Connie Rankin has never let the obstacles in her life deter her from anything she made her mind up to do. Her mother had grown up in a time when women were encouraged to stay at home and raise children. As the divorced mother of four girls, Connie’s mom knew all too much about hopes dashed and dreams broken and she wanted her children to keep their expectations low. She had a dark view of the possibilities for women. Whenever Connie expressed her lofty visions of what she wanted to do when she grew up, her protective mother would always discourage her from what she perceived as life’s harsh realities. Fortunately, Connie’s warrior spirit led her on a path to success as an entrepreneur, broker, and commercial real estate expert by goal setting, focused learning, determination, and hard work. In addition, Connie’s life’s desire is to lead others on a path to success in achieving their own dreams.
The first step on Connie’s path into the real estate world was somewhat inauspicious. Having taught herself to type the bare minimum of 40 words per minute, Connie landed a job at PRC Realty Systems with a manager who cherished his reputation as the grumpiest man in the company, if not the entire city of Houston. He later told her that he hired her because she didn’t break down in tears when he put her through her paces in the interview and the last person who had worked for him had quit because he made her cry all of the time!
PRC printed the commercial and residential Multiple Listing Service (MLS) books and gave Connie her first peek into the real estate world. Through the conversations with the Realtors® coming in to pick up their MLS books, Connie found out that the residential Realtors® worked evenings and weekends but the commercial Realtors® did not. That is when she chose to focus on commercial real estate partly because she had a young child and couldn’t envision working every weekend away from him. In addition, it may have been just a little because it was such a male dominated field (and still is to some extent) and Connie always liked challenges.
During her four years at PRC, Connie took advantage of their employee back-to-college program and then on to real estate classes. Once she had her license she went to work in the accounting department for PM Realty Group (PMRG). At that time, all of their property managers were men. Her knowledge of accounting was slim but she knew once she got in she could eventually work her way into the position she really wanted. All the while she mastered accounting by asking questions, reading books, and teaching herself.
Eleven months later, Connie got a call from a property manager at one of the buildings managed by PMRG asking her if she would take a secretarial position at his building. Connie rightly saw it as a step in the right direction even though she had to fight company policy against transfers. It was during the big recession in the 1980s and job security was at a premium. She finally got her transfer after threatening to quit and, once again, she was on her way up.
Within a relatively short period of time, Connie became the first female to be promoted to property manager with PM Realty Group. In a climate roiling with anti-discrimination class action lawsuits, Connie always felt she had been selected partly because she was the right woman in the right place at the right time. Because of that, she worked twice as hard as anyone else so they would never have reason to think they had made the wrong decision.
Connie laughs now when recalling her first few meetings as a property manager; “I was always the only woman in the room with 20 men, and being a woman raised in the South, I waited patiently for everyone to stop talking long enough for me to jump into the conversation. As you can imagine, that didn’t work out very well. After three meetings without finding an opportunity to say ONE WORD, I got so frustrated I just stood up! Everyone stopped talking then and just stared at me. The vice president asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ I just said, ‘I figured that was the only way I would ever get your attention and be able to say what I wanted to say.’ From that moment, I didn’t have to stand up to get a voice at the meetings. It was kind of a running joke at every meeting, but my voice was heard.”
“I learned some important lessons in that first position in a male-dominated world. I started out thinking I was going to change the game but I learned that sometimes it’s better to play within their parameters and get really good at the game. It’s all about being a team player, but also being strong enough not to let anyone run you over.”
After working 20 years for PM Realty Group, in February of 2001, Connie was invited to attend a Women’s Business Enterprise Alliance (WBEA) breakfast. When she arrived, Connie stood in awe of all of the women there who owned their own businesses. She was so inspired that she couldn’t stop thinking, “If they can do it, why can’t I?” Connie had always planned on staying with PM Realty until she retired but this event had turned her life upside down. Week after week, Connie couldn’t get it out of her head about running her own business. Now, the things that never bothered her before began bothering her. She knew it was time to leave the company and strike out on her own. When Connie went to the CEO and resigned, he first thought that she was having a bad day and suggested that she just take a leave of absence. Connie reiterated that she was very certain about leaving.
So on March 21, 2001, Connie started her commercial real estate firm, Customized Real Estate Services (CRES), and by that July she had become WBE Certified. Connie truly believes that she is blessed to have “Heavenly” spiritual guidance on her path to success because right after she started her company she bumped into someone who had been a tenant of hers many years before. When Connie told them what she was doing, they suggested that she represent them in their office expansion. Little did Connie know that they were no longer in 6,000 square feet of office space but had grown to more than 36,000 square feet!!! What a great first client to have because Connie’s fee ended up being enough to establish her office and ultimately help her hire a secretary and leasing agents.
Another situation that Connie recalls as an important lesson was learned from a young man in South Carolina. Connie had flown there on behalf of her client to get them the best possible deal. Time was limited for the negotiations and she felt the pressure of needing to make something happen fast. Connie had a nice conversation talking about her Southern roots with the young man that was driving her from the airport. When she arrived for her appointment, she explained to the older, Southern gentleman who she was negotiating with that she had a limited amount of time. To Connie’s dismay, he seemed totally unconcerned about her time constraints.
As hard as Connie tried to negotiate, the gentleman was not coming to terms and the tension started to build. Feeling she was about to lose her “cool”, Connie walked out of the room to take a breather. The young man who had driven Connie asked if he could give her a little advice as he had been listening to the negotiations. He said, “If you want to do what’s best for your client then you need to remember your roots.”
Connie really listened to him and said to herself, “It’s not about me; it’s all about my client and getting them the best deal.” Biting her tongue and determined to succeed in getting what was best for her client, Connie returned to the meeting with “honey just dripping out of her mouth” as she laid her Southern charm on as thick as possible! Fortunately, it worked. She got everything she had wanted for her client and made it back to the airport just in time for her flight.
“I don’t know if you are born with determination or if you learn determination but I am probably the most determined person you will ever meet in your lifetime,” Connie reflected, “When I was four and a half, I had a severe accident and almost severed my leg. After being in the hospital for six weeks with a full leg cast, it took nearly a year for me to learn how to walk again. The lesson I learned was when you fall down you have to get up. The day that I finally was able to walk unassisted was the point in my life that I knew I could do anything that I set out to do.”
After the incident that almost caused Connie to lose her leg, her mother became fearful and overprotective. As a result, she would try to stop Connie from doing anything that she thought might have the slightest chance of Connie being injured. So it wasn’t until Connie was 13 that she learned to ride a bike and swim and she somehow taught herself to do both! In addition, she taught herself how to drive a car when she was 21. Without determination, Connie never could have accomplished any of those things, especially with her mother strongly trying to dissuade her.
One of Connie’s childhood memories is that her mother was always good at putting things in perspective. When Connie and her sisters complained that they were poor and didn’t have anything, her mother took them to an area of town where people were truly destitute. Her mother stated, “This is poor. We’re not poor.” They learned not to complain as they knew they had a roof over their head and food in their bellies. Connie learned that no matter how bad off she thought she was there was always someone worse off.
Connie reflected, “My mother wasn’t perfect but she did the best she could with what she had. It took me being nearly 50 for me to be able to appreciate what all she had gone through; trying to raise four children and only having a third grade education.” After getting a divorce, Connie knew that she needed to go back to school; so she attended community college at night while working a full time job. “My little boy was eight years old and would ask me, ‘Mommy, you leave me every night with the baby sitter; why are you leaving me?’ Even as I answered that I was doing it for our future, it broke my heart every time he asked that question,” recalled Connie.
“When my son Shane was 40, he told me that he knew that the hard decisions I had made before when he was a little boy growing up really were for our future and I had done the right thing. Shane is one of the best things that has ever happened to me, outside of my husband Don. I wanted my child to have a better life. I didn’t want him to have to grow up like I did, struggling and going without things. Because of him, I pushed myself twice as hard to always excel so I could make more money. I don’t think I would have done that without him. I have to give him credit for 100 per cent of my success! My son has turned out to be such a wonderful man; I couldn’t be any prouder. I also have the most adorable grandson, Aidan, and another grandchild is on the way.”
Education has always been the utmost of importance to Connie. “I love to learn and am always reading books and taking online classes through Houston Community College,” stated Connie, “Much of my business knowledge has come from the many books I’ve read, the various college classes taken, and the lessons learned through my life’s journey. But the best thing I have ever done was join WBEA.” Connie added, “Because of the WBEA Scholarship Program, I have been able to take every seminar, every class, and learn everything I could possibly need to improve my business including being a graduate in 2003 of the Tuck-WBENC Executive Program. They have helped me so much. Anything that I saw that I was lacking in or weak in, I would take a class to improve.”
After working on getting a meeting with Shell Oil for four years, Connie finally got the opportunity. To her delight and also to her dismay, she was advised that they were expecting her to do a PowerPoint presentation for all of Shell’s people in their real estate department. Connie had never worked with PowerPoint and had no idea what it entailed! Fortunately, because she had a scholarship with WBEA, she was able to take a class on PowerPoint in time for her presentation that had been scheduled 30 days out.
After giving the presentation, Connie asked if she could call in a week to get feedback on her presentation and how she could improve. The Real Estate Manager, John Greene, replied that she didn’t have to wait to find out. Thinking the worst, Connie’s mouth dropped open from the shock when he informed her that it was the best presentation that he had ever seen! By the time Connie returned to her office, she received a call from the Shell Supplier Diversity Manager who told her it was going through Shell how well she had done. Then Connie was told that she got the contract. Since that milestone, Connie’s success has soared and she attributes that success in part to all of the help she has received from WBEA.
One very important class that Connie took with a WBEA scholarship was a weeklong seminar on negotiations and the differences in how women speak compared to men. Connie learned to stop always saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when she was negotiating. Connie elaborated, “You lose your negotiating power when you start saying things like, ‘Well, if you don’t mind, could you give this to me?’ When you are negotiating, you have to be on the same level. The hardest part for women is that they give away their power; it is not taken from them. They say things like, ‘When you have time, send me a proposal.’ They need to say, ‘Send me a proposal by this date.’ Sometimes women are way too polite in negotiations and, to be effective, you have to learn you are working on the same level as everyone else. You should never let anyone speak down to you. Business is business. I always try to be nice if I can; but it’s not always possible in negotiations. If you have something they want, you have the power; but I’ve found the best outcome is always a win-win scenario.”
“When I do things, I don’t just do it to benefit me. I always do it with the thought of how I am going to make things better. That is also important if you want to be successful in business,” Connie expressed, “I get great pleasure from helping other women succeed. I feel blessed that I have helped others get in doors where they have previously failed. Somehow, I will meet someone who knows someone and suddenly the door is open. I think it’s because they know that I am genuine, I try to help others, and that it’s just not about me.”
She added, “At CRES, we strive to be bigger than ourselves. Our mission is bigger than our bottom line.” Connie doesn’t just talk the talk; she walks the walk in everything she does. In addition, everyone on her team “follows the leader”! In 2014, Connie was able to incorporate a giving back program as part of her company’s business model. “After every transaction, a donation is made to nonprofit organizations that helps educate and empower women and minorities and thereby increases their chances in achieving success,” said Connie.
CRES has had ups and downs over the years but through Connie’s determination and undaunted spirit, her annual sales have gone from nothing to $5 million. Connie has won many awards including WBEA Advocate, the WBENC Star Award, the WBEA Supplier of the Year, and the Woman of Influence in Commercial Real Estate. Connie is quick to tell you, “The awards do not make me who I am but they do give the company its credibility. When companies see the awards, they are more likely to select the most successful company to work with.”
In summing everything up, Connie stated, “CRES demands the very highest level of performance from every team member on every project. We negotiate every lease as if it were our own. We seek out every property as if we would be spending our work lives there. We execute every transaction as if our moral standing was hanging in the balance; and we truly believe it does. We help our clients implement LEED principles as if our children’s lives depend on it – and they do! Above everything else, we believe in integrity, responsibility, and sustainability.”
It is so obvious how much Connie loves real estate. As the tenant advocate, she is totally in her element as she helps people get the right office space at the right price so that they can grow their business and take it to that next level. Undaunted with what life has thrown at her and with sheer determination, Connie’s passion to share her knowledge is like of a torch light guiding others behind her through the darkness, leading them on a path to success in achieving their own dreams.