Mimi Sterling has seen the world. In college, she studied abroad in North Africa and Europe. Her professional roles—in fashion, travel and publishing—have taken her to Italy, New York, France, Switzerland and the Caribbean. At one point, she quit her job to backpack through Europe and Asia. A corporate role with Neiman Marcus Group, where her responsibilities ranged from the store’s signature fantasy gifts to philanthropy and internal culture, brought her to Dallas. “My former boss said to me, ‘You’ve lived in Morocco. I’m sure you’d do fine in Texas,’” Sterling recalls.
Dallas became more than a stop in a globetrotting career. This is home, and Sterling’s new job allows her to give back to her community like never before. She is CEO of The Family Place, a nonprofit that works to eliminate family violence and helps survivors through no-cost counseling, emergency shelter and transitional housing. It’s a weighty and heartbreaking subject, to be sure, but Sterling has never been more fulfilled.
Current position: CEO of The Family Place, a Dallas-based agency assisting survivors of domestic violence
Lives in: East Dallas’ Lakewood area
Hails from: Indianapolis
Alma mater: Connecticut College, where she majored in French and Italian
Significant other: Husband Rich, a former chef who works in health insurance sales
Children: Daughters Veva, 10, and Poppy, 2; son Murphy, 9
Where to connect: LinkedIn and Facebook
One-on-One with Mimi Sterling
DFWChild: What inspired you to leave Neiman Marcus for The Family Place?
Mimi Sterling: Three people recommended me. With the first two, I said, “I just got a new role at Neiman’s [as vice president, Environmental, Social, Governance and Belonging]. Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m really happy where I am.” Then a third person—a friend on The Family Place board—said, “They need you. You need them. This is a big job.”
Ultimately, the opportunity to have my work really have meaning was something I didn’t know I could have. I got a taste of that at Neiman’s, working on brave conversations, trust and being part of a diverse environment. Still, we would joke, “It’s not brain surgery. It’s not life or death.” And now it’s not a joke. I say in the office, “Someone could die. We have to fix that.”
C: How did your corporate work prepare you for leading a nonprofit?
MS: After Neiman’s went through bankruptcy, the new CEO talked a lot about servant leadership. The real focus is on people and knowing that happy people make a great company. I’m a people-pleaser by nature—but understanding how to put words to it or change business practices to help people be engaged and successful, those are things that I learned at Neiman’s. I have a better understanding of people, their challenges and their reactions to things.
C: You took over from Paige Flink, who led The Family Place for more than three decades before retiring as CEO last September. Those are big shoes to fill.
MS: She is a big part of the reason why I’m here. Paige deserves so much credit for building The Family Place into what it is today. She is a true advocate for our clients, and I really draw from her hard work and dedication.
“Domestic violence doesn’t mean only a push or shove or black eye. It means isolation. It means financial control. It means emotional traumatization and any type of physical or emotional abuse.”
C: A lot of people can’t imagine domestic violence happening to them or to someone they know. How common is it?
MS: One in three Texans—including both men and women, but more often women—are victims of domestic violence. Every year there are approximately 15,000 family violence offenses in Dallas alone and more than 8,000 requests for protective orders from the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.
The violence happens in every social class, every kind of family. And we’ve seen an increase since the pandemic began. People are stuck together, kids are doing remote school, people are suffering job loss and financial stress—those are pressures that fuel domestic violence.
If it’s one in three experiencing violence, we all have sisters, daughters, mothers, friends who are going through it. There are people I know through everyday activities who are clients of The Family Place. I don’t want to say that’s surprising, because I know domestic violence is out there, but that really brings it home.
Remember, domestic violence doesn’t mean only a push or shove or black eye. It means isolation. It means financial control. It means emotional traumatization and any type of physical or emotional abuse.
C: Domestic violence is such a heavy topic. How does being in that world on a daily basis affect you?
MS: I have gone into my office and cried a few times. It’s hard. I work in a building that is half shelter, and I see some of the same women, children and pets every day. I don’t always know the stories, but I see women doing everything they can for their children. It gives me so much humility.
I have always been a grateful person, but this job has given me a huge amount of gratitude for the team we have in place and our ability to solve very complex and serious challenges. I feel frustrated sometimes that I can’t solve problems fast enough. I can’t always fix their challenge. I can try and the work is helping, but it’s a long process, which is why community support and collaboration with our many partners in Dallas is so important.
“While we have a warm, safe house in a warm, safe neighborhood, we talk about how that’s a privilege.”
C: Was it difficult to explain The Family Place’s work to your children?
MS: We’re very direct as a family, and I talk about things I see—a mom who has four kids and can’t afford car seats, and she has a black eye, or she has a gunshot wound. I tell them I saw a dad whose wife almost killed him. I probably should sugarcoat it, but I don’t.
This work has given me a platform to reiterate to my kids that it’s so important to be kind and to contribute in a positive way. We talk about if you see somebody having a bad day, don’t just think they’re mean. There’s probably something going on.
C: How do you raise your children to be positive contributors?
MS: Our kids participate. They went with us to The Family Place on Thanksgiving and served lunch. The kids saw families that weren’t at home and what that meant. My children have chores. And while we have a warm, safe house in a warm, safe neighborhood, we talk about how that’s a privilege. Not every kid has access to an iPad and vacations. Not all parents have the ability to work and provide for their kids in that way. We are extremely lucky to have the life we do.
It is such a joy when my children say, “Mom, is there anything I can help out with today?” I think a lot of that comes from my mom. She lives with us, and we call her Grammie Nanny. She’s our structure and keeps us running. She says to the kids, “You guys have to get to work. We’re going to take out the trash. We’re going to wash the windows.”
C: Your younger daughter was born in North Texas, but your older two were born in New York. What was it like raising kids there versus in Dallas?
MS: One thing we love about New York is the innate neighborhood diversity. Here, we all need to be more deliberate about fostering neighborhood inclusion and diversity. The cultural institutions and the restaurants in New York were important to us. My kids love sushi. You’re exposed to different things by living in different places. New York is such a rich place with a lot of energy, but it’s also overwhelming and stressful.
I love that our family has found Dallas. It has wonderful cultural institutions, great public schools, wonderful parks, nice people—really, really nice people.
C: What’s a typical weekend like for your family?
MS: Wake up, clean up the house. Run out to lunch. Murphy does basketball and soccer. Errands. Birthday parties. We may go to the Dallas Museum of Art or the Kimbell. We love Klyde Warren Park and Dallas Children’s Aquarium. Hopefully we’d have dinner with a friend. Nothing crazy. Simple is good.