Jason Richards '01
Chief Operating Officer of N.A.I. Earle Furman, L.L.C.
How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.
When I graduated with a degree in political science, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I traveled, worked in the food service industry, and volunteered. I thought about what I wanted out of life, and it led me to the nonprofit industry. I worked for several years in nonprofits focusing on fundraising and operations management. That experience enabled me to work for causes for which I was passionate while also growing my professional skills. At the same time, I indulged my interest in real estate by investing in small properties on the side, and through that exercise, I became a client of the company I now help run.
During my time as a client, I realized a locally owned company like NAI Earle Furman would allow me to “check all the boxes.” Because it is local, I can become involved in the important decisions that shape the company. I can work in the commercial real estate industry, which has always been fascinating to me. I can take time to still be involved with causes that inspire me through extensive volunteering on boards and committees, which is greatly encouraged by my company.
What motivations fueled your career path?
I love my community and the people in it. Commercial real estate is a solid business in which you work with fantastic people and companies to help them meet their needs. In doing so, you help the community grow while making a good living and having fun.
When providing advice for professional development, what are some tools or resources one should consider?
I do not really enjoy traditional “business books” much, but I love a good story. Regardless of the field you are targeting, someone else has paved the way and I always recommend finding a biography of a successful person to emulate. From that, you will learn the foundation of their success, the mistakes they made, and the direct advice they give.
How would you recommend someone interested in the same career/vocation pursue a similar path?
First, figure out where you want to be geographically. Do you want to be in a town the size of Greenville, or do you prefer a large city? Do you want east coast or west coast? Once you make that choice, start reaching out to people in that area with whom you might have any kind of connection. They could be Furman alumni, friends of friends, etc. Then reach out to people in the industry and ask if you can meet with them. Tell them you are not looking for a job persé, but that you just want to meet and discuss what they do. People are much more receptive to that. Over time and through those conversations, opportunities will arise.
How have mentors impacted your professional development? How did you develop those relationship?
I have never had an official mentor, but I have certainly leaned on many people over the years who provided a positive example and good advice. I typically reach out to these people weekly. Without exception, these are people I have met through community involvements. Get involved in something you are passionate about, whether it be Furman, a church, or another charity, and you will meet others whose interests mirrors yours. You will develop relationships with them and realize there are many accomplished people out there willing to help you.
What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?
It’s a cliché, but it is ok to fail. Take risks and try new things. Speak up often when you have an opinion, and do not be offended when someone tells you that you are wrong.
Are there any unspoken rules or recommendations that “they” don’t tell you?
Ask what their training is. If they evade the question, run.
Is there anything unique about getting into the industry?
The barrier to entry for commercial real estate brokerage is that it is largely commission based. Learning in the field often requires time for which you are paid very little, if anything. That actually makes it a little better fit for someone right out of college rather than a mid-career transition, as there is no time in life better to live on a small salary. Once you are established and successful, that will become a distant memory.
How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?
I am a big believer in the impact of a liberal arts education. It taught me how to think and express myself, and that is something many professional degrees do not do. Unless you are in a specific professional field like engineering or architecture, most service and sales jobs just require personality, the ability to think, and a strong work ethic. A liberal arts education prepares those qualities well.
What are other courses you took or you wish you would have taken that would also add value in your career?
Ironically, I did not take any business or accounting classes, and now I run a business. All students should take at least one finance or accounting class during their four years. Regardless of what you do, you will have to make business decisions at some point. I have been lucky to have great role models and a solid environment to learn on the job in my career, but I would have been better prepared if I had learned a bit more of that in college.
Why do you make giving back to Furman a priority for you and your family?
Furman was a perfect fit for both my wife and myself, and it created the foundation upon which we built our careers, our families, and our life. We are thrilled to support Furman as it does the same for others.
What are your priorities when it comes to Furman and your giving?
Furman was an incredible place when I was a student, and it continues to get better every year. We support Furman financially in many different ways: annual fund, athletics, endowments and capital gifts. Since Furman offers such a holistic approach to the student experience, we try to support many facets of the school.
What impact do you hope to make with your giving to Furman?
I want Furman to be the best school experience it can be for the students who are there. Insofar as we can help Furman accomplish that with support, we are happy to help.