In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
Harold Clarke, a real estate broker and the owner of Luxury Big Island by Harold Clarke.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
Entrepreneur to me is defined as the person who has the drive to create a business. A person can have the skills, the capital and textbook knowledge, but it is the drive that materializes success.
What was your toughest challenge and how did you overcome it?
It'd be easier to answer what isn't a challenge, as everything else is part of an intricate obstacle race. But if I had to pick one, the toughest challenge for me as a broker was penetrating the wealthiest neighborhoods in my market. The wealthiest neighborhoods on the Big Island of Hawaii exist within specific resorts. When I first started my real estate career, I felt there were huge invisible walls around these locations, which seemed impenetrable. Very few brokers have access to conduct business in these wealthy areas, and I didn't even know how to start to compete with them.
Then there were other "lesser" challenges that I overcame, such as the fear that people wouldn't trust me with their most important investments because English is my second language. Or the fact that I was new to the area or because I didn't know anyone and had no money. Looking back I now realize that everything was new to me.
What’s the problem you just solved?
Through a lot of hard work and dedication, I can say that the problems I previously faced are solved. As a real estate broker, my name is recognized in the wealthiest neighborhoods throughout the Big Island. However, it is clear to me that at this level there's always someone hungrier trying to get to the top. Therefore there is a need to invest effort, time, and financial resources. In other words, it takes sacrifice to stay at the top. It takes a constant drive, fueled by motivation. I would say any problem can be solved as long as there is that combination of desire and strength to remain at the top.
Tell us about a defining moment in your career.
I received my real estate license in 2006 and in 2008 was honored to be named by Hawaii Business Magazine as one of the top 100 realtors in Hawaii. 2008 was the year the market crashed, a very tough moment to find success. However, I didn't see the recession as a problem. While most brokers complained, I continued moving forward. I consciously decided not to be part of the criticism of the market or the complaining about the economy. If I did, I would have been swallowed by that pessimism, which would have made it impossible for me to succeed.
Describe your approach to problem-solving.
As cliché as it sounds, the American dream is alive. The worst recession years are still better than the majority of economies around the world. It's all in the eye of the beholder. Entrepreneurship is about solving problems, not getting fixated on them. There's a need to control stress and fear. This makes me think there are "positive" problems and "negative" problems. For example, entering the wealthiest markets to me was a positive problem, as my gaze was fixed in the luxury markets and my efforts were focused on doing so. A negative problem would have been focusing on not having the financial resources to access the luxury market, or network, as I would have been creating excuses to eventually fail.
What trait do you depend on most when making decisions and why is that useful for you?
Optimism. I always joke that without hope I wouldn't be able to get out of bed. There are too many paths out there that lead to discouragement or pessimism. I choose to remain optimistic. If a deal falls apart, I bounce back and go after a new plan. I know it would be unhealthy for me to stay in a dark space as if it would create a long chain of other unwanted episodes. The foundation for my decisions is based on optimism, a belief that there will always be an opportunity to make things better. And, more importantly, the belief that we deserve that opportunity for whatever reason it is. In my case, I would like to think I deserve it because of my values and because I live my life with integrity.
How has your leadership style evolved?
I have a boutique firm. We handle an important portfolio of very wealthy clients and my aspiration is that everyone within my firm can truly provide the best possible service to a high-end client. Therefore I keep a tight group, where I can be accessible to everyone while paying attention to every detail. Of course, I cannot engage in long conversations or weekly meetings with everyone, but I've learned to be straightforward and to the point. Small talk is almost non-existent, as we are much more efficient if we can be direct. I feel everyone appreciates this as it saves time while increasing efficiency.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
I remember one of the transactions I had closed, a $10M sale representing both buyer and seller. A broker told me something quite simple, "Good things happen to good people." I firmly believe in that. "Don't cheat, lie or steal," is my personal favorite quote. Success to me is linked, at the deepest levels, to how good you feel about yourself.