Former Atlanta Hawks Cheerleader Now Roots for the Family Business
Tiffany Ryland knows how to get on the biggest stages and is used to people scrutinizing her every move—and appearance. When she was an Atlanta Hawks cheerleader during the 2014-2015 NBA season, she performed in front of thousands of people. The job was to entertain, and she says, “being an Atlanta Hawk was phenomenal!” But never did she imagine that cheerleading would be the foundation that would prepare her for life.
The Atlanta sports scene would have a magnetic pull on her orbit. After graduating in 2011 from Clark Atlanta University with a degree in Marketing and International Business, Tiffany was not interested in working full-time for the family’s real estate business.
The glamour of the Atlanta Hawks cheerleading squad captured her full attention. But the odds were not in her favor because the competition to make the team was intense. While the average person would be intimidated, the 5’-4” slim dynamo was not deterred.
In 2011, Tiffany auditioned and was cut. Disappointed, she regrouped and returned the next three years but was cut each time. She was disappointed but did not lose hope. From year one to year four, she had made the cut down to the top 40, from roughly 300 women. She was encouraged, but her faith was tested. “There’s no way you don’t come back when you make it that far,” she says. She knew she was missing something, so she “trained harder and prayed harder.”
Her hard work paid off in her fifth audition when she made the Atlanta Hawks cheerