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Given where he is today, few people would guess that Mauricio Umansky had to overcome health challenges as a child growing up in Mexico.
But the CEO and founder of global luxury real estate brokerage The Agency was in and out of hospital appointments for the first six years of his life in Mexico City while battling a potentially life-threatening blood disease called neutropenia.
Umansky told Inman in advance of the release of his forthcoming book, The Dealmaker: How to Succeed in Business and Life Through Dedication, Determination and Disruption, that the period was so traumatic he completely blocked it out.
Riddled with health issues as a child
“The first six years of my life were just kind of shut out by my mind,” he told Inman. “I spent a bunch of time in the hospital, and in and out of doctors appointments, but to be quite honest with you, I don’t have many memories. I think that defense mechanism of the body just shut it all out.”
It’s unclear how, but miraculously Umansky was suddenly proclaimed cured by his doctors one day, and shortly thereafter his family decided to move from Mexico to Los Angeles to expand the textile business of Umanksy’s father, Eduardo, and avoid political concerns in Mexico at the time.
Unfortunately, Umansky wasn’t completely out of the woods when it came to health issues, however. Just a few years later, when he was nine, a doctor discovered that he was legally blind in one eye. For years, Umansky had — without even understanding what he was doing — snuck glimpses with his good eye during eye tests at the doctor’s office so that his condition had gone unnoticed.
Despite this hindrance, Umansky wasn’t slowed down and was able to do all the things a normal kid would — including performing well in sports, something he enjoyed immensely and at which he ultimately thrived.
Although he excelled at sports like soccer, football, tennis and racquetball, Umansky struggled in school since his ADD made it difficult to focus on and complete assignments. However he performed well on exams because he still listened in class and absorbed the material well, much to the exasperation of his parents, he relays in his book.
Inman will publish a full story with highlights from Umanksy’s book upon its release on April 11, 2023.
Umansky’s talent for athletics made him transfer to a larger public high school during his senior year from the smaller private Jewish school he attended through junior high. (Umansky’s Jewish grandparents fled Eastern Europe for Mexico during the Holocaust in order to evade persecution, and Umansky’s parents were born in Mexico.)
But the move wasn’t a good fit, and Umansky decided to attend his senior year of high school at the American School Foundation in Mexico City with his cousin Sammy.
Following their graduation, the cousins embarked on a gap year adventure together, traveling through Europe, Egypt and Israel on the $5,000 a piece each received from Umansky’s father.
Catching the entrepreneur bug
After a year of backpacking, staying in cheap hostels and developing street smarts, Umansky, an inductee of Inman’s 2023 Global Real Estate Influencers program, went to Santa Monica College, a two-year community college in Southern California, and then went on to work as a salesman for his father’s textile company for about five years.
“It was a lot of fun. I used to love it,” Umansky said of the challenging accounts his dad assigned to him to try and drum up new business for the company.
“As all my friends were in school, I was making real money,” he continued. “So that was kind of cool. My father was a great mentor and a great teacher. He taught us a lot, both me and my sister and gave us a bunch of skills.”
Working in that role for his father also gave Umanksy what he called “the entrepreneur bug” and gave him the skills that would one day help him establish and manage The Agency.
After working for his father, Umansky spread his wings and went on to work for the famed LA fashion manufacturing company Carole Little. Up to that point, the brand had only worked with woven fabrics and Umansky’s wheelhouse was knit fabrics.
Umansky clashed with his managers when they wanted him to replicate designs he had made with knits for woven fabrics, which, he knew, simply wouldn’t work out as well. Still, he did what they asked and it “was a total disaster,” Umansky wrote in his book. He continued to try and convince them to let him do it “the proper way” but to no avail.
Umansky was fired seven months later — just before Hanukkah and Christmas — and at this point in his life he had a fairly new wife, Kyle Richards, and two young daughters, eight-year-old Farrah and six-month-old Alexia, to support.
“Luckily for Kyle and I, we were able to get a little bit of financial support from both my grandfather and my parents, and her mom,” Umansky told Inman. “Everybody pitched in and helped us stay afloat as we were getting our real estate licenses.”
Finding real estate
It was Richards’ idea that Umansky give real estate a shot after he was fired since he had a natural sales ability and since her brother-in-law, Rick Hilton, was co-owner of the Beverly Hills real estate firm Hilton & Hyland, and he’d likely be willing to give Umansky a job. And for moral support, Richards decided she’d go through the classes with him and get her real estate license too, even though she never ended up using it.
