“Both of my parents grew up in Tanzania with big families, and my grandparents moved from India to East Africa seeking better business opportunities. When my parents immigrated to California, they worked all the time trying to build a better life for us. I come from a background of hard work, where education was the most important thing.”
Anjee’s parents worked hard to blend into the new American culture and society while finding common culture with other Indians in California. Her father became president of the local Indian organization; her mother brought the Indian women from the community together to embroider stunning costumes for dance events they organized. Anjee began performing at the age of 5, dancing to music from Bollywood movies, in costumes her mother created for her. Anjee danced until she was 16 for cultural events and various Gujarati groups.
“My mom’s side of the family is extremely entrepreneurial; my dad’s side focused on education and medicine. My dad always used to say school is the fundamental foundation. I’ve learned so much from my parents, it’s incredible.”
As a small girl, Anjee spent a lot of time at her parents’ drive-in dairy during the summer months. When she was about 6 years old, a friend of her father's stopped by with a stack of books he had planned to give away.
But Anjee had another idea: she would sell the books instead. She positioned herself outside the drive-in wearing a bright red puffy jacket, her hair pulled into pigtails, and as customers passed through for milk, cheese and butter, Anjee would offer them a book for 25 cents. It worked, and Anjee’s first business was born. In just 12 more years she would have her residential real estate license.
While she worked toward earning her finance degree from California State University, Fullerton, she sold real estate on the weekends. Her big break into commercial real estate came when she was introduced to Pete Hollis at Hollis and Associates (formerly with Taubman), and was hired onto the retail leasing and construction team.
"That was the start of my career, and it was the best thing I ever did. I had the chance to work with some incredibly talented and powerful people, and it was such an amazing opportunity. We worked closely with the Irvine Company, and we would sit as a team week after week, looking at the portfolio and talking through every aspect of every project. I learned so much about every discipline within our organization in those meetings, and how we engaged as a team. We had to act as one team, and I’ve kept that mantra and approach to this day."
After a few years, then only 25, Anjee was offered a general manager position at Larkspur Landing (now Marin Country Mart) in Northern California — a huge promotion. Her mother thought it might be time she settled down and got married, but her father advised she should do what she really wanted to do. Anjee left for Northern California soon after.
While the numbers are steadily improving, historically women have been in the vast minority in commercial real estate. “But what’s really interesting is that being person of color has been a bigger challenge, especially in Southern California. Growing up I was definitely a minority — there were only four Indians in my high school. For me, the impact of being a person of color was very pronounced, I felt as though I had to work twice as hard to be heard, in order for people to pay attention and listen. I think the women embraced me more than the men. My first team and I worked very well together. We were all women, and it was just the three of us. It was wonderful."
To this day, learning new things still motivates Anjee. “I love to learn from other cultures. I love observing how different cultures look at information differently, and trying to get to the seed of their philosophical perspective. I love listening to NPR or TED Talks and figuring out how to take those learnings and bring them back to our daily lives. And I think through those experiences we’ve done some amazing things.”
In 2002, Anjee and two close friends explored Tibet and happened upon small village event. It seemed as though everyone in the village had come to greet them, the men separate from the women. “They looked at us with beautiful smiles. These are people who had very little materially, but they had each other, and they had such warmth and a caring and sharing attitude. We moved from campsite to campsite and everywhere they went they were listening to Bollywood music! There we were, under Chinese jurisdiction, and outside the young Chinese soldiers were playing soccer with the Tibetan kids. It was so beautiful to see their interaction and to be reminded that sometimes countries or cultures force things to be a certain way, but in our heart of hearts, we’re all just kids -- right?”