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Company Giving Fosters Real Estate Empire

Nancy T. Richards, Founder, First Preston Management

Raised in Farmersville, Texas, a small town outside of Dallas, Richards learned from her grandmother that building great communities means taking care of the people who live there.

"She paid an elderly man in poor health to cut grass and bring it to my horse and convinced other people to do the same," says Richards. "Instead of giving him charity, she gave him a job."

And that giving back to entrepreneurship – on a much larger scale – is what Richards has been committed to doing through the real estate business she founded in 1988. The business manages and markets foreclosed property – primarily single-family homes – acquired by banks and the government. Since its inception, First Preston Management (www.firstpreston.com) has put more than 225,000 single-family homes back into the hands of private owners.

The Right Thing to Do

More remarkable than First Preston's success is the path Richards blazed to achieve it.

With a bachelor's degree in history and education from Baylor University, she joined the Coldwell Banker sales force in 1976. When the firm she was working for in the mid-1980s wasn't interested in her idea for managing and marketing foreclosed inventory, she launched her own business.

"We started with nothing and know how tough it is when no one wants to help you," she says. "So we looked at all the things we do in these houses – protect, clean, repair, mow, appraise, broker, advertise, sell and close – and picked small businesses, many owned by women, minorities and veterans, that could learn how to do the work and, at the same time, significantly build their businesses."

Take Century 21 Galloway Herron Realtors, a minority-owned firm that First Preston selected in 1999 to broker properties in the Dallas area.

"She could have gone the easy route by picking a large company to come in and handle the job instead of contracting with small businesses," said Al Herron, president of the company. "We have increased our business each year since we've been involved with her and her company."

Richards decided to contract with small and minority-owned businesses because she believed it was "the right thing to do." Admittedly a lot tougher than hiring one firm to do it all, she's now convinced her return has far exceeded any costs. "We have some 2,000 ambassadors in every city and town in the United States where we do business. Loyal, hardworking people who gave us roots in their communities along with a great reputation."

That reputation, in turn, has provided new avenues for First Preston to grow and bring other small businesses along with it.

In 1999, Richards established an 8(a) joint venture – the Southeast Alliance of Foreclosure Specialists – between First Preston and JVI Appraisal Division LLC of Orlando, Florida, a small business owned by a Native American entrepreneur. Southeast Alliance won a large U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contract to privatize the management and marketing of foreclosed properties in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for nearly six years. JVI has since grown to provide services throughout the U.S.

"I now have 16 full-time employees and am in the process of negotiating some contracts with large institutions that, by the end of the year, could double the size of my company," says JVI president Ron Nation.

More recently, through her involvement with the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, Richards was approached by the owner of Realty Marketing Associates of Las Vegas to form a limited liability company, Southwest Alliance of Asset Managers. In 2004, with Realty Marketing Associates as majority partner, Southwest Alliance won a mentor-proteacute;geacute; contract awarded by the Small Business Administration to provide management and marketing services to HUD's single-family housing in Texas and New Mexico.

"It's giving back," says Richards, "because we’re working with talented small businesses that, with a little help, can learn how to do this themselves and grow substantially."

Included in the help Richards provides is training, oversight and technology support. First Preston has trained more than 150,000 brokers across the U.S. to use the Internet to market and oversee properties. For no additional compensation, the firm also conducts homebuyer seminars, knowing that the more people buying homes, the more business there is for everyone.

From Poverty to Home Ownership

First Preston has sponsored the building of more than 16 Habitat for Humanity homes across the United States, with a large contingent of its employees volunteering on builds. Richards' involvement with Habitat made her realize that, while owning a home is an important milestone in the journey out of poverty, most people in need of homes are women with children in even more urgent need of jobs.

That's how she and First Preston got involved with the Grameen Foundation, an international organization that provides small loans to low-income entrepreneurs. A micro-loan program in Dallas has funded more than 300 new entrepreneurs with more than $100,000 in support from First Preston.

"After jobs, we knew these women need child care and health services," says Richards, "so we started working with the YWCA." First Preston is the largest fund raiser and contributor to the Dallas Metropolitan YWCA.

Richards is convinced that giving back to entrepreneurship through her company and providing women the wherewithal to stop the cycle of poverty is in large part what inspires her employees to work hard and loyally for First Preston.

"The work we do is much larger than mending and selling homes," says Richards. "It's about changing people's lives. When employees get to meet people like Mrs. Gale, who turned a $1,500 micro-loan from the Grameen Foundation into a successful bakery business, it gives them a stronger sense of purpose than just coming to an office everyday."

Richards now spends about 50 percent of her time in philanthropy, she says, because she has fabulous people who not only do a great job running First Preston but believe in the greater mission.

Included in what Richards gives back to entrepreneurship is the time she spends serving on the boards of the YWCA, the Dallas Women's Foundation, and the Dallas as well as International Women Build Council of Habitat for Humanity.

Richards has established an endowment at Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business and serves on its advisory board. She is also a member of Baylor's Women's Council and an investor in the Texas Women's Venture Fund, established in 2002 to fund women-owned or women-led small businesses that need capital to grow.

A guest lecturer on entrepreneurship at Texas Christian University, Richards was named Ernst & Young 2004 Southwest "Entrepreneur of the Year" for Real Estate/Construction/Hospitality and one of three finalists for national "Entrepreneur of the Year."

"I have been so very blessed and humbled by my success," she says. "I believe there has to be a reason and it's because I get to share that success with others. At the end of the day, I'd much rather be recognized for work I've done in the community than for just running a business."

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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