At the #LinkedinGlobal tech event held last month, there were hundreds of influencers, social media gurus and innovative entrepreneurs. Vanessa Saunders, CEO of Global Property Systems, was one of the members of the latter category that really stood out. When asked what her company did, stated simply, she said, “We do real estate differently.” Inquiring minds want to know what that means, so Grit Daily sat down with Saunders who is redefining what it means to be one of the women in tech.
Grit Daily: Like anyone over the age of 25, you’ve likely had a pivot or twist or two along your journey to where you are today. What can you tell us about your past?
Vanessa Saunders: Of course, there have been several ups and downs plus incredible opportunities for reinvention along the way. I’m a lifelong learner so I welcome the challenge of trying something new. One of the highlights includes being the only woman on a naval vessel with the American fleet.
However, personal circumstances can be the greatest source of motivation. For example, when my ex moved in with my former best friend, relocated all of our savings to an inaccessible offshore account, and embroiled me in a brutal custody battle for our daughter, I embraced the mantra, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’ and it inspired me to strive for change. I left the UK with my daughter, no alimony, one suitcase and around $1,500. Literally upon arrival in the USA, I immediately sat down to write my GMAT.
GD: How has hardship shaped you?
VS: Oh let me count the ways! Hardship directed me to the US where my GMAT score was sufficiently high enough to attract the attention of Northwestern University. There, via a communications program, I landed an internship position at a local radio station which evolved into a full-time position at a TV station hosting my own cooking show. It was successful and I felt reborn. However, local media doesn’t pay well so I took my MBA and Masters in International Communications to a corner office on the 79th floor of the World Trade Center with an SVP role. On 9/11/2001, everything changed.
Within a few months of that tragedy, I left the company and secured my NYC real estate license. I focused on global relocation and never looked back. In the words of Monty Python, “always look on the bright side of life.” Indeed, things were good. However, in 2012, hardship returned. Superstorm Sandy leveled our home: FEMA offered us a paltry $30K in assistance after our insurance denied our claim. Losing your home and all that equity later in life forces you to make some big decisions. Mountains and valleys are a natural part of life and you have to roll with it.
After everything I’ve seen, done and endured, I beam positivity because it’s the only way to be. I instill this to my team on a daily basis. Real estate requires that you become ensnared in your client’s lives and you have to be there to help them through the stress of a big move.
GD: What was the genesis behind creative marketing, selling property across international borders and innovatively using tech to make it happen?
VS: I’ve taken 40 years of global marketing and communication experience coupled with an incredibly supportive group of friends around the world to get me here today. Thinking globally has always been a mindset: I’ve lived on four continents. I started my career in marketing communications working for British Airways and just took to the air. My real estate career began at the local level as a global relocation transaction agent until I became a Certified International Property Specialist. I then joined FIABCI where I’m currently the Secretary General of their communications committee.
Forging relationships is my superpower. That, and an insatiable appetite for learning. I’ve never been one to be confined by standard methodologies. Today, we have multiple partnerships worldwide, offices on three continents, and offer a service marketing other brokers’ properties. We’ve recently segued into commercial properties and have just opened a new relocation group in Boston. Our tagline for Global Property Systems is “real estate done differently” because we combine marketing, global relocation and apply technology in creative ways to seamlessly move people around the globe.
GD: How will blockchain, cryptocurrency, and other tech shape the future of real estate?
VS: It’s already shaping the industry. Blockchain is my latest passion as it can fundamentally change the way corporate real estate is conducted. I firmly believe that it will change our economy. However, there is a lot of uncertainty plus a steep learning curve that many people don’t understand. I’m excited to be attending a course at MIT on blockchain which begins next week so that I can really understand the technology and improve upon the couple of blockchain-based global transactions that I’ve recently done.
Blockchain and cryptocurrency are ushering in an era of widespread transformational change and it behooves us all to better understand it. Long-term implications exist for combining artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT). Once collectively harnessed, we will be able to effectively demonstrate high efficiency in real estate transactions. Getting older doesn’t mean you need to stop learning. In fact, learning should be a passion you have throughout your entire lifetime. A few months ago, I didn’t even have an Instagram account. But I’m a perfectionist, so I’ve already nailed it.
GD: What’s the next big move for Global Property Systems?
VS: If you’re asking what’s my ‘big hairy audacious goal’ then it’s to find a way to work through then convey a company decision that borders on the unachievable. My ‘moonshot’ is to be more than a brokerage service and more than a tech-enabled company. We seek to be recognized as a pioneer in the crypto era of real estate, to be a global platform radically changing brokerage economics and to become the global go-to destination for consumers. I have a dream: I just need to fund it!
In some ways, age is creeping up on me here in my 60s. However, my aunt was 92 when she donkey-trekked her way to the first base camp in Nepal, so I think I still have time. I’ve come to know what I didn’t know when I started out in my career and finally have a good sense of how to achieve my goals.
GD: Female entrepreneurs are always seeking advice to learn, do more and do better. What do you want to share?
VS: Being curious is a gift I cherish. I’m one of the women in tech who truly loves marketing, travel and technology. I’m a passionate person so I’ve fully embraced social media for my messaging. That said, it is hard to keep up with everything so I concentrate on what makes sense for my personal and company growth. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to capitalize on emerging technology for everyday life and business then passing along my newly acquired knowledge to others.
My advice is to focus on what makes the most sense. Learn everything that you can even if it means going back to school. Learning keeps you young. Self-care through rest, reading, soft music and breathing is important. I’ve tried yoga but it doesn’t work for me. Meditation is an elusive practice: I just can’t turn my brain off. But I do know when to turn it off and take time to recharge.
GD: Vanessa, you’re proving that women in tech can be innovative and pioneering at any age. Based on your advice, we all need to keep learning, applying then sharing what we learn, stay focused on what’s important and to take time for self-care. We look forward to watching you continue to shape the market by doing real estate differently. Cheers to your success with your big, hairy, audacious goal!