Sara Grech: Finding the way as a Female CEO
The perception of women in business has changed radically over the past few decades. One woman who has achieved more than most in life and business is Sara Grech: Businesswoman, CEO of Malta’s leading estate agency, Founder & Chairman of The Service Guide Dogs Malta Foundation, and an influential woman of change.
Today, her company Sara Grech is run from its head offices in Mriehel and Sliema. We caught up with Sara to ask about her views on women in business, her journey in real estate so far, and the decision-making behind the businesses recent rebrand.
From a very young age, you clearly had a desire to go off and explore your own interests, despite the people, sometimes even family members, who had put barriers in your way. Can you explain a bit more about that?
"To succeed, you need to have the passion and ability to carry out your vision, despite what everyone else around you thinks. Growing up I was part of a family with very strong opinions and after a short while of working in the family business, I decided to go off and start something on my own.
I experienced comments related to my gender and ability from the very moment I started my career, such as: “You won’t be taken seriously” or “You’ll get bored and soon give up to get married and have children”. This made me push harder to prove myself. I needed to be great at what I did, because average was never an option."
What was the skill that made you stand out?
"When I look back, I can see a young girl with courage and determination. I viewed things in black and white and believed that gender didn’t matter. I knew that if I worked hard and smart enough, I could accomplish what any man could. I believed in myself; I believed in my opinions and my thoughts were clear. Preparation and dedication also helped along the way!"
You’ve been a popular name in the real estate industry for a number of years now, but do you remember the first big deal that you ever made?
"Yes, I certainly do! An agency was advertising a large block exclusively and I noticed that they hadn’t sold any units yet. I did my research and found out who the owners were and decided to give them a call and set a meeting. I went with a clear plan and had a goal in mind: I wanted exclusive rights to sell the entire block and I would do it in three weeks.
In real estate, the most successful agents have gone on more listing presentations than anybody else, which means they have also lost a lot more listings. It’s about taking leaps of faith, trusting your ability and not being afraid to fail.
By the way, they went for it. I immediately left the appointment, went to the bank, and asked them to help me by sending a representative to my open day on Sunday. During this time no agents ever did open days on a Sunday. No one worked on a Sunday; however, I didn’t care what day it was!
My thoughts were on the clients and the opportunity. The event was such a success, that I managed to sell all units and started to create a name for the brand that I was about to build."
What’s the biggest misconception about working in estate agency?
"It’s no secret, that estate agents are one of the least trusted professions. But, our personal values and beliefs make us who we are and that shines through in the work we do. My way of working is my way of life. So, when Engel & Völkers rebranded to Sara Grech, we also introduced some new values to better reflect who we are and what we stand for.
Always seek the light is about transparency and seeking clarity in everything we do. We speak the truth to our clients because honesty builds trust.
Build on solid foundations shows our belief in the importance of continuous learning, both in the early days but also on a regular basis to always stay sharp.
Reach for higher ground reflects our focus on the bigger picture. We know that the actions and decisions that we take today will impact everyone’s tomorrow at some point, and we’re passionate about improving the industry for women, but also for everyone else."
Many people think that raising kids, taking time off in business and raising a family must mean that you can’t be as effective or influential as a man in the business world. How have you proved that wrong?
"I think the work life balance is one of my strengths. When I open the office door I work, when I open my front door at home, I am mum, and today very luckily nanna to Louie. I was 23 when my son Benjamin was born. I had a new business, and I was new to parenthood which no one can really prepare you for. I went on to become a parent of two more children, my girls, Semira, and Hannah.
I think my method of being able to compartmentalise the two helped me achieve my daily goals. The time I spent with my children was without distraction, so if I was with them, I was really with them. The time invested in my work and my home life, meant that my children never missed out on anything, which is one of my greatest achievements to this day."
Have you experienced sexism in the property market or the workplace?
"Being a woman in the real estate industry has been exciting, messy, and adventurous. Men dominate the industry. Success came to me largely because I worked hard to become very good at what I did. This allowed me to navigate sexism, discrimination and the "hbieb" network, where I was often judged and discounted before I even said a word. Some women feel left out, left behind and at times voiceless. This has changed today although change is still needed.
I think my worst experience of sexism in the workplace, was when I walked into a board room full of men to close a deal and one man commented that he didn’t know if he wanted me there or if he would rather have a drink with me. I was there to conclude a business deal – not to be bought a drink!"
Talk to us about the recent rebrand: why did you decide to change from Engel & Völkers to Sara Grech? What’s new? What’s staying the same?
"When we placed the business under the brand name Engel & Völkers, I went into it with an open mind and the intention to learn. Today I can say that this ten-year journey has paid off as we’ve sharpened up our processes and learnt a lot about how a renowned, European agency operates successfully.
However, the goal has always been to remain true to our values and leave a positive influence in the long term. Even though people might not have seen the brand name “Sara Grech” advertised; wherever you go in Malta, Sara Grech is synonymous with property. In my mind, there was no choice. We had to return to our roots and become a local brand once again.
You can still expect the same professionalism, but our focus will be on connecting more deeply with homeowners and investors through transparency. Money is important but it’s not the driving force behind our motivation. This rebrand is about positioning Sara Grech as the selective agency of choice, with a quality portfolio and individually skilled agents who work with honesty and take the stress out of house-hunting.
Now, we’re setting our sights on the future, applying all we’ve learnt along the way and officially rebranding under one name - Sara Grech - the agency that’s opening doors of opportunity."
Do you have any parting words of advice to young women starting out in the real estate industry?
"The first thing I would tell anyone is go with your gut feeling, your instinct is right. Success comes through your passion, vision and ambition but it’s only through hard work, honesty, confidence and a clear mind that you can get there. I think women on the whole, in my experience, bring a unique set of qualities to the business world. Find your strengths and have the courage to take those leaps of faith."
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