The family business: Pair of father/daughter teams thriving at NAI Wisinski of West Michigan

Mary Anne Wisinski

Mary Anne Wisinski

Stan Wisinski

Stan Wisinski

by Dan Rafter

Mary Anne Wisinski-Rosely spent plenty of summer vacations pretending to sell commercial real estate from the office of her father, Stanley Wisinski.

Today, Mary Anne doesn’t have to pretend. She works as a partner and office advisor with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based NAI Wisinski of West Michigan. Her father, Stanley, still sells commercial real estate, too. He’s founder, owner and chairman of the Wisinski Group, which eventually merged with NAI West Michigan to form today’s NAI Wisinski of West Michigan.

The most interesting part? Mary Anne and Stan aren’t the only father/daughter team at their firm. Office and retail advisor Hillary Taatjes Woznick and her father Doug Taatjes, a partner and associate broker at the company, also work together at the firm.

Hillary Taatjes Woznick

Hillary Taatjes Woznick

Doug Taatjes

Doug Taatjes

This begs the question: What’s it like working with your father? Or, for that matter, with your daughter? And, most importantly, does it help working with a partner that you know so well?

Hillary Taatjes Woznick says that pairing with her father has helped her career, just as what she brings to the partnership has helped her father grow his business.

“We are both people-oriented. And we both have the same desire to serve our clients,” Hillary said. “Then there’s the big advantage that I never have to think about where my father is coming from when he says or does something. I know where he is coming from. That saves a lot of time. I appreciate the freedom he gives me. In the past, I’ve worked with people who were a bit overbearing and were micromanagers. I don’t work well in that kind of environment. It’s great to have the freedom where someone trusts me and knows that I can get the job done.”

A natural draw

Both Hillary and Mary Anne credit their fathers with inspiring them to enter the real estate business, although both hesitated before jumping into the industry.

Both remember, too, spending their childhood traveling with their fathers to real estate showings, hanging out in their dads’ offices and eventually helping their fathers answer the phones and organize paperwork.

“I remember during my summer vacations helping my father alphabetize listing cards in his office,” Mary Anne said. “Then he’d bring home old expired forms and I’d organize them in my own office that I had set up at home. I’d pretend that I knew what I was doing.”

Then there were the times when Mary Anne and Stan would travel to the occasional showing together on a Saturday.

This all left an impression, just not enough of one to drive Mary Anne into commercial real estate quickly. She earned a marketing and finance degree from college, and eventually sold ad space for the Grand Rapids Press newspaper.

It wasn’t until her husband gave Mary Anne some advice that she decided to take a shot at joining her father in commercial real estate.

“Things were changing in the newspaper industry. My husband convinced me that it was time to make a change,” Mary Anne said. “There was an opportunity to make a move and I took it. I’m certainly glad that I did it.”

This timeline was the perfect one, in Stan’s eyes.

“When Mary Anne was going to college, there was some talk of her coming into the real estate business,” Stan said. “But I told her that I’d only hire her if she had two years of experience at least in another job, just to get a different feel for the business world. I think that paid off well. She learned a lot about marketing when she worked at the Press.”

Hillary shares a similar story. When she was younger, though, Hillary vowed to never work in commercial real estate. She never thought she’d want to work with her father.

“All that changed, obviously,” she said.

What brought the changes? As she grew older, Hillary saw just how much her father enjoyed working in commercial real estate. She saw, too, that the business awarded those with an entrepreneurial spirit, those willing to work hard.

As she learned this, Hillary decided that real estate made sense.

She, too, now appreciates the time she spent as a child at her father’s office.

“He’d come into the kitchen and ask, ‘Who wants to go into the office today?’ And I always raised my hand,” Hillary said. “It was fun. I’d pretend to be his secretary. I’d pretend to file papers or type letters. Eventually I started doing some of that work for real. I’d stuff envelopes. I’d type on the typewriter back before we had computers. There was always some mindless-type work that had to be done.”

Eventually, Hillary began working in the office during her summer breaks from high school. Then she’d answer the phones and take on basic receptionist work.

“I was lucky that I was able to learn those professional office skills before I went to college,” Hillary said. “That gave me a leg up when I was ready to start my career.”


Proving they belong

Teaming with a father does come with one significant challenge: Some will always credit the success that both Hillary and Mary Anne enjoy to the fact that their fathers had already built successful real estate careers.

“When I started I was young and I was a female in an industry still dominated by men,” Mary Anne said. “I had a couple of strikes against me. And being Stan’s daughter, I really had to prove myself. I had to prove that I belonged in this industry.”

Stan was aware of the danger that others would underestimate Mary Anne’s natural talent for closing deals. He says he made sure that he did nothing to make it appear that he, as Mary Anne’s father, was unfairly favoring her.

“I have to be careful not to overcompensate and spend too much time helping her when I have so many other people in the company that need my help, too,” Stan said. “It has always been a trade-off. I didn’t want people to think that she was being favored just because she is my daughter. That is a fine line to watch.”

The solution to this challenge? For Mary Anne, it involves working hard, and smart. It means staying on top of new developments in the industry. And it means striving to provide the best possible service to her clients.

After all, when her clients rave about Mary Anne’s talents and service, it’s just more evidence that she’s earned her success on her own.

“Mary Anne understands this business. She knows it from A to Z,” Stan said. “She knows how to read people and help people. She looks at real estate as a profession, not just as a job.”

The partnership between Hillary and Doug – Doug estimates that his daughter works with him on roughly two-thirds of the projects on which he is involved – has been a success, too, with father and daughter complementing each other.

“Hillary brings a lot of enthusiasm and energy to the business,” Doug said. “Frankly, she has the kind of people skills that this business can use more of.”

Hillary says she has no regrets about joining NAI Wisinski. She has no regrets, either, about making her own career in the commercial real estate industry.

“There is so much to this career,” she said. “People just think about the brokering of deals. But there are so many other facets we really do help our clients with. To be successful you need key relationships with contractors, architects and attorneys. You have to know the construction industry, the architecture industry and the legal business. That’s why I think it’s so important to work on a team. The team approach allows you to provide the best service to your clients. My father and I work together so well as a team. That makes all the difference.”

Ready for a big year

Both father/daughter teams are expecting a big year in 2015. The national economy has improved, and that is providing a boost, too, to the local economy throughout Western Michigan.

Because of this, and because unemployment is falling, these CRE pros expect to see more sales, leases and commercial construction in the region throughout 2015.

“The year 2014 was a banner one in this market,” said Doug. “And I expect 2015 to be a strong year, too. If you are going to have a problem as a broker, it’s that with the three strong years of leasing that we’ve had in this market, you are going to have a difficult time finding inventories. The market has been that strong for such a long time.”

The strong market should be especially good news for these father/daughter teams. After all, they have a big advantage: They’re both particularly strong teams.

“We know what each other is capable of and what our strengths are,” Mary Anne said. “When you form a team, you have to learn over time the strengths and weaknesses of each other. With me and my father, we didn’t have to learn that. We already knew it. That made it a little easier when we getting started, and we’ve only become a stronger team over time.”

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