I was recently fascinated to learn that women own 12.3 million American businesses! The 2018 statistic, publicized by WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council), records an incredible increase (from just over 400,000 back in 1972) in the number of women founding and running businesses in the New World.
The number makes me wonder about the much-debated glass ceiling, and its effect on business ownership in America. It also makes me wonder about what secret sauce the women in America have… what sauce allows them to dare do so much, despite – or perhaps precisely because of – our biological superiority (read: our gender’s sole ability to bear and give birth to the entire human population).
The astonishing data makes me start thinking “dictionary”, and just for good measure, I look up the exact definition of the word ‘resilience.’ The term is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Ha, there it is! Something we women definitely know a little something about. The parallel becomes obvious. Resilience is a quality of the utmost importance to starting and/or leading a business. I like to credit the nascence of mine to not simply the biology, but also to my background, which has undoubtedly helped shape me into the businesswoman I am today.
I was born in what is now known and referred to as former Yugoslavia, at the crossroads of Western and Eastern civilizations. Fascinated by history, the beauty of time and place around me drove me to spend my college days studying archaeology. As my professors’ words and visuals permeated me, the early 90’s happened to my country, and I found my calling to take me to Bosnia, still part of Yugoslavia at the time, engulfed in a war. The war shifted my perspective, and I felt that focusing on ancient history was no longer a factor, not as important as the need to dive in and report on the history that was happening in front of me.
At first, I felt lost, because everything I had spent my earlier years dreaming of – lost luster. Instead of finding the solace in looking back, I began thinking forward, and shifted gears. I began my work as a journalist, reporting amidst the war zones of the Balkans. Looking back, this was one of the first moments in my young adult life that illustrates that resilience that I try to nourish and live up to every day of my present life. The end of the Bosnian war saw me engaged in media analysis, the professional path I continued in New York City. New York, at the turn of the 2000’s, quickly brought back the sense of my pre-war years, and left me completely enamored in interior architecture. To me, architecture and interior spaces are symbols of human resilience. They change and adapt with our needs, and when not severely damaged by shelling, or pierced with endless artillery holes, they are true expressions of continuation. I ended up overwhelmed with a desire to create and rebuild, and soon decided to enroll in one of the city’s leading interior design programs, earning in short order a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. The program strengthened my passion for the built world, which eventually led to my leap into the exciting world of New York City real estate.
My partner Erik Serras and I were working at a boutique brokerage firm in Manhattan when we decided to dive in and start our own firm. In 2007 – just as the world of finance as we know it was about to fall apart – we co-founded Ideal Properties Group.
The first year of business was not easy – but it was exciting and new, which made it easier than one would have expected. Only a few short months into our new enterprise, America’s economic downturn came to light, taking a painful toll on the worlds of real estate, finance, and many related sectors and industries. The country was in crisis mode, but so were we – how were we going to help our new business survive the times and give it the wings it needs to take off? There were an unprecedented 8.7 million jobs lost during this time, and we fought every day, coming to work armed oftentimes with nothing but optimism, to find our niche and make it all work.
It turns out that when life throws you into a protective mode, resilience kicks in. At this time of economic turmoil, I became proficient in seizing every meaningful opportunity that came my way. When there were none on the horizon, I learned how to create them. I believe that we women have the natural ability to protect, endure and rebuild, which is exactly what I am convinced helped build and keep Ideal alive and well. As time went by, the resilience transformed into a special gear, built deep into the engine of the company’s growth.
Being part of the Ideal Properties experience, I have come to understand that resilience can be learned over time, but can be lost without practice. We have all experienced moments where we feel like giving up. Interestingly, and always in hindsight, I realize that these are the very moments that truly define us, both professionally and personally.
And so I reach for the proverbial. Women continue to raise the bar, because we are motivated to prove it to ourselves that we belong at the top and that we are born to exceed. Reports will have us know that there are more women in business today than ever before. Still, the room for growth remains plentiful. And lots of glass, needing to be shattered, is still in place. So bring your hammer, swing, and keep on swinging! Be you, be strong, be smart, and be resilient enough to see it all through so you can alter the existing one and create your own professional reality.