“Kyle, my wife, was super supportive, so amazing, that she never made me lose my confidence,” Umansky said of the uncertain period in his career. “[She] didn’t put me down for getting fired, didn’t put me down for losing my job or anything like that, but rather, gave me tremendous confidence to go do something else … and I think, looking back — best decision ever.”
The couple successfully got their licenses — while Richards was diligently clipping coupons and shopping at discount grocery stores across LA to pinch pennies — and Hilton and his partner, the late Jeff Hyland, offered Umansky a position at their then-relatively small brokerage in 1996. (Umansky said Hilton and Hyland had about 15 people working for them at the time — today the firm has upward of 50 agents.)
Driven to succeed, Umansky became a top-producing agent at Hilton & Hyland and even became the No. 1 agent in California in 2008 amid the Great Recession, part of which he chalks up to buying swaths of advertising in the L.A. Times when other agents were cutting their costs. He even closed a $32 million deal to construction tycoon Ron Tutor on Black Monday of 2008 when U.S. markets tanked and many investors sealed up their wallets.
Growing a multibillion-dollar company
By 2011, however, Umansky was dreaming of starting his own company and ultimately decided to leave Hilton & Hyland to launch The Agency with his new business partner, Billy Rose, formerly of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices (BHHS).
Umansky’s departure was not without a bit of drama — after he left Hilton & Hyland, allegations about him poaching agents from his previous brokerage surfaced and developed into a larger fallout between The Umanskys and The Hiltons. The conflict escalated so much that even Richards and her sister, Kathy (Rick Hilton’s wife), stopped speaking.
Umansky declined to speak about his departure from Hilton & Hyland for this story.
His and Rose’s first big deal that allowed them to launch The Agency was their successful pitch to represent new development for the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Los Angeles, Umansky divulges in The Dealmaker.
Despite submitting an request for proposal to executives of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Ritz-Carlton, that was far less detailed than competing proposals, Umansky and Rose clinched the deal and officially launched as The Agency days later.
Their respective real estate teams at Hilton & Hyland and BHHS — The Umansky Team [which included Umansky’s daughter, Farrah, and father, Eduardo] and The Rose and Chang Team — quickly decided to follow them to The Agency, and Rose’s partner, Blair Chang, became one of The Agency’s partners. Paul Lester and Aileen Comora, who had been with Westside Estate Agency, were some of Umansky’s and Rose’s first partner recruits, as were long-time LA agents Ed Fitz and Deedee Howard.
Over the past 12 years, The Agency has grown swiftly across the globe. The brokerage now has 80 locations across North America, Europe and the Caribbean and 1,800 agents. In the spring of 2022, The Agency acquired New York-based brokerage Triplemint and by the fall of 2022 it had announced partnerships to provide ancillary services, including mortgage, home warranty and inspection services.
Umansky and his team’s ability to wield the power of celebrity (via his family’s appearance on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) and social media has also amplified the brand as younger generations like millennials and Gen Zers have aged into homebuying.
His celebrity connections and The Agency’s stature in its own right ultimately led Umansky to create his own Netflix real estate reality series featuring agents from The Agency called Buying Beverly Hills, which was released in November 2022.
“In this day and age, you have to embrace technology as a means of self-promotion,” Umansky wrote in The Dealmaker. “The bigger your digital network and your social following are, the greater outreach you’ll have, especially with younger generations. Just as you have to dress to a situation based on who your client is, you also have to understand how your buyers receive information.”
He also noted that social media has allowed agents at the firm to close deals up to $25 million.
Through his life’s ups and downs — from health struggles to joblessness, only to go on to create what’s now a $57 billion company — Umansky’s positive mindset has remained steadfast. But he told Inman his mindset is no fluke — it’s something he intentionally works on.
“Mindset is a very tricky thing,” he said. “There are some people where it’s easier to be optimistic and have a good mindset and some people where it’s harder, but everybody has to work at it.”
Just like in order to maintain one’s physical health, it’s necessary to exercise, the same holds true for keeping a healthy mind, Umansky said. The support he received from his family growing up and the fact that his mother was a psychologist likely gave him an advantage in cultivating a healthy mindset, he noted, but it’s still something he works on regularly today.
“I wake up, sometimes not in the best mood, and I have to go into my gym and turn on my meditation and change my mindset so that I can attack the day and kick ass, control what I can control today and tomorrow, knowing that whatever happened yesterday, there’s nothing I can do about that,” Umansky said. “So that is one of the primary things that I do, just know that I can only control what’s under my control today and tomorrow.
“I can’t control what President Biden does or what Vladimir Putin does — it’s out of my control — so I don’t let that get in my head.”