Maria Grulich | Consulate General of Canada Global Business Leader

Most people would never guess Maria Grulich is an introvert. She’s seen as a “connector” who exudes enthusiasm, positivity and a desire to meet new people and learn what makes them tick.

She has long been known in Florida’s economic development circles because of her previous positions with Osceola and Brevard counties, where she oversaw efforts to forge partnerships and bring businesses into the region. Today, as the director of global business for the Florida Association of Realtors since October 2017, she gets to do the same thing: apply her creativity to build relationships that ultimately lead to more economic prosperity in Florida.

This time, she’s just working with a different audience, connecting the association’s 187,000 real estate professionals with their peers in other parts of the world through tradeshows, trade missions, educational events and personal connections.

“It’s such a fit,” she said. “The similarities between this position and economic development are that neither one has something you can hold in your hand and say, ‘I sell this.’ You are really building relationships. I build relationships so our members have connections in other countries like Canada.”

It was this mission that led her to Susan Harper, the consul general of Canada in Miami, whose office serves Canadian interests in Florida and the Caribbean. Canadians are the top foreign purchasers of residential real estate in Florida, holding an estimated $50 billion in properties, according to the consul general’s office. That means Canadians are contributing almost $600 million annually in Florida property taxes.

“We need a relationship on both sides of the border,” Grulich said. “The Canadians need to connect with our members, and our members need to connect with the Canadians — for referrals, for learning, for opportunities.”

Grulich’s career is quite different from what she thought she might become when she was a young girl working day and night to become a ballerina, taking lessons for the first 18 years of her life with a singular focus. She also thought she might become a flight attendant.

“I took French in middle school because I thought I needed a third language like French to travel, and I wanted to travel,” she said.

Born in Cuba, with Spanish as her first language, Grulich learned to speak English the hard way as a child, through immersion into English-speaking classrooms. Today, she likes to say there is one universal language in the world: the smile. With a willingness to learn and a friendly outlook, people can go anywhere they choose.

“I love, love, learning,” she said. “I love connecting with people, and I also love learning about their cultures and sharing that knowledge with others. A lot of people think you have to know every single thing about another country or language when you go to a place like Japan, and you don’t. You’d be surprised at how willing they are to teach you about their culture.”

As a single mom of two daughters who are in college, Grulich has to force herself to focus on finding balance in her life. She doesn’t let a day go by without telling her daughters she loves them, either by voice or by text.

“That work and personal life balance is hard because mine is intertwined,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to turn that work mode off. … I’m trying to learn to shut down my work side a little bit and let the ‘me’ side come out a little bit. I’m working very diligently on this.”

Her job puts her in the international arena, and occasionally she’ll receive a 3 a.m. phone call — something that can set off alarm bells in any parent’s heart — only to find an apologetic colleague from another time zone on the other end of the line.

To date, the association has memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with seven other real estate associations worldwide: three in France and one each in Panama, Germany, Canada and Belgium. She is starting to see ripple effects from that.

“Now we’re connecting the people we’re doing MOUs with,” Grulich said. “Panama is saying, ‘We want to connect with Canada.’ France is saying, ‘We want to connect with Panama.’

“We are more similar than not,” she said. “If people were to step outside their comfort zone and we were to learn about each other and see what their cultures are about, we’d have a little bit of a different world.”

About the author

Diane Sears

Diane Sears

A career journalist, author and advocate for business growth, Diane Sears is the editor-in-chief of i4 Business. She is the founder and president of DiVerse Media LLC and co-founder of the Go for the Greens Foundation, which helps connect current and future women business owners with growth opportunities. She also serves in leadership roles with the Women Presidents’ Organization, Women’s Business Development Council of Florida/Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and Athena PowerLink.

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