What decisions and paths should the real estate industry be prioritizing? And how can you, whether managing a team or an entire company, bring those best lessons to bear where you work? In February, in advance of building an industry blueprint at Inman Disconnect, we’ll plumb the topic of leadership with Q&As with top industry leaders, contributions from esteemed Inman columnists and more.
I’ve been fortunate to live my life relatively outside the lens of color. My childhood and family focus was on the heart and action.
I am proud and honored to be the first Black female owner in the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate network. I come from a family of fiercely entrepreneurial and driven role models who were trailblazers for Black business owners.
Business is in my blood, so my path was set from the beginning. But for my father and grandfather, it was a different story.
My family tree
My grandfather, Alonzo Wright, was Cleveland, Ohio’s, first Black millionaire. Born in Tennessee, he arrived in Cleveland in 1910 with a reported 6 cents in his pocket.
Alonzo went to night school to earn his high school diploma while also holding down various jobs, most notably as a garage attendant at the Auditorium Hotel. It was there he met Wallace T. Holliday, an executive at Standard Oil, who offered him a desk job.
Instead, my grandfather requested to operate a gas station. With Holliday’s help, my grandfather became the first Black person to lease a Standard Oil Ohio (SOHIO) service station.
He enhanced his business by offering extra services, such as windshield cleanings and tire and radiator checks — the first service station owner to do so. By the time he ceased operations in the early 1940s, he ran 11 gas stations.
He then turned his attention to the real estate market opening his own real estate investment firm, Wright’s Enterprises, in 1943. Among his most impressive purchases were Carnegie Hotel and the Majestic Hotel.
The next branch
His son, my father, followed a similar path. He became the first Black person to operate a Ford franchise, the only minority owner of any auto company. My father was highly educated, attending college, graduate school and law school. He served as an adviser to President Lyndon Johnson. He later got his real estate license, opened his own brokerage and taught CE courses.
Branching out on my own
As for me, I grew up in predominately white neighborhoods in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, and Beverly Hills, California. I did not understand racism or even realize that I was different from the others until junior high school where I met other Black students. They did not hesitate to point out my color and inform me I was Black, but they also told me I wasn’t acting like a Black person. What does that even mean?
I was a free thinker, which is why I declined the opportunity to attend Pepperdine University. Instead, I followed in my family’s footsteps and earned my real estate license in 1989.
Deeply rooted in inclusivity
Since then, I have built my business by fostering inclusivity through authentic and open communication. I have a daily practice of meditation. These quiet moments allow me to connect with my higher self, receive guidance and experience gratitude for all that I have. I visualize myself with a magic wand that allows me to constantly and consistently change the ordainary to extraordinary.
I believe that a “thank you” is the most important thing we can offer.
In 2007, I attended a yoga retreat in Hawaii and never left. I was drawn to the islands’ mantra of “living Aloha,” which I believe means to connect with one another in a heart space of love surrounded by this beauty and nature. The word aloha comes from “alo,” which means presence, and “ha,” which means breath, the presence of breath or breath of life.
I firmly believe that the Aloha lifestyle is something everyone should have an innate right to experience. My job is to make this as attainable as possible for my clients and leading with authenticity and inclusivity has served me well in this endeavor.
As we celebrate Black History Month, I am proud of how my family has broken barriers and led the way for future Black business owners, and I consider it an honor to continue our family’s tradition in my own way.
Joyce “Joy” Wright Funk is broker and co-owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Rainbow Island Properties on Kauai, Hawaii. Follow her on Instagram.