“When you go the second mile—give more to your work, are more than thoughtful and kind to people, become a joyous giver and a gracious receiver—suddenly life takes on new meaning. On the second mile, you find happiness, true friends, real satisfaction in living—and probably a larger paycheck, too.” – Eric Butterworth, “Discover the Power Within You,” 1989.
I SOLICITED this interview with Mia McLeod and her husband, Leonard Mercado. I was intrigued by their constant postings of escrows left and right that in one week, three escrows closed. I wanted to write about their life principles. I later found out about their struggles to stay in business and to survive, even while the economy was in freefall.
Do you remember 2008-2009?
Foreclosures were on the upswing to 81 percent in California. Home values decreased by 35 percent. Construction was frozen. The economy was tanking. Millions of homeowners were displaced and they became renters. New subdivisions became ghost towns. Ten real estate brokerages closed, including those in the commercial sector, within a mile radius of their office.
But, crisis seems to be disguised opportunities, if one embraces the challenges.
Mia McLeod, a Filipina-American, withstood this crisis and used this opportunity to build her firm. Mia developed a sense of business principles that customer service has to be paramount. She wanted her clients to feel they are the only ones she works for, answering their questions right away and doing her best practices in completing transactions.
Mia credits the example of her mother, Angela Morales Garcia, learning from her the power of love, sacrifice, perseverance and hard work. Her mom rented a room in a house, which three women shared and together, they formed their own little home of love and security.
While her mom worked, Mia and her younger sister Marlyne McLeod Loera, took care of their laundry and other chores. They had two appliances, a toaster and a microwave, that were used to heat up their meals in this rented room. After heating their meals and eating, they shared stories and developed a strong family bond, which still exists till. Her mom became both father and mother, that she and her sister celebrate both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to honor Angela.
At age 21, Mia graduated with BA degree in Mass Communication at UC Berkeley. At age 22, a few months after working at a start-up mortgage company, she chose to create her own business. She started with zero capital and a desk space, lent by her mom, who had her own travel agency.
Now we all wonder: How did she do it?
Mia worked hard to sell her first property and used her commissions to buy her first fax machine and with each completed property sale, she purchased the next office equipment and then another, until her business grew. At some point, she struggled and did some soul-searching. She experienced staff attrition and she sought answers as to why staff left. She embarked on improving herself and focused on building the office culture, using the staff’s strengths appropriately in the business process and working on their teamwork.
“We needed to focus on our own personal leadership – as John Maxwell puts it, leadership is influence, by adding value to one another. It is growing influence, it is growing leadership in your life, ” Mia clarifies.
In 2008, she earned the recognition of “30 under 30” from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), after successful escrow closing on 37 sides for a combined value of over $12 million.
Her efficacy continues to today that last Labor Day, her firm was recognized by the Eastvale Chamber of Commerce as the Business of the Year. Her firm organizes educational workshops, inviting industry experts and lawyers on topics such as financing first-time home buyers, wills and trust, where to get down payment grants, financial investments, including emergencies and earthquake preparedness. As their business grows, so does the knowledge they impart to their surrounding communities.
Leonard clarifies their business principles. “No way is she indispensable, but with someone always wanting to serve, it is hard not to have that. At times, that comes from a selfish point of view as you want that kind of service. But it is how to serve the community – we don’t subscribe to [selfishness] but to be the best reflection of what we want to see in the world,” he said.
Forging a business and life partnership
When asked about their life principles, Mia responded with clarity and certainty: “Humility. Gratitude. We strive to grow ourselves daily, and to pour [positivity] into others and [to] help them succeed. First thing we do when we wake up, we pray together as a husband and wife with a ton of gratitude for our life of blessings. We also know that what we have can be taken away. We pray for sustained blessings so we can continue to help others. It takes material resources to help others.”
Leonard was quick to add, “My positivity defines me the most.” It struck me as quite a profound statement and wondered how their paths crossed.
She described her husband’s specific personality traits: “Leonard is the most charming of all people who can quickly turn around the energy in a room. Leonard loves to dance and you want him in your house and in your parties. He has a strong belief in people and he gives you that extra boost of confidence. He is also a traditional gentleman (old school) and young, fun and hip, a very nice blend of so cool.”
I glanced at Leonard who had a contented smile, even an assuredness to share what he went through, including the grief he overcame.
His mom, Aurora Mercado did not work until Leonard was 7 years old. Growing up, they created loving memories together, while Luis Mercado, Jr., his father, worked full-time for the family.
But tragedy struck when Leonard was 14 years old, and he lost his mother and his closest aunt, Herminia Buan, to a car accident.
“I was 14 years old and I went through dark moments. I was so close to my mom and aunt. When I came out of it, I had developed such a calming energy, that it is very hard to get me down. Not much to worry.”
After high school, Leonard went to Mt. San Antonio College and then became a registered nurse. He worked in the neurotrauma unit at Cedars-Sinai and another job at a clinic in West Covina, doing post surgical-recovery nursing.
After five years, he quit and got his real estate license in 2001. He worked at a commercial – industrial brokerage with his cousin, and then opened a brokerage with two partners until it shut down in 2008. It was one of the 10 brokerages that got the brunt of the 2008 economic meltdown.
What are their family values?
I asked Leonard’s vision as the head of the household for the soon-to-be family of three:
“To be God-fearing, a belief in a Higher Being. I have seen highly intellectual friends who can afford great things, but I want to be thankful for so much abundance from God as I did not do this on my own. I don’t want my children to think these blessings come just from us, Mom and Dad, but to know they are blessings from a Higher Being and that we are simply servants to one another, for God. It is not our ego (for that is easing God out).
“I want them to know that they can always come to me, that they need to be their best selves, however painful that situation might be. That they still have me at anytime, [and] that I have unconditional love for them.
“We feel responsible. We can’t keep our business to ourselves. We ask for more business to better serve our team. We want to be part of charities and to help lift the burdens of financial institutions on homeowners.”
That says a lot of why they sustain their organizing of community workshops, to simplify the complexity of owning a home for families. They want to create a culture where their employees are viewed as leaders, as well, and to figure out how to have one-on-one time to discuss their personal issues with a personal coach, and to discover what are their issues that are blocking them from reaching their own potentials.
Leonard turned toward Mia, saying, “I am always a resource and a partner to my wife, Mia. I am so proud of her. It is nice to be a supporter and backer to her as she is not one to talk about herself. “
Mia continues sharing: “The whole team is involved in the process. We have staff who are great in building bridges, so they are at the front end of negotiations. We also have staff that are good in interactive processes, they are checking all details of the documents to make sure they are done right, they are positioned at the middle and the final end of the process.
“Together, our business consists of over 50 percent being referred to us, based on relationships formed. We serve first, before getting the business first. We give first, before asking. The client is not a cash cow but [we strive] to give them the best living experience at the moment, elevating our brand as more than realtors, that even in our small ways, we can change the relationship between a client and a realtor to that of solid trust, leading with a purpose, and defining why we strive to care, to inspire and to add value to others. We don’t let the industry define our business, so [at times] we may have to lose some business. But every day, it feels great. Every day we are writing our own book.”
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.