“When I was 6 years old, my mother and dad put me on a plane with my 3-year-old sister, Alicia Jr., and said to me, ‘Take care of your sister.’”
Veronica Cervera Goeseke's escape from Cuba to the United States still has a profound impact on her. The CEO of Cervera Real Estate admits it shapes how she views things. “When you hear the neighbors being dragged out of their homes in the middle of the night screaming – when you hear those things, you mature really quickly.”
INDUSTRY: Real estate
STARTED BUSINESS: 1969
LATINO CONNECTION: Born in Cuba, mother is Peruvian, father was Cuban
EDUCATION: University of Miami
Bachelor’s Degree: Industrial Engineering
DREAM JOB AS A KID: Veronica says she never wanted to be a flight attendant. “I wanted to be a pilot. And, now, I don’t even like to fly.” Then, again, if she would’ve loved to cook, she says she “would’ve tried to have the Latin version of Burger King.”
BIGGEST GOAL YET: “To be a grandmother…At the end of the day, I want to be able to see the smiling faces of a new generation.”
THE FIRST NEGOTIATION
That first flight out of Cuba also provided Veronica with her first experience negotiating. That’s after the security guard told her that she and her sister could each take only one toy out of Cuba. Her 3-year-old sister wasn’t having it. Cervera knew she had to convince little Alicia Jr., so she negotiated with her. “I’m going to give you mine. You’re going to have two toys. Just give the guy a toy.”
Since that time, Veronica has had lots of experience with negotiations. The mammoth family real estate firm she runs as CEO (her younger sister, Alicia Jr., is Managing Director) boasts $16 billion in sales across five continents. Cervera Real Estate is now celebrating 52 years in the luxury condo development and brokerage market. She credits the success to a tradition of strong women in her family for providing that foundation.
GRANDMA BUILT HOUSES
Despite growing up in a culture where women did not actively participate in business, her grandmother built houses. She was quite the role model for Veronica’s mother, Alicia Sr., who, herself, had some great teachers.
Alicia Sr. was the daughter of a Peruvian ambassador. So she learned business at the dinner table – by listening to her father who sat on a committee with Eleanor Roosevelt.
I’VE GOT YOUR BACK
Cervera says her father, Javier, supported women’s empowerment. “Dad was an amazing believer in that women could, and should, do what their passion…” led them to do. “There was nothing he didn’t think his wife or daughters couldn’t do.” And so the women in the family pursued their passions with confidence.
And that empowerment wasn't confined to just Javier's wife and daughters. During our conversation about strong women in the family, Veronica piped in, “Lala. We can’t forget Lala.”
But who was Lala?
Lala, it turns out, was the family’s beloved nanny. And even Lala contributed to the Cervera business dynasty. Veronica tells, with pride, the story of how her mother declared early on, "Brickell Avenue [in Miami] is going to go vertical”.
That’s around the time when Veronica’s mom, apparently, pawned the silver she received as a wedding present to help her come up with the money to close on a property. The day of the closing, she realized she was $500 short.
Suddenly, someone walked in. It was Lala.
The family's nanny opened her white handkerchief and gave Alicia, Sr. the $500 she needed to close on the property. It was money Lala had earned folding towels at Miami’s River Laundry.
Lala saved the day and the deal.
Cervera says the family business was built on a “coalition of loving, assertive” women “pooling their talents.”
The characteristically Latino trait of everyone in the family being in their family member’s personal business continues to this day. And they wouldn’t have it any other way. Cervera says, “One person sneezes and everybody wants to know what the cause is.”
But don’t be fooled. The women in this family don’t just carry on that maternal, traditional loving role in their households. They’re astute businesswomen. The secret behind the matriarch, Alicia Cervera Sr.’s strength, is “creative leadership”, according to Veronica.
She says it’s about having ideas that provide solutions. It’s why her mother decided, instead of taking a listing for a single-family home, to take a listing for an entire building and create “a tool to help developers with their sales.”
Veronica says the Cervera Real Estate empire has been able to survive downturns in the economy for two reasons: the women are financially responsible. They not only watch where they spend their money, but they’re careful about who works for them.
They’re also good listeners. In 2006, when times were tough, she says they were able to keep builders from walking away from their deposits because they listened to them. They embraced the problems their clients were having with creative solutions.
Veronica is frank with her advice. She shares all these lessons, the same ones she gives her daughters, with young women. She explains, “You have to love yourself. Don’t bring children into the world until you, yourself, have the strength to be a mother.”
She also believes you need to look at the present every day. But, you also have to ask yourself, “Where’s my company going to be five years from now?”
Something else people in real estate forget to consider, according to Cervera, is to acquire good real estate for themselves. She says it's very important.
SOME DREAMS NEVER LEAVE YOU
Some things you never forget, though. Veronica may have only been 6 years old when fleeing Cuba with her younger sister. But even back then, the future CEO knew how to step up and lead.
Today, while continuing to lead Cervera Real Estate, with her younger sister beside her and three generations represented, she has another dream.
She says she dreams of someday, hopefully, seeing future grandchildren running around a house. And she says that house would be on the beach in a free Cuba.
THE TIP JAR (Tips passed out courtesy of Veronica Cervera Goeseke)
STARTING OUT: “Be knowledgeable.” Have passion, integrity and “decide to be successful”. “A lot of people never talk about that” and what success means to them.
STEEPED IN SKILLS (mid-career): “If you have to think mid-career, maybe you’re not really happy with what you’re doing.”
STARTING OVER: Veronica says you should ask yourself, is it because you’re choosing to do something new? If so, be sure to pick something you’re really passionate about and “know what you want from it.”
If you’re starting over because of economic or political conditions, the criteria is different. “It’s about survival and taking care of the people you need to take care of.”
AT ANY AGE: “Never have lunch by yourself.” The people that you meet are the people who will give you ideas.
“Join a charity.” It doesn’t mean you’re going to give them money. You can give your time. But it “puts you in a situation with people that you normally don’t meet. If you do a good job, they might help you expand your business and, ultimately, be providers of funds, ideas and jobs.”
I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN: Veronica says she'll never "give negative feedback to a parent."
Early in her career, she took on a client's daughter as an intern. She says, after two months of putting up with the intern's irresponsibility and partying, she finally told the girl's parent. It didn't go over well. "He was not happy." So she learned to "let families resolve their own problems."
BEST ADVICE FROM “LA CASA”: “Los días son largos y son feos sin familia.”
TRANSLATION: The days are long and ugly without family.
Veronica says family is at the heart of everything for her, even when they fight. “Whenever we fight, we fight to stay together.”
NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
HELP ON THE OUTSIDE…because we can all use a helping hand:
Many of us choose to text someone to communicate a message quickly - and because we know the person getting the message will likely respond faster. Yet, it’s easy to overlook texting as a great tool for your business. But how do you use it properly for that purpose? Orlando SCORE wants help you find out. In this FREE webinar, you’ll learn how to tailor your texting for marketing and sales purposes. Here’s more info on the event and how to register for the session:
WORKING ON THE INSIDE…because, let’s face it, our culture has a hard time asking for help:
Happy employees make for better employees. When you have a small business, the relationship you forge with your employees tends to be closer. In this FREE webinar from SCORE Broward, you'll learn strategies to make sure your employees feel more engaged. Focusing on "their" well-being can not only help improve overall morale, but it can help you improve your bottom line and result in your customers having a better experience with your business. Here's how to sign up for this workshop:
Virtual Webinar: "Engaging Employees Through Holistic Well-Being"
Thursday, Sept. 28, 2021
6 p.m. EST - 7:30 p.m. EST
THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS ISSUE: If you’re involved with South Florida real estate, then I’m quite certain you’ve heard of Cervera Real Estate. But what really intrigued me about this business empire is how the family behind the company combines old school traditional Latino values with more modern ideas.
As a Latina, our culture never lets you forget your femininity. And I really love that about being Latina. Sometimes, though, Latinos go overboard with it – and it fosters sexism.
But when a woman can combine her uniquely feminine touch with her talents, education and intelligence - and make the decisions at the top, that’s power.
And let’s be frank. So many people talk about making sure women are in positions of power. But then you don’t see it in practice.
Catalyst Research shows that women account for just 6% of CEO positions in S&P 500 companies (Women CEOs of the S&P 500, August 30, 2021).
Until men champion this fight with us, it will continue to be an uphill battle. So at a time when we still aren’t seeing enough women on corporate boards or in leadership positions, it’s refreshing to see women calling the shots at Cervera Real Estate.
That’s why I appreciated Veronica’s father encouraging the women in his family to take on leading roles. On a personal level, I’ve experienced that same kind of support from my own father. Maybe that’s partly because my dad has three daughters and no sons.
When a potential client did not want my mother, who is also his business partner, to join my dad at the negotiation table (because of his religion), my father told him, “No deal”. My father preferred to give up the lucrative contract, if my mom wasn’t treated as an equal and not allowed to participate in the discussions.
My dad also encouraged my two sisters and I to always stand our ground and not allow ourselves to be bullied or held back. You can bet that came in handy when I covered politics in Georgia.
Just like we need to see women who look like us or have a similar background in positions of power, we’re not going to see progress on that front, unless we also have men supporting that goal.
Today, as I see three generations of women at Cervera Real Estate, not as figurines, but as real dealmakers and power players, I can’t help but smile and picture Veronica’s abuelita standing at the construction site, nodding with approval.
BEFORE YOU GO...
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