BRICKELL MAGAZINE – 2009
When Tere Blanca walks into a business meeting, all eyes instinctively turn toward her. And it’s not because she’s beautiful, or because she walked in late, it’s because this woman knows how to successfully flex her professional muscles with a firmness and finesse that people can’t help but notice.
If one were to sit down and write a poem inspired by Tere Blanca, it would be difficult for even Shakespeare to mold the appropriate stanzas and tone. Like a haiku, she’s grounded. Like a sonnet, she’s powerful, organized and structured. Like a beautiful ballad, she resonates her hopes and aspirations to the world. Like free-verse, she’s spontaneous and unpredictable. And like an epic, she has endured heartache and obstacles to emerge as the heroine of her own story.
But the journey toward her happy ending was definitely not paved in gold. Born in Havana at the peak of the Castro Revolution, her family fled to Puerto Rico, where Blanca spent the majority of her childhood before finally settling in Miami in 1979. “My family left Cuba with nothing except an unfaltering commitment to family, a strong work ethic and an undying perseverance,” she says. “Those qualities have undoubtedly molded me into who I am today.”
As many Cubans of the Castro era, upon leaving their homeland, Blanca’s parents had to reinvent themselves. “My father was an established attorney until the circumstances of our new life got him into the residential development business,” she says. “My mother had one year left to graduate as an architect when Castro arrived, and she decided to drop her dreams to work tirelessly with my father to promote, market and sell his projects so our family could be comfortable in our new life.”
The self-proclaimed bookworm took advantage of the opportunities her parents afforded her and excelled academically until arriving at the University of Miami to pursue an engineering degree…a move that proved to be a huge fork in the road. “It became painfully evident as I got more and more into the coursework that my calling was definitely not what I was studying,” she says. “I was more about interacting with people.”
Eventually, the lure of possibilities pointed her toward the School of Business, where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
Another minor roadblock followed immediately after graduation when she found herself filing checks for TotalBank, a mundane, brainless job that she looks back on now with a sense of humor…and a subtle rolling of the eyes. “Please don’t remind me,” she sighs. “That job taught me a couple of things, the most important being I could make any situation bearable if I made the best out of it.”
Once the last check was filed neatly away, it was time to get her feet wet in commercial real estate, at the advice of a good friend who was excelling in the business. “I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but I knew I had to give it a try,” she says.
The first stop in her new career path was at John Burnham & Company in San Diego, where she worked for three years before returning to the Magic City to serve as VP for Codina Realty Services, and eventually as Senior Managing Director for Cushman & Wakefield’s South Florida region. The latter made her a household name in savvy business circles throughout the nation.
Although her transition may appear seamless on paper, back in 1986 when she got into the industry, it was hard to climb the proverbial ladder in her Manolos. “When I started, I stood out instantly not only because I was a woman, but because I became hooked on the business,” she says. “I acquired terrific mentors, never stopped seeking opportunities to learn and, most importantly, I always did my best to do exactly what I said I was going to do.” That savvy determination lead to some significant realizations about women in business. “I’ve learned that women need to make a concerted effort in the workplace to communicate strengths and weaknesses clearly,” she says. “Others can’t read our minds and men are historically terrific at promoting their own successes — women should not be shy in doing the same!”
Being gutsy is nothing new to Blanca. Despite a successful 5.5-year tenure with Cushman & Wakefield — where she contributed to a 65% growth in gross revenue, doubled profitability from 2003 through year-end 2007 and even helped close a tough 2008 with a double-digit return on revenue — she’s decided to leave her throne atop the world’s premier and largest privately held real estate services firm to launch her own business in Brickell. “I’m starting my own company at a time when many say the world is in the worst financial crisis in history,” she says of her new venture, Blanca Commercial Real Estate. “I’m realistic about the situation but enthusiastic and optimistic about the possibilities.”
One challenge, she says, will be balancing the company’s growth with her desire to offer individualized, personal service while simultaneously attracting top professionals to work alongside her. “I always tell people that if you don’t get that fire in your gut that drives you to do the absolute best you can at work, then stop, reflect and find a way to feel passionate and engaged again,” she says. “And that’s exactly what I’m doing by launching a business that caters to my 23 years of experience as both an advisor and a dealmaker.”
For Blanca, part of her overall success is fitting her family into her always-hectic equation. “As a working mom, I’ve always made a commitment to be at home with my family for dinner during the week, even if it means doing work after my daughters go to sleep,” she says.
Another thing she makes time for is getting involved in local organizations that further the city’s prosperity including Mercy Foundation, The Women’s Fund, The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Young Presidents’ Organization and CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women). She also serves as the Council Chair for The Beacon Council, an organization she hopes to improve during her term by implementing a new Strategic Plan, supporting the Local Business/Local Jobs Program and furthering the Council’s marketing initiatives. “I want to work closely with local businesses to help them stay and grow in Miami while attracting multi-national and international business to the area,” she says. “I also plan to support the Council’s mission of creating new jobs and capital investments to benefit our community.”
So what makes the tip of the Sunshine State so appealing for this bright light of the business world? “Where do I begin?,” she laughs. “I’ve visited and lived in many cities around the world and Miami still offers one of the most unique multi-cultural and multi-lingual populations as well as business-related advantages like convenient connectivity with Miami International Airport and Miami’s Seaport, a superior telecommunications infrastructure, top healthcare options with world-renowned educational and cultural institutions…and the list goes on and on…of course without neglecting to mention the weather!”
Regardless of if it’s sunny or stormy, it seems this woman’s life is anything but boring inside and outside the boardroom. “No two days are alike,” she admits. “During the week, my mornings are routine, starting with spending some time with my family at breakfast while sipping coffee and reading The New York Times and The Miami Herald before going off to meetings,” she says. “On the weekends, I love throwing on a comfy pair of jeans and a casual top and going shopping with my daughters during those rare times when my husband is watching a football game.” She also likes comedies and tear-jerkers and has an affinity for…motorcross racing?! “It’s a little habit I picked up in high school,” she says. “Sometimes I still put the petal to the metal…but only when I’m late for a meeting!”
Besides her need for speed, there are other things about Blanca you may not know — like the fact that she attributes her greatest professional blunder to accidentally penciling in two dinners in the same timeslot on two separate planners. “I was hosting a small dinner party at home for close friends when the phone rang at 9:00 p.m.,” she recalls, blushing. “It was a good client of mine, who by then had also become a friend, saying: ‘Hey we’re wondering if you’re almost here…we’re about to serve dinner…’ Well it was a sit-down dinner for only three couples and my husband and I were missing. The next day, I sent them beautiful flowers and a big bottle of single-malt scotch. Ten years later, we still laugh about it!”
She also has another flaw she rarely speaks of…and one that’s haunted her since she was a little girl. “I always get tongue-tied and trip over my own words with idioms,” she laughs. “So I’ve made it a point to come up with my own catch-phrases so I can switch around the words without anyone noticing.” How poetic.