Sister act

Graduating from Arizona State University with degrees in accounting isn’t the only thing Trish Gulbranson (BS Accountancy ’88) and her sister Lisa VanBockern (BS Accountancy/Computer Information Systems ’98) have in common. Both women took a leap of faith and left their corporate careers to pursue a shared passion for health and beauty. Each has since launched her own skin care company, successes that have earned these entrepreneurs elite recognition as Sun Devil 100 winners for three years apiece.

VanBockern attributes the life-changing opportunities that have forged her professional path to her sister who pioneered their journey out of the corporate arena and into two new business ventures.

“She is very inspirational and a great mentor to me,” VanBockern says. When she graduated from ASU, Gulbranson was recruited by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and worked in public accounting for a decade before she accepted an offer to be the chief financial officer of a growing software company.

It was the ride of a lifetime. It was when the internet first came out and it was like the wild, wild west. 

— Derma Health Founder and CEO Trish Gulbanson

Inspired by the rapid growth of the business, Gulbranson rose to eventually become the president and CEO of the software company.

Meanwhile, her sister put her newly earned accounting degree to work as a consultant at Ernst & Young where she created software databases. After a few years, however, she realized it might not be the right fit.

“I wasn’t crazy about programming databases,” VanBockern says. “It was so much fun in school, but when I got into the real world, I realized it wasn’t what I thought it would be.”

While her corporate background from PwC sharpened her financial skills, Gulbranson credits the owner of the software company as a mentor who sparked her entrepreneurial spirit. “She was spending money and going into new markets and I was like, ‘You can’t do this!’ She taught me to take risks. That’s what it takes. You have to go for it.”

And that’s exactly what she did. When the company was sold and she was riding out her final contract, Gulbranson began digging deeply to figure out the best industry in which to launch a future venture.

“One of my passions has always been health and fitness,” she says, an interest that her mother encouraged in the siblings, always emphasizing good nutrition and health.

“I live in Phoenix and everyone’s moving here to retire. This is an aging demographic. What do they want?”

She began researching industries and then one day, she saw a presentation about med spa franchises and knew it was the perfect match.

She asked her sister if she wanted to jump aboard. Ready for a change, VanBockern happily accepted the invitation. She even went to school to become a certified aesthetician so she could work directly with clients, providing skincare treatments.

The sisters worked closely building the med spa business from the ground up. As a treatment specialist, VanBockern took a keen interest in the makings of skincare products.

“I got passionate about the ingredients I was using on people to change their skin to work on pigmentation, acne, and aging,” she says. She started experimenting with lemon zest enzyme and other natural blends. A chemist helped her develop a new and natural skincare line that would best meet the needs of her clients and the demands of the med spa business. Recognizing that it would streamline operations, Gulbranson supported the endeavor along with VanBockern’s idea to market it nationally later on.

What started with a dream and a single med spa franchise eventually led Gulbranson to open the doors to Derma Health Institute, a thriving business that, 14 years later, has expanded to include five clinic locations throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area and a corporate office, all run by 59 employees. Her sister’s skincare line, Skin Script, was so well-received that VanBockern built it into a separate business.

I dreamed of having fun with some great skincare products, but I never dreamed of growing it into something so big I have to hire executives to help manage it. 

— Skin Script Founder and CEO Lisa VanBockern

Though their businesses operate independently, Gulbranson continues to carry the Skin Script line in her clinics. The sisters also share the same corporate address in Tempe, Arizona, each business occupying separate floors. Both remain committed to good health and the industry they invested in as fledgling entrepreneurs.

“People want to age gracefully, they want natural medicine, not drugs, and they want to enjoy their life,” Gulbranson says. “Beauty starts from the inside out. That’s what our mission is: to uplift, inspire, and encourage people to be healthier.”

The sisters agree that their experiences in the corporate world provided the foundations for where their careers have taken them and credit their education at ASU for instilling discipline, hard work, and confidence. As for their entrepreneurial spirit, VanBockern points to her older sister whose footsteps she has followed all her life.

“We drove matching cars since high school,” VanBockern says, laughing. “She moved to Arizona, so I moved to Arizona. She went to ASU and got an accounting degree, so I went to ASU and got an accounting degree. She got into the med spa industry, and I followed along. We’ve always been pretty close.”

Originally from South Dakota, Gulbranson and VanBockern are two of seven siblings. Gulbranson says their older brother — a CPA-turned-cable-company executive who is now retired — was her inspiration, along with their father, who owned a department store and a farm.

“People sometimes can’t believe that siblings can get along so well and help each other,” VanBockern says. “But families can work together. I always thank Trish for letting me come along on her journey.”

By Claire Curry