This Women’s History Month, we celebrate and honor the incredible work and dedication of women Realtors® across our state. From breaking glass ceilings to persisting through often tumultuous situations to achieve their career dreams.
Today with over 10,700 women Realtors®, we are grateful for the women who paved the way & laid the foundation for an enduring legacy.
One such legacy is that of Emma Rovick. Emma’s story of starting a real estate business when many women weren’t even allowed to have a bank account, inspires us as we look ahead towards an equitable future, and reminds us that anything is possible.
How Emma Rovick turned a failing brokerage into a real estate empire
Today, Edina Realty is an integral player in Minnesota real estate. As a subsidiary of HomeServices of America, Inc., it numbers among the top five brokerages in the United States.
But it wasn’t always a large brokerage. In fact, 64 years ago the tiny storefront agency in Edina teetered on the brink of extinction. If not for the energy, vision, and persistence of one woman, the brokerage might have vanished along with hula-hoops, sock hops, and other fads of the 1950s.
And it all started with a piano.
In 1951, Emma Rovick, a 42-year-old Minneapolis homemaker and mother of three, wanted to buy a piano for her youngest child, Janice. So Emma set out to find a job.
Emma brushed up her shorthand and stenography skills, typed her resume, and landed a receptionist job at the Craven’s Building Company in Edina. Growing up on a 160-acre dairy farm in Princeton, MN, hard work and a sense of team play came naturally to Emma. She fit right in. Earl Cravens, who owned the business, quickly noticed the skills and potential of his newest hire.
“It didn’t take Earl long to see he really had one sharp cookie on his hands,” said Roger Rovick, Emma’s oldest son. “So, he made her his head closer and office manager.”
Spreading her wings
After a couple years at Craven’s, Emma had absorbed volumes about the real estate business. Although she was grateful for the education and the paycheck, she began to feel like she was meant for more. So did Lorraine Shibilia, a career-blazing woman who earned the slot of Top Realtor at the male-dominated agency. Together, they began imagining a future beyond Craven’s, a place where they called the shots—an agency of their own.
In 1953, they found an opportunity at Storer Realty’s mothballed office at 44th and Beard Avenue South in Minneapolis. After acquiring the defunct business, they set about rebuilding and resuscitating the business. Although the partnership barely lasted a year, Emma valued it as a hard-knocks tutorial in the art, craft, and nitty-gritty of running an enterprise.
Emma soon returned to her old post at Craven’s, eyes wide open and ready for the next opportunity.
Raiding a nest egg she and Odd had carefully gathered, she made Earl Craven a tempting offer. If he put up half the money for the ailing business, she and Odd would match him. Craven didn’t need to think very long. In quick order, they shook hands, inked contracts, and Emma handed over a check for $2,500. And just like that, on January 1, 1955, Emma Rovick transformed from employee to entrepreneur, and Edina Realty was born.
It’s done right or not at all
Sensing big opportunities, sales agents flocked to Emma’s door. And while she welcomed anyone willing to work hard and sell houses, at Edina Realty, Emma made it clear that the Golden Rule prevailed.
“Everything was to be done right or wasn’t to be done at all,” said Roger. “She believed if you’re walking down the street and see one of your former clients, you should never wish you were on the other side of the street.”
A Cultural Movement
In the early 1970s Emma continued clearing new trails in the male-dominated industry by becoming the first woman to join the Minneapolis REALTORS® Board of Directors. Emma gained a reputation as a fountain of innovative ideas.
“When she got on the board it was pretty clear she was someone to listen to. She had great ideas, wanted to implement things and do them right—everything was done right,” Roger said.
While Emma quietly made room for women in the boardroom, a broader cultural revolution was happening. Women across America organized, protested, and lobbied for equal pay and protection against employment discrimination, a movement that eventually culminated in the battle for an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although the effort was ultimately defeated in the late 1970s, the Women’s rights movement opened doors for subsequent generations of women. Through the 1980s and continuing today, women entered professions previously shuttered to them, from law and medicine to athletics and military service.
Inspiring the next generation
As the company’s red lawn signs became ubiquitous fixtures on lawns across Minnesota and western Wisconsin, Emma began thinking about Edina Realty’s future beyond her tenure. Over the next few years, she entrusted her sons with increasing responsibility for day-to-day operations. In 1984 she formalized the transition and sold the company to Roger and David. Although her retirement with Odd in Florida was short lived (she died in 1987), Emma’s ethos remains an intractable part of Edina Realty’s DNA.
“Honesty and integrity in everything we do’, those were her words. They summed up how we should treat each other and our customers. They were very real. It wasn’t lip service at all,” said Barb Jandric, who was Edina Realty’s president from 2011 to 2017.
Jandric, who came to Edina Realty in 1983, said she was intrigued by the prospect of working for a woman-owned company.
“It was a male-dominated business when I got into it in the mid-1970s, so it’s amazing to think that 20 years earlier Emma actually invested money and put up a store front. At that time, I don’t think there were any other women brokers in the Twin Cities. It was nice to have her as an example. It influenced where I believed I could go.”
As Jandric rose through the ranks—sales manager, regional manager, general sales manager, and finally president—she never felt held down beneath a glass ceiling. She attributes this to a culture where hard work and innovation were valued and rewarded, regardless of gender. Weaving all of it together was Emma’s uncompromising code of ethics.
An enduring legacy
In recognition of her accomplishments, Emma Rovick was posthumously inducted into the Shenehon’s Center for Real Estate’s Hall of Fame at St. Thomas University in 2011, and is part of the second class, which included the Dayton brothers.
“The essence of Edina Realty is Emma Rovick. Her honesty, integrity and commitment became the heart of our company,” Roger said, summing up his mother’s legacy. “That’s who we were then, and that’s who we remain today.”