This article was originally written for Alaska Business.
Growing up, Connie Yoshimura had no role models to look up to—so she became her own.
Yoshimura was born in Chicago but spent the first six years of her life in Decorah, Iowa, before moving to Webster City, Iowa, where she was raised by her maternal grandparents.
Yoshimura is a third generation Japanese American. For Yoshimura, growing up as a biracial woman in a community like Webster City was extremely difficult. She was happy to go to college in a more inclusive community in Iowa City, Iowa.
Yoshimura struggled with her identity, but it ultimately led her to where she is today: owner and broker of Dwell Realty, a real estate agency that employs thirty-eight people in Alaska.
Much like with other parts of her life, selling real estate wasn’t easy, and Yoshimura hit her fair share of roadblocks. When she moved to Alaska, she had no family or friends in the state to network with, and the first home she stepped into was one she was showing to a client.“I didn’t have family or friends here. I was just brand new,” Yoshimura says.
In her early days in real estate in the Last Frontier, Yoshimura’s last name registered as “funny” to some, and most brokers simply were not interested in hiring her. Eventually one saw her potential, and in her first months, she sold two houses, proving her value in the industry. This and subsequent accomplishments led Yoshimura to take a leap of faith and open Dwell Realty in March of 2013.
“Starting Dwell Realty was a risk, certainly,” says Yoshimura. “I had been in the business for many, many years, and I had owned a brokerage before I started Dwell Realty, and I was fortunate that I had a couple of clients—Hultquist Homes and John Hagmeier Homes—that I had been working with that… agreed to come with me.”
Their willingness to continue their professional relationship with Yoshimura undoubtedly had a lot to do with her obvious dedication to her field. “I believe in a meritocracy,” Yoshimura says. “Some people say that what they are going to put on my tombstone is ‘She worked,’ because I like to work. For me, work is a certain amount of freedom. I enjoy working and I enjoy meeting people.”
And Yoshimura’s job takes a lot of work. Each client has different requirements, highly varying incomes, and a multitude of housing needs that take a diverse skillset to satisfy. One of the best ways to improve is to reflect, and Yoshimura says it’s important to learn from one’s own errors. Not all of her residential investments have been successful, but Yoshimura encourages those getting into the business to learn from their mistakes.
“I don’t know that you can always avoid pitfalls,” Yoshimura says. “Even though you may have a good idea, there are other forces that you can’t control.”
She also encourages business owners and employers to consider how they can share their experience and educate those around them about the value of free enterprise, whether that’s through supporting ongoing education for their employees or reaching out into the community to educate youth about the positive role business can play.
One of Yoshimura’s favorite aspects of her job is teaching, specifically educating new agents about how to sell real estate.
One of the most fascinating parts of real estate is that almost every business needs a rented, leased, or purchased space in which to operate, and every Alaskan has one kind of housing need or another: CEOs and other executives are in the market for housing just like anyone else. Real estate agents and brokers cross paths with people working in all of Alaska’s industries.
“Although you may not have the opportunity to work directly with the president of ConocoPhillips, for example, maybe you can list the house that he buys, or build the house that he wants to live in,” she says.
Yoshimura has accomplished much in her life, both professionally and personally. Her greatest accomplishments, she says, actually have nothing to do with Dwell Realty. Yoshimura has lost one hundred pounds—twice—and recently celebrated her 25th anniversary with her husband.
And Yoshimura isn’t slowing down. Her goals for the future are to take four vacations a year, one for every quarter, and to get back into an old passion: “Before I was a realtor, I was a poet,” she says. “My goal was to earn enough money so that I could quit real estate and write poems, and I guess that’s still my goal.”
Yoshimura is optimistic about Alaska’s future. “I think Alaska is a great state, and I couldn’t do what I’ve been able to accomplish today in any other place,” Yoshimura says. “It has so much opportunity… I hope that opportunity continues for young people.”