Happy Mother’s Day to our readers!
It’s a little late, because we have been having our own celebrations, but we plan to focus on mothers and daughters all week here on CD. Namely, mothers and daughters in real estate. What a better way to start than with the dynamic mother-daughter duo who teach real estate skills to nearly every agent and broker in the state?
I’m talking about Rita Santamaria and her daughter, Kimberly Dydalewicz. Champions School of Real Estate was founded in 1983 by Rita. Rita’s daughter, Kimberly Dydalewicz joined the family company as a career counselor straight out of college. She has worked diligently for the past 17 years to establish the Champions School of Real Estate name and brand throughout the state of Texas.
In 2014, more than 30 years after Champions School of Real Estate was founded, Kimberly was named the president of the company.
Now that Champions School of Real Estate has grown to dominate the Texas real estate education landscape, this mother-daughter duo have set their vision further: taking Champions School of Real Estate national.
We recently sat down with the dynamic duo together to hear, in their words, what has contributed most to their success, what advice they’d give others looking to succeed in a family-run business, and what their goals are for Champions School of Real Estate:
CD: Rita, when you began building Champions School of Real Estate, what expectations did you have for your children joining you in the business as they grew up?
[Rita Santamaria] When I opened and began to build Champions School of Real Estate, I never expected any of our children to be involved as it took a long time for it to break even and then make a profit. I wanted them to have a “better advantage” by getting their degrees and finding their own way in business.
CD: Kim, at what moment did you know that you were going to work for Champions School of Real Estate?
[Kimberly Dydalewicz] When we first opened Champions in 1983, I was just 7 years old and spent hours at our original campus!
After graduating from Louisiana Tech, I began the application process to start my career. I secured two interviews with two large companies. As exciting as it was to have the opportunity to interview with such large companies, I found that I was missing “passion.” Coincidentally, it was at the same time that there was an opening at our campus. We only had one campus at the time and I submitted my application! After interviewing with my mom (yes, she really interviewed me!), I was blessed to start my career at Champions School of Real Estate in September of 1998. There is not a day that goes by that I do not count my blessings to have this amazing opportunity!
CD: Rita, what are the qualities that you see in Kim that best equip her to being a good leader within Champions School of Real Estate?
[Rita Santamaria] Kim will listen to our employees with an open mind and kindness in her heart. She does not intend to offend anyone, but she does expect accountability for tasks and results from those tasks. She puts responsibilities on her plate with timelines and expected results and we both expect our responsible employees to do the same. If it doesn’t happen, we inquire, fix and go forward. She holds no grudges. She is a very happy and fair person. We have grown because of her desire and talents to always make Champions the best and the leader in real estate education.
CD: Was there any moment when Kim was growing up that you saw that she would be a great fit to work alongside you at Champions School of Real Estate?
[Rita Santamaria] Kim is a natural-born sales person. She began marketing at an early age when she made outfits for her elementary choir Christmas program. She was always thinking sales and marketing. When she graduated from Louisiana Tech and interviewed with me, I knew it was only a matter of time before I said yes. There is no greater joy and challenge than having your family in your company.
CD: Could you describe a moment with Kim when you felt very proud of her achievements as a leader within Champions School of Real Estate?
[Rita Santamaria] Kim knew that I wanted to open a campus in San Antonio, so she volunteered to sell her house in Sugar Land to move herself and her family to San Antonio to start the campus there. She worked out of a small temporary office and went office-to-office selling our brand and correspondence courses until our San Antonio campus opened 8 months later. When it opened companies already knew us and brokers already knew Kim. She was a 1-woman operation in San Antonio and conducted business as though she had a large operational campus!
CD: Kim, what do you think are the biggest lessons you learned from your mother in terms of what it takes to be a good leader for Champions School of Real Estate?
[Kimberly Dydalewicz] We do not micromanage our employees and we understand our employees are human – “life happens.” Our employees are so valuable to our success and we want each of them to know this. We don’t sweat the small stuff. “Be out there.” Know your employees and what is happening in their lives. It’s important to stop to say hello and chat for a few minutes…. and always acknowledge our team members for a job well done!
CD: You have mentioned your pride for your mother on several occasions – what is it about Rita that you admire and want to emulate the most?
[Kimberly Dydalewicz] You can be a full-time working “mom” and still be there for your children. Growing up, my mom worked all day, sometimes into the evenings, and she still made time for my siblings and me. She successfully balanced it all. That has been the biggest lesson to me as a mommy to my precious boys.
“Work Hard – Play Hard” is something she would always say and I find myself telling my boys that all the time. I have to be a leader in the office and a leader in my home…and guess what? It works! I feel very blessed.
CD: What are the biggest benefits to working together?
[Rita Santamaria] I know that she is always looking out for our family business. I have the opportunity to talk and discuss issues, goals and ideas with her. She understands what I am talking about and is sincere and honest in her feedback. We have so much in common both personally and professionally that it is a true gift of life to have her working with me all of these years.
[Kimberly Dydalewicz] We are a sounding board for each other every single day. How blessed am I to get to work with my mom? To be able to look at my intercom system and press a four-digit code to hear her voice, ask her anything, go over an idea/direction or to just say hello. I absolutely love working with my mom. We think so much alike and at moments will finish each other’s sentences.
CD: If you could give another mother-daughter entrepreneurial duo a piece of advice, what would it be?
[Rita Santamaria] “At the end of the work day always be the mother, not the employer,” and “Know that your daughter is concerned other employees may think she is getting preferential treatment and therefore she will feel the need to jump higher, longer than anyone else to continually prove themselves. That can be a daunting situation for your daughter so be there for her as she proves to herself and others she’s the leader you have groomed and she has developed into through her hard work and follow through.”
[Kimberly Dydalewicz] Truly, I believe that it’s so important to stay grounded. When it comes down to the end of the day, my mom is still the most amazing, nurturing mom that adores her family and grandchildren, and I am still her daughter that would do anything in the world for her.
Also – my mom will love this one – decide from the get go, what you call your mom in the office. One month its “Rita” and then the next its “Mom” or it could also very well be “Rita and Mom” in the same conversation! It is a funny little joke we have!
CD: What are the biggest challenges that come from working together?
[Rita Santamaria] There is the instinct to talk shop away from the business instead of just being mom and daughter, but we naturally fixed that a few years back. We talk shop during business days and after work, it is mom and daughter conversation. We have consistently connected on our growth direction and always agree with a meeting of the minds as to where we are going and how we are going to get there. There are always challenges but we have mutual respect for each other’s input and decisions.
[Kimberly Dydalewicz] Ha! We never stop talking Champions, morning, noon and night, weekends and holidays. The biggest challenge through my tenure is the misconception the public has about family-owned businesses and the idea that it’s a “free” ticket. This is so far from the truth!
CD: Disagreements occur often on a business or on a personal level, especially in family businesses. What is the trick to making sure that your business relationship and personal relationship aren’t affected by the tensions on one side or the other?
[Rita Santamaria] We do not go silent and stop communicating. Communication and understanding of the other person’s opinion is key in personal and business. We never let a disagreement stop the flow of respect and love for each other. here’s our script: “I may disagree with you but I love you, and respect you, my daughter”.
[Kimberly Dydalewicz] In 17 years, we have had our disagreements, of course, but we always see past them. We agree with what is most important to our mother/daughter relationship and, naturally, with what will benefit our company. And we are both from very different generations – sometimes it takes a few conversations between my mom and I to see why certain decisions would be good for Champions. But I believe we are quite the masters at the personal vs. professional relationship!
CD: Kim, do you have any expectations for your children to join you in the business you grew up in?
[Kimberly Dydalewicz] Oh goodness…it would be the greatest to work with my children. Wouldn’t that be any parents dream come true? However, [my husband] Kevin and I have a fourteen year old working hard towards his dream of being a MLB pitcher and a three year old that we believe will be a Nascar driver or a train conductor. Who knows! I want my boys to be happy and proud of whatever road they take in life.
CD: What five words would you use to describe each other?
[Rita Santamaria] Beautiful, Fun, honest, loyal, dynamic, intelligent, driven, loving, peppy…I can’t do just 5 but these are the first ones came to mind!
[Kimberly Dydalewicz] Selfless, Beautiful, Leader, Smart, Rock
CD: Since beginning with Champions School of Real Estate what has been, in your opinion, your biggest achievement thus far?
[Rita Santamaria] Growing organically to 7 distinct locations covering 80% of the Texas population. Texas is as large as 13 states! It’s a huge undertaking to locate, build and train so each regional investment is operational and growing without having me personally present.
[Kimberly Dydalewicz] I have devoted my entire career since I graduated from Louisiana Tech to promote, grow and expand the Champions School of Real Estate and Champions School of Business Etiquette brands. I am very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve! I truly feel that having been promoted to President of Champions School of Real Estate has been my proudest moment, as it has been the culmination of plenty of blood, sweat and tears over the past 17 years to get to this point.
CD: Where do you see Champions School of Real Estate in the next ten years?
[Rita Santamaria] Champions School of Real Estate is positioning itself to be a national real estate school. We will have covered the US or Global real estate school by the next 10 years. Our direction every year is expansion, growth and new challenges. We are an industry of change and Champions is consistently focused on not only being large but also being an excellent provider of real estate, loan, appraisal and inspection education.
[Kimberly Dydalewicz] Growing National! We are well on our way as we have put together the smartest, most creative curriculum development and online teams. Watch out USA, here we come!