Fifty years ago this January, Chicago real estate industry trailblazer Frank Williams opened his namesake brokerage, F.J. Williams Realty. He is a CAR Hall of Fame inductee, teaches at our REALTORS® Real Estate School, served as CAR President in 1989 and previously served as president and a board member of the Dearborn REALTIST® Board.
We spoke with Williams about his career, the challenges he’s faced and the advice he has for his fellow REALTORS®.
How does it feel to hit your 50th anniversary?
Being in business for 50 years as an African American is truly a milestone for us. And for those of us who had to go through special hoops, it’s quite a tribute. It’s also a tribute to everyone who helped me along the way.
How and why did you start your brokerage?
I was first licensed in March 1966. I got my license because my wife and I bought a house and closed on a deal in August 1965. I started taking the courses before that to get an understanding of the buying process. Many of the REALTORS® we were working with couldn’t directly answer questions we had, which inspired me to get started in the business.
I got involved at that point, and for well over three years I worked with Midwest Realty. I knocked on all the doors and made all the phone calls they told me I needed to do to succeed. I started to do reasonably well and then decided to move on and do something on my own. I got my brokerage license in 1969 and started F.J. Williams Realty in 1971 with my wife.
What are the biggest challenges that come with running a brokerage?
As a minority brokerage firm, the biggest challenge was, and still is, that we encounter limitations in the industry. We had a diverse brokerage, and our first year in business, we had bigger organizations who demonstrated against our office. We had our windows broken and telephone lines jammed, because people didn’t want us selling real estate in their community. However, I have experienced many forms of intimidation throughout my career, and we never let it stop or slow us down.
What are your words of wisdom from so many years of being a trailblazer?
You need to get up each day, be positive, accept and deal with challenges and respect the fact that you have as much of a right to play at the top of the game as anyone else.
When the going gets tough, what keeps you going?
We all have our fears and inhibitions, and some of us let those fears captivate and overtake us. The bottom line, and the most important thing in this industry, is closing the deal and not letting those fears get in the way of accomplishing that.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment is that despite all the things my wife and I had to deal with, we’ve been able to raise and maintain our family.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned after so many years in the industry?
As a kid, I recognized that you must learn the basics and foundations of whatever you’re doing. You might not be the strongest or fastest, but you can have the knowledge to help you succeed. I took that attitude with me into my real estate career.
What advice do you have for others who have encountered challenges in this industry?
In any business, you have to get up every day, work towards your goals, and don’t let the forks in the road stop you from where you’re going.
What’s next for you?
I aim to teach those in my office who aspire to be at the top of their vocation but may encounter barriers along the way. I will continue to do what I do best.