At 40 years, Divaris’ longest-standing employee, Vivian Turok, was selected by Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Hampton Roads as their Groundbreaking Woman of the Year. She was honored at a luncheon held at the Westin Hotel in Town Center of Virginia Beach on September 19, where she was invited to be the keynote speaker.

Her daughter, Lindi Gold, introduced her by saying, “Thirty-one years ago, my parents came to America – two children, 13 suitcases, four one-way tickets, and a mission to make a success of their lives for their family. So, standing here today, a product of their sacrifice, hard work and dedication, it’s an honor to introduce my mom, Vivian Turok, as the Groundbreaking Woman of the Year for Hampton Roads,

While many of you know her as the hardworking, kind lady with funny sayings and a South African accent, you may not all know of her as a mom. Even when it meant missing a big business call, she was always the first one there for my family.

She is a woman of many firsts. One of the first women in Cape Town to work as a commercial real estate agent. The first and only woman to achieve the Platinum award from the Hampton Roads Commercial Alliance in 2009 and 2014. She is also the first person at Divaris Real Estate to be awarded the Titanium award in 2014. And although not the first, she is being honored as the Groundbreaking Woman of the Year in Hampton Roads for CREW…my mom, my role model… Vivian Turok”

Lindi Gold
Vivian Turok takes to the podium
Paul, Vivian and Lindi Turok

To thunderous applause, Vivian took to the podium and graciously began her talk with: “When I first told Michael Divaris that I had asked Lindi to introduce me, his answer was: “Viv, you better be careful, she just might outshine you!” And Lindi, you already have! In hindsight, maybe I should have had Michael introduce me, it would have been a much easier act to follow!

In actuality, I have a lot to thank Michael and Gerald for, there aren’t many people who can say that they have only received a paycheck from one company their whole life, and there aren’t many bosses that you are willing to work with for your entire career.

In fact, this past March, marked my 40th year at Divaris. Michael and Gerald, I have to say this from the bottom of my heart: You’ve been lucky to have me!

Now let’s rewind 40 years. If you think it is difficult breaking the glass ceiling in Virginia Beach today, think about life in a male-dominated, chauvinistic, apartheid South Africa in the 70’s.

To give you an idea — there was only one female representative in all of Parliament at that time. And a female Judge wasn’t elected in South Africa for another 20 years. As a motivated young woman looking for a job out of University at the time, I wasn’t taken very seriously by the men in the business community.

When my brother introduced me to his college friend, Gerald Divaris, I used a social dinner as a job interview. I talked my way into a three-month trial with Divaris Real Estate, and promised to prove my worth. After one month, and still not knowing for sure if real estate was for me, Gerald asked if I would show space to a prospective tenant and if the tenant signed a lease, I would receive 25 percent of the commission.

Against all odds, when the deal was signed, and I received six times more than my monthly salary, I had shown my potential to the company and knew the challenge of real estate was for me! I was now one of the first women in commercial real estate in Cape Town! The next challenge was for Paul and me to say goodbye to all our friends and family, and move across the world for a better life.

Picture how hard it is just getting two kids ready for a trip to the grocery store. Now picture traveling halfway across the world with my four-year-old son, and 10-month-old daughter to an unknown future, with no family and just a dream of a better life. Granted, we nearly left Lindi in her stroller in JFK…but nonetheless, in one of the hardest emotional and physical experiences I’ve ever faced, we made the move to Virginia Beach.

Life in the US was quite an adjustment and I had many obstacles to overcome. As if learning to drive on the other side of the road wasn’t enough, I had to prove myself in the real estate world.

There was a time when I first arrived in the US and I told my prospect that I would give him a ‘tinkle’ the next day, a phone call…. he told me I should ask my American colleagues what a tinkle is.

When I heard there was a government contractor looking for 25,000 square feet of office space. I called the tenant but was told that they were touring the following day with a male agent (who will remain nameless) but I was welcome to call back thereafter if I had something that he had not shown them. The male agent called me and told me that I need not bother, as he was showing them every building in town. This, in itself, was a challenge. I did my research and came up with a perfect solution: the Gibson Building at the beach. I was sure the Agent had not thought of this one! I was right and I earned respect amongst the male dominated real estate companies in this town, they couldn’t believe that a rookie, alien, female agent could beat one of the good old boys to a deal!!!!!

I have since spent the last 40 years with the same drive and chip on my shoulder that I always have to prove myself. After a great journey and career, it is such an honor to be recognized by CREW Hampton Roads as the Groundbreaking woman of the year. CREW’s motto is to advance women in the commercial real estate industry – and to help each other to succeed professionally.

Divaris employs the highest ratio of women commercial brokers in Hampton Roads. I have always believed in having good mentors, to give advice and to be a mentor to others. When I mentor young people, I always let them know that life is a journey, with its ups and downs, its challenges, its successes and one should stay tenacious and focus on one’s goals, continue being the strong women we are, don’t forget to take some risks! If you can take anything from my speech today, it would be the following four rules, which I lead my business life by…

We had been friends with the Josephbergs for about five years when I heard that Bob had signed a lease for 10,000 square feet. I called him to ask why he had not used me to negotiate the deal. He said he did not realize that I was in commercial real estate. So, my advice, no matter if you think your friends and family know what you do, make sure to tell them. You are your own best advocate.

My motto is: ‘I can at least sleep at night’. As you know, not everyone in business is trustworthy and your reputation will follow you. I recently read a great quote: “Reputation is your most important business credential. You can lose it in a moment of anger or dishonesty – something that takes years to establish.” I’ve lost deals and money by being honest, but in the long run it always pays off.

When you make a call and the person does not call back, don’t give up, call again. It doesn’t mean that the person is not interested, but rather that they may be too busy. I can’t tell you how many deals were made from a three-year string of follow up calls. The prospects appreciated my persistence and knew if I was willing to work so hard for their business, I would be willing to work just as hard on their behalf. Unfortunately, my kids don’t always appreciate my persistence.

And for all you Millennials: pick up the phone and call someone. In a world of texting and emailing, a personal touch is lost. You never know the cross connections you can make when you are on the phone and have an actual conversation. I can’t tell you how many deals have happened because I called instead of adding to a pile of someone’s emails. It is easier to type, but never as effective. Mark my words.

4th and most importantly… FAMILY COMES FIRST.

When we moved to America, we had no family living here. I told both Gerald and Michael that my family would always come before my career and I’ve stuck to this. As I said, your success is often measured by the success of your kids- they are your greatest investment. In this amazing career, I have won many awards, but my ultimate trophy is my family- my husband, my kids and grandkids and their successes in the future. So, miss a meeting for their soccer game, take off a week for some much-needed family vacation. Put down your phone at dinner and ask about their day. In 40 years you will look back and be happy that you did.

So, here’s to strong and successful women, may we be them, may we know them, and may we raise them!!!!

View Vivian’s speech from Divaris Real Estate’s YouTube Channel here