Written by Jill Griffin
Diane M. Ramirez, chairman and CEO of Halstead, is known for her passion and devotion to the residential real estate industry. She is a 35-year veteran who started her career in Palm Beach, Florida where she worked as an agent for a number of years before returning to her hometown—New York City—and embarking on a successful and rewarding career.
Together with Clark Halstead, she helped found Halstead in the fall of 1984. Their vision for the company was a high-end firm that utilized advanced technology combined with old fashioned elegance that covered all segments of the market and was located in the communities that they serviced. Due to their vision, Halstead became the first big firm to utilize storefront offices in Manhattan as well as the first to be on the West Side and in Downtown.
Under her leadership, Mrs. Ramirez has strategically grown the firm from its original goal of three storefront offices in some of the most important communities in Manhattan to its current size of 22 offices with nearly 950 agents throughout the tri-state area.
I had a chance to interview Diane recently and learn more about her and what drives her.
Jill Griffin: Where did you grow up? Describe your early childhood and its significance on your life.
Diane Ramirez: I grew up in a middle-class family in Jackson Heights, Queens. I have two older brothers, but am the oldest daughter, which led to my taking on a lot of responsibilities at a young age. Growing up with four siblings, I learned how to deal with people, how to diffuse a situation, and how to get your voice heard. It was truly a wonderful way to grow up, surrounded by love and support, but also challenged me to navigate how to make my own way in the family.
Griffin: When did you first get the whisper that you belonged in business?
Ramirez: I can’t remember a time in my life when I did not already know that I wanted to be in business. This is owed immensely to my father and the strong influence he had on my life. He made me feel like I could do anything, including being successful in the business world. My background was in marketing and advertising and I put my career on pause when I married young and had children. I was happy to focus on my family, though my strong desire to work in business never died down. I knew that unless I wanted to wait until my children were grown, I needed to pursue a career with flexible hours.
I was living in Florida at the time when it hit me—real estate. The hours seemed flexible, I had already bought and sold a couple of properties, and I loved the close interaction with people. I began working in real estate in Florida, before we decided to move back to New York City where I got my real estate license. I liked real estate in Florida and I loved real estate in New York.
Griffin: Was there an early teacher that inspired you? Who and how?
Ramirez: I had some wonderful teachers in my life but it was my family that inspired me the most. My dad gave me a sense of confidence and real belief in myself. He passed away when I was just a teenager, having instilled in me that he felt I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. It wasn’t this false sense of flattery, but rather a true belief in my potential that I then took on in my own persona. There is nothing I look at now that I do not feel I can do, even when faced with challenges. If I didn’t believe I could do it, I would never have taken some of the risks in my career that have brought me here—and that definitely came from my father.
Griffin: What’s a great piece of business or life advice you received, who gave it to you, and how has it enhanced your life?
Ramirez: There are two people whose advice has enhanced my life. My husband taught me to treat everyone with the utmost respect. He always treated everyone he encountered in business with such incredible regard. I knew that was a beautiful trait, one that I hope was in me anyway but watching his interactions with people definitely shaped how I look at people in life.
My business partner and cofounder of Halstead, Clark Halstead, taught me to always look to the horizon and never lose sight of the bigger picture. He was always a visionary thinker, and I always thought of myself as the meat and potatoes in the relationship – I crossed my t’s and dotted my i’s. Working alongside him, I developed a visionary sense of thinking as well, which is something I needed to grow and enhance Halstead to where it is today.
Griffin: Please give me the top three bullet points in your personal leadership credo.
- Know your strengths. Embracing who you are will allow your authenticity to shine.
- Say what you’ll do and do what you say. Following through on your word is one of the most important things you can do for building foundations of mutual trust.
- Failures are not fatal unless you don’t have the courage to continue your journey. If you look deep down, you will have it in you to keep going.
Griffin: Describe a painful setback in your life and what it taught you.
Ramirez: I feel blessed that I haven’t had a lot of setbacks in my life. My most painful setback was losing my father unexpectedly, at a time in my life when I thought I had my future all planned out. It did turn my life upside down – as it was sudden, he had been the one providing for our family, and I was the oldest one at home. The well-planned vision I had for myself as a teenager had to be rearranged and I had to be there for my mother and younger siblings. It was devastating at the time but I did make lemonade out of it. I didn’t take the road I thought I would but when I look back at my life, it was beautiful and just the way it was supposed to be. Facing tragedy at a young age has ultimately served me well, as I’ve been able to embrace challenges in life.
Griffin: What advice do you have for young, talented, ambitious women who want to rise?
Ramirez: Be the best you can be, and always work hard. When people see that you are working hard, that your work ethics are there and you’re a team player, it will not go unnoticed. Often, younger people want to shine right away, but remember that collaborating, working as a team and working hard does bubble to the top.
I am often in male-dominated situations, and the main thing that I do is to approach the situation as a talented person who is meant to be there. Not as a female, not as a male, just as a person — a bright, intelligent person who has something valuable to add. You are there because you have the talent to be there.
Jill Griffin is an independent public board director, Harvard “Working Knowledge” author; and founder of Jill Griffin Executive Learning
Thanks for reading!