. And if you can stand living with them, you’re probably going to do okay. The biggest thing you have to keep in mind is when you’re with your family at work, it’s about working and doing business. Probably one of the biggest challenges most people will face is not dragging family stuff—what happened on Christmas—into the business.
Toby: I would tell anyone bringing aboard the next generation that you have to stand back and let some things happen—you may not agree with what they’re doing, but you have to bite your tongue. And if they make mistakes, make sure everyone learns from them. If you’re on them all the time, you may be driving them away. Let them find their way.