Susan Robinson wants to elevate her real estate skills to an art form. And if she does that, based on her previous career, she will be a huge success.
Robinson, a broker with two other family members at Chattanooga’s Robinson Realty Group, where she has worked for the past three years, organized wildly popular arts and culture events in Chattanooga for nearly 25 years before changing careers.
“I find that you have to be on top of everything but also you have to be able to multitask to make sure you don’t drop any balls so (those people skills) have been extremely beneficial,” explains Robinson, who was the executive director of the Arts & Education Council in Chattanooga (now Southern Lit Alliance) for 23 years.
“I used to say in my arts world job that I was changing gears every 10 minutes. Also, my accounting work and bookkeeping work and attention to detail have been beneficial in transitioning to real estate world.”
Robinson’s influence as the arts council’s executive director served up many flavors to the cultural world.
“Providing professional children’s theatre to all of the fourth graders in Hamilton County schools three or four times a year and producing the Celebration of Southern Literature – a week-long event that connected adults and students to some of the best Southern writers around – they both were favorite programs of mine,” she says.
“What took the most work was the Celebration of Southern Literature simply because we had folks coming in from all over the country to attend, not only writers but attendees. The first part of the week we would always send writers into the public schools so that had to be coordinated. Then we had three or four days of public events surrounding the writers so that was very labor intensive but very rewarding.”
Robinson established herself as a strong voice for cultural arts.
“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Susan most recently as a colleague on the board of Tennesseans for the Arts,” says Leigh Patton, the interim administrative director for Tennesseans for the Arts advocacy group.
“I’ve always been extremely impressed with Susan as a diligent arts administrator, uniquely organized, professional and committed to outstanding business practices. She is also extremely passionate about advocating for the strong role the arts and artists play in our economy, society, history, health and future.”
Robinson places herself in the musical area of the arts spectrum.
“Since I have worked with so many writers, I usually get the question ‘do you have a book in you?’’ she acknowledges. “Well, I am not a writer. I used to write grants so I could make the arts happen, but my personal background is I used to play the piano, and I played the flute.
“My parents, particularly my mother, were adamant about exposing myself and my sister and brother to the arts and were always taking us to the ballet or a concert or theatre, and that really does make a difference in building a love for the arts and also helped me realize that the arts are a bridge to just about everything.
“That really instilled the passion for my first career.
“But at the time I retired, it was time to step down and let someone else come in. I had a very good run at it and thoroughly enjoyed it and now I am in real estate.”
What Robinson calls a career change – she remains involved with the arts by serving on the board of the Chattanooga public library and the Chattanooga ballet – many others may call a family reunion.
Her husband, Rob Robinson (a former general contractor), is the 15-year-old company’s owner and principal broker, and her mother-in-law, former councilwoman Sally Robinson, is an agent in the company.
“Even when they opened Rob had been asking me to come join the brokerage, and I just wasn’t quite ready,” Robinson recalls. “But when I decided to step down from my arts job, I first of all, just wanted to take some time off because my days in non-profit work were just as hard as jobs in for-profit work, sometimes harder.
“So, I took seven months off and again that whole time Rob and Sally both were saying ‘why don’t you get your real estate license, why don’t you come join us?’
“I decided I really enjoyed helping people, being in my role with the arts council for so long, and that this may really be a nice fit. I could still give back to people but also do something very different from most of my professional career.
“I went and got my real estate license in both Tennessee and Georgia and joined our brokerage and very slowly moved into helping people who often times are buying the biggest purchase of their lives.
“It wasn’t a hard sales pitch (to join the real estate company) at all. It was basically me saying to Rob and Sally that I would like to join you, and they both embraced me. We are looking at expanding our brokerage so relationships and networking will come into play as we grow in the Chattanooga community.”
Robinson recounts that she and her husband, who have been married for 27 years, met on a blind date just before she graduated from college and eloped about four months later. But despite their quick compatibility, they enjoy opposite ends of the extreme sport landscape.
Rob is an elite rock climber and Susan is a certified scuba diving instructor.
“I have always enjoyed the water since I was a small child,” she points out. “Whenever my brother and I would go to the beach we would always have a scuba mask and snorkel and fins. In the 1980s I decided I would take a scuba class. I loved it and became certified here in Chattanooga.
“I did many weekend trips to the beach, drive all night, dive all day Saturday, dive early Sunday morning and then drive home to go to work the next day. I was very young then and had the energy to do that.”
She passed a diving instructors course in the Bahamas and returned to Chattanooga to teach. “Believe it or not, there are lots of folks who want to learn and take classes (in Chattanooga) and then on vacation they can go and experience the water,” Robinson says.
After a few years of teaching diving in both Tennessee and Florida, she entered college, graduating with a degree in business administration from UT Chattanooga in 1990.
“We often return to Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands (about 600 miles southeast of Miami),” she says. “The diving there is just pristine. It is wall diving where you swim 100 yards off shore and then it is just a drop-off to infinity really. The last time I did it the coral was in very good shape.”
But Robinson ranks a moment on a boat, not underwater, at No. 1 on her list of most memorable diving experiences.
“I was snorkeling and had gotten cold, got out of the water and the captain was standing on the side of the boat,” she recalls. “About that time, a big manta ray breached (jumped high out of the water), then boom, it did it a second time.
“I didn’t even realize until then that mantas breached and to be able to see that was the most amazing experience. I want to see it again.”
While they both enjoy diving together, she prefers to stay on the ground and watch Rob enjoy rock climbing.
“I had someone ask me the other day if I climbed with Rob, and the answer is (an emphatic and decisive), “No and No,’” she adds. “In the mid-1990s he was one of the best rock climbers in the country. A lot of climbers are moving to Chattanooga now, and it has the name the Boulder, Colorado of the South.
“Had Rob not done all of the climbing early on in his life, the climbing scene here would be totally different. He really put Chattanooga on the map, he calls himself the Grandfather of Climbing.”
That hobby also benefits the real estate business, as climbers moving to Chattanooga often become Robinson Realty Group clients.
“They (rock climbing enthusiasts) definitely know Rob,” she explains. “That has served him well in regards to clients and helping young climbers and old climbers who want to live here in Chattanooga.”
Susan Robinson participated in the Greater Chattanooga Area Realtors Leadership Academy to improve her real estate skills.
“From that I learned a lot about the inner workings of our association so what I am committed to do is taking all of this non-profit work and arts work that I have done and applying it now to all of the real estate positions that I will have, on a committee or whatever, as I move forward in my career in getting involved with GCAR. So, I know that those skills will be beneficial as I transition in getting more involved with them.”
That involvement likely will include substantial participation in GCAR activities.
“I am just now starting my journey with GCAR but I plan to be very involved with them,” Robinson continues. “You have to sign up for committees at certain times of the year, but I expect that at this time next year, I will be more involved with them. It is very important for us to be very supportive of our local organization, both individually and as a company, and Robinson Realty Group is definitely a supporter.”
She also transferred her advocacy skills from her arts leadership positions to her real estate interests, participating in the Realtor Day on the Hill in January to lobby state legislators about real estate issues and concerns.
Robinson describes herself as a residential seller but has a commercial building sale to her credit.
“It is kind of interesting to be at the beginning of a new career again, and I really look forward to being involved and growing my client list and helping even further,” she says.
“The family connections were fabulous. Of course, I had some trepidation about starting a new career, but as I have eased into this, it has been very rewarding so far and I am happy that I made the move.”