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From Executive Recruiter to Renovation and Design Manager—Robin Wilson, 37

Real estate is in my blood, four generations back. I got into it with my grandfather, who owned several Texas "shotgun" houses—studios where oil workers lived. He let me choose their exterior paint when I was 7 years old. I made one block the "rainbow" houses: one blue, one violet, one red, and so on. It made caring for property seem like art. On Sundays we collected rent. That made real estate seem like an ATM—you can get money out of it.

After college, I went into management consulting and then executive search. But I felt as if I only got to start projects—finding people jobs—never finish them. I might not learn until years later if it was a great match. When my firm went public in 1999, I instantly sold my shares and used the money to go to graduate school to study real estate finance.

I wanted to go into commercial property management, but no one would hire me. Most people suggested I become a broker, which is the real estate job "for girls." I wanted to be like my grandfather, so when a professor suggested I try residential property management, I talked my friends into hiring me to do their kitchen, bath, and baby nursery renovations. I said, "I'll be like the wedding planner of your project. You won't have to worry about one thing." And they didn't. Now I do whole apartments, homes, law firms, even former President Clinton's office. My budgets run as high as $7 million.

Women, especially Southern women, are taught to be demure. When I first opened, I didn't want to be a show-off and name my company after myself. Instead I called it WSG (Wilson Services Group) Consulting. Huge mistake. No one could remember it. Plus, my expertise and talent are what clients are buying. We rebranded this year as Robin Wilson Home. Business is booming.

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