This blog is provided by Aleksandra Scepanovic, Managing Director of Ideal Properties Group, as a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future. This interview Difficult Times Can Build Leadership Skills aired on 10/22/19.
Prior to getting my start in real estate, I began my career as a reporter, editor and media analyst in my home country of (then-)Yugoslavia, reporting on the front lines of the Bosnian War. At the time, I never would have predicted that I would end up co-founding a real estate firm in New York City, but each step along my journey has been equally important in leading me to where I am today.
In the early 2000’s, while still working in Bosnia, I was longing for a change in the post-war theater around me and I ultimately decided to move to New York. I arrived with a need to recharge and start afresh. Years of witnessing turmoil on the front lines was draining, and being in a new environment provided me with the inspiration to channel my life-long fascination with design. I enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Interior Design program. It was a revitalizing change, and the first step into my new journey.
My first few years in New York were exciting, and allowed me to fall in love with the city and its architectural beauty, and from there I began my career in the highly stimulating world of real estate. At the time, I was working at a boutique brokerage firm in Manhattan with my partner, Erik Serras. We found ourselves spending more time in our home borough of Brooklyn, a borough which we felt was widely and undeservedly so underserved by the city’s real estate brokerages. We recognized the potential, and decided to branch out on our own to form Ideal Properties Group.
Just a short time later, the U.S. economy began to take a turn. We had just began an exciting adventure as new business owners, and we knew we were not going to let anything stand in our way. As a leader, above all, it is important to stay optimistic. In my case, it helps that I actually am an irreparable optimist, and this certainly helped see us through this time.
We stuck to our intuitions, and followed our instincts to guide and form our best decisions, because now not only were our jobs on the line – we had a growing staff whose livelihood depended on us. In times of crisis, it is important to strive to not only individually as a leader but collectively, with your team, re-assess your objectives and your priorities, and determine a plan of action to get back on track.
Before we began this journey, I wish I truly knew how difficult it would be to be my own boss. I admit to being a strong-willed individual, but before starting my own business, I did not have the experience I have now when it comes to analyzing or critiquing my own ideas. I did not know how hard it would be to try to question your own thoughts, and to be willing to go back to the drawing board if something were to not go right. Over the years, there have been many times where we have gone back to the drawing board. This in and of itself is the nature of being a business owner and being a leader. Learning to adapt, and understanding that not every idea is going to be a homerun right away is an incredible and empowering realization, one I wish I had known in the beginning of this journey, but also one that – in retrospect I realize – comes with time.
One of the most immediate lessons was how many hats you’d need to quickly learn how to wear. As an entrepreneur, you learn to find comfort zones amid minefields, in the spots where you previously perhaps only had doubts. When starting our business, we were confident in our ability to navigate the ever-changing New York City real estate market, but there were plenty of course-corrections that we needed to chart along the way to sustain our business model. Prior to starting Ideal Properties Group, I wish I knew how large and positive a role failure would play in the building and the growth of my business.
Learning to delegate and trust others with parts of the business that you are not necessarily expert in – was another important step we needed to take as leaders. We take pride in our hiring process, and know that we associate our brand with the most passionate and empathetic candidates, and we find it imperative as a small business to effectively onboard our team members and immerse them in continual training. Trusting our associates to carry the flag of the brand by performing their jobs well and with the best interest of the company at heart… has allowed us to look at things from a bird’s eye view – and make adjustments as needed. Letting go of your ego and empowering your associates to help make the business thrive are essential in ensuring long-term success.
Although there is no secret formula to running a successful business, for us, each failure and setback has become a valuable lesson that helped us navigate a variety of business trends and market landscapes. As a leader, there will never be a time when you feel that you have it all figured out – and if there is, perhaps that is a sign that change is needed. Continuing to make, and then learn from your mistakes is easier said than done, but both are essential truths that – once recognized and adopted – set leaders apart from the pack.
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About the Author
Aleksandra is Managing Director of Ideal Properties Group, one of the largest privately-owned, independent real estate firms specializing in premier Brooklyn and Manhattan neighborhoods. Ideal offers pre-development marketing and branding as well as residential, commercial, office and retail services. With offices located in Chelsea, Cobble Hill, Gowanus, Park Slope and Williamsburg, and a staff of over 250 real estate brokers and salespeople, Ideal is continuing its rapid expansion across NYC. The firm was founded in 2007 by Aleksandra and her partner Erik Serras, who identified a need to build a technologically-innovative infrastructure for sales and rentals in key Brooklyn neighborhoods.