As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO,’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Andrey Sokurec.
Andrey immigrated to the U.S. from Belarus in 2004 with no money and limited English. After working two jobs to provide a better life for his family, Andrey read books about real estate investing and decided to pursue it as a career. Fast forward to today, and Andrey is the CEO of Homestead Road, a successful real estate company with three offices across the country, and the author of “Total Financial Awakening.”
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
When I moved to the U.S. from Belarus, I worked 70 to 80 hours a week as a pizza delivery driver and construction worker, missing out on quality time with family and wondering if there was a way to escape the grind. I knew I wasn’t alone in this. Millions of people are working long hours day in and day out and wondering, “Is this really it?”
It was that question that led me to make the biggest change in my life — and pursue a career in investment real estate. I knew if I wanted to be successful in real estate, I had to learn about everything it takes to make it to the top. So, I started reading books and networking. One lesson would lead to another, and I was able to find the financial freedom I once doubted I would have.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I founded Homestead Road, I made it a priority to help my team learn and grow personally and professionally. One day, we had an opportunity to meet with Tony Hsieh, CEO of the online shoe and clothing company, Zappos. Hshieh shared how they built their wonderful company culture through their hiring and training process, and it was amazing for our team to learn from him directly. It was also a privilege and honor to have that opportunity before Hsieh passed. That experience now serves as a reminder to me of just how important and impactful it is to share your success with others.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
After we had been in business for a little while, we accidentally “lost” one of the homes in our inventory. We were in the process of buying a particular house, and when we went to pull its tax records, discovered that we were already the owners! We had been buying several homes during that time and had somehow misplaced this house in our inventory report. It was both funny and a good reminder that internal control is very important.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are many people who helped me get to where I am today. Some I’ve met in person, and others I’ve only read about through books, like Benjamin Franklin. One mentor I was lucky enough to meet is author Jack Canfield, who helped me think big and let go of my fears. Jack’s one-year personal development program, Train the Trainer, set me on the path to eventually purchase my first real estate investment property and then launch Homestead Road. I’m honored to say Jack and I remain in touch to this day.
In addition to Jack, family, of course, are the ones who I thank the most. It’s hard to be successful by yourself. Find people who are already successful, and they can help you along the way.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
A team is not complete without the unique perspectives and experiences each member brings. A successful, well-rounded team is made up of people who can challenge their colleagues to look at a situation in a different way or employees who simply have knowledge that is based on their life experiences. As leaders, it may take us years to fully get there, but having people in positions of power from all backgrounds is crucial to a company’s overall success. Without diversity, we lack the valuable knowledge we need in both work and life.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
As business leaders, it starts with how we use our success and privilege and how we give back. For example, we should support nonprofit organizations or find other local groups and small businesses that could use our help, whether financially through educational opportunities. How we contribute to our communities will shape our society in the long run. At Homestead Road, we have such a diverse group; there are more than 10 languages spoken by our employees. We see the value in representation and inclusivity — two things that create a stronger workplace culture. We also strive to give back to our community by volunteering our time and talent whenever we can.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
So often people think being a CEO is fun and exciting, but in reality it’s a very stressful job. All big decisions fall on you; there’s no one to turn to for help, and at times, it can feel lonely. You’re not just responsible for your income, but you’re also responsible for the earnings of others and their families. Being a CEO comes with an endless amount of responsibilities, and it’s a 24/7 job — in my experience, there are no true vacations where I can mentally “check out.” That’s why I try my best every day to listen to my employees and get to know them on a personal level so that I can build relationships with all of them. This helps me remember that while all of the big responsibilities fall on my shoulders, I have a team who feels more like family. It makes it easier to do the job!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the biggest myths is that as a CEO you get to relax. In reality, as an executive, you have to work twice as hard. People see photos of trips I’ve taken, and while I may not always be in the office, that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly working. Many think CEOs just kick their feet up and rely on everyone else to take care of the company, but that’s simply not how it works. Every day I wake up remembering that the livelihoods of everyone on my team is my responsibility, and that alone makes me put in well over 40 to 50 hours a week. But it’s also important for CEOs and employees alike to remember that they have the ability to control their own destiny if they’re willing to put in the hard work. It’s one of the key messages I highlight in my first book, “Total Financial Awakening,” a fable that’s loosely based on my own self-discovery and entrance into the real estate investing industry.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
To be honest, there is not much difference for me personally, because I own my own company, and this was my vision all along. I consider myself very lucky and blessed to be able to have this kind of freedom. I knew I always wanted to continue working hard and strive for growth so I knew it would be a challenge from the beginning. But it’s the kind of challenge I knew would pay off in the end. I’d even take it a step further and say my job is actually more fun than working for a company because I don’t have to report to anyone!
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
There are traits one needs to be successful in this role. You need to be honest, compassionate, authentic and lead by example. You also need to be prepared to face an incredible amount of adversity, which often leads to a lot of stress. How you respond in difficult situations, how you treat people and how you listen to your employees if they are coming to you with a problem — are all necessary skills successful leaders have. Without those characteristics, it can be a very challenging position.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Everything starts with your purpose. Ask yourself, “Why does my company exist in the first place, and how am I showing my employees success wouldn’t be possible without them?” At Homestead Road, our company’s message and purpose empower employees to do random acts of kindness, like sending cookies to customers. We pride ourselves in delivering what we call our “Feel the Joy” experience for every customer. Once we have renovated a home, we invite homeowners with a strong emotional attachment to it to see it restored and say a final goodbye. They’re also presented with a watercolor painting to remember their home. We even plant a tree in the yard to bring value to the new buyers and to the neighborhood. Empowering people at all levels to make a difference shows them that what they do matters, but most of all, that they matter too.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Volunteering plays a big role in my life. Without the mentors and leaders, who volunteered their time and resources for me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. That’s why I pay it forward by volunteering as much as I can. From Feed My Starving Children to Habitat For Humanity, the entire company takes part in giving back to the community. We know there is enough success in the world for everyone — it’s just a matter of how we use our own success to give back.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Take responsibility for your life. It’s easy to place the blame on someone else if something goes wrong. Taking responsibility for your actions and learning from your mistakes will help you move forward.
- Build a plan. Be very strategic and intentional with what you want. I’m a firm believer in the law of attraction. I had a clear vision for where I saw my business going. I made sure that every step I took and decision I made was intentional, and I wrote down very specific goals that I knew I needed to achieve to get to where I am today.
- Get a mentor. Jack Canfield served as a mentor to me before the two of us ever connected. It was during one of those early days at the library searching for business books and wisdom that I found a DVD that changed my life. It was Jack Canfield’s “The Success Principles.” The four principles were simple and powerful: “Be clear why you’re here.” “Decide what you want.” “Believe in yourself.” “Believe it’s possible.” Hearing these principles gave me a new sense of purpose and optimism about the future.
- Take action. I want my experience to serve as a reminder for people that if you wait for the “right time” to do something, you’ll be waiting forever. The right time is now. It’s okay to feel fear as long as you take action and pursue your dreams anyway. In his book “Think Like A Monk,” Jay Shetty writes, “Real greatness is when you use your own achievements to teach others, and they can learn how to teach others, and the greatness that you’ve accomplished expands exponentially. Rather than seeing achievement as status, think of the role you play in other people’s lives as the most valuable currency.”
- Get feedback and reject rejection. It may take you many tries and some roadblocks before you get to where you want to be. There are many times in my career where I thought of giving up but I knew that wasn’t the answer. When I came to the U.S., I had to raise and save a lot of money. I heard a lot of no’s in my career but didn’t take the no’s as a final answer. Use every perceived “failure” as a learning opportunity and remember not to take things too personally. Sometimes what we think happens to us actually happens for us.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would gather together a group of successful entrepreneurs who would teach entrepreneurship classes in transitional cities and developing countries. A goal of mine is to start an entrepreneurship online platform at a very low cost, so anyone in the world can join and get the education they need to build successful businesses. Over the years, I learned that so often people don’t lack the skills they need but the resources and opportunities needed to work on those skills. When we have access to resources, it’s easier to believe in our own potential. My dream is to provide those resources.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is from my mentor, Jack Canfield, who said it best when he said, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Fear can have total power over our lives but only if we let it. It took me a long time to learn that fear itself may never go away, but how I decide to push through the fear makes all the difference. I remember the self-doubt I felt when I first joined the real estate industry. Between a language barrier and lack of experience, I thought I was never going to make it — but I realize now it was fear trying to guide me, and I’m thankful I didn’t let it. I’m also thankful for the people in my life who believed in me and my journey.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I’d love to play a game of chess with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger is an immigrant who has built a very successful career. I met him at a conference once, and I would love the opportunity to sit down with him and ask him about how he dealt with the challenges many immigrants often face. He’s always been a role model, and I love his quote, “There are no shortcuts — everything is reps, reps, reps.” That quote resonates with me because just like him, I know all too well what it means to climb the ladder of success.