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Prized Family Business Reaps Rewards of Heartfelt Service

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Theodora Sergiou never imagined herself where she is today: small-business owner, acting vice president and COO, a finalist for the 2012 New Jersey Monthly Leading Women Entrepreneurs Award. But in honoring and building upon her father’s legacy, she seems to have found her calling.

In 1969, building subcontractor Nicholas Christofi decided to start his own business building backyard swimming pools. In 1986, he and his wife, Flora, enlisted their three teenage children—Sergiou was the oldest, at 16—to open and help manage a small shop and assist with construction. “We didn’t realize what we were getting into,” Sergiou recalls.

“Being in a male-dominated business isn’t easy. But if you’re knowledgeable and energetic about your business, you can grow it. The possibilities are endless.” — Theodora Sergiou

As she got older, Sergiou set her sights elsewhere. She earned her M.B.A. before moving to the island nation of Cyprus, her parents’ home country, where she taught college courses in marketing and management. She then married and moved to London before returning to the U.S. in 1998. With her first child due in a few months’ time, she thought she would ultimately return to teaching. That was before her father built a brand new office next to his with an attached nursery.

“He said, ‘Well, here’s your office!’” she jokes. “That sealed it for me.”

Today, Nicholas Pools builds, renovates and services swimming pools and hot tubs throughout Ocean, Monmouth and Middlesex counties, home to the largest concentration of in-ground pools in the U.S. Among the company’s many loyal customers are the grown children of parents whom the Christofi family served a generation ago. In a very real sense, these families have grown up together.

Of her many daily responsibilities, Sergiou says she most enjoys counseling first-time clients, who have a lot to consider when committing to a new pool. “It’s not just a swimming pool—it’s an extension of your home. I like to get new customers thinking about how they’ll be using their backyard and how a new pool can serve a larger theme.”

Sergiou is happiest of all when she’s serving others. An active member of Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, she teaches Sunday school, chairs the annual fashion show, and participates in the Philoptochos, a national organization of female volunteers. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Sergiou transformed Nicholas Pools’ warehouse into a holding facility for relief supplies, where trucks from all over the country have come to donate vital goods or deliver them to hard-hit areas.

“It has been devastating seeing so much suffering,”

Sergiou says. “But the good that has come of it, the outpouring of help—it’s been amazing to be a part of that.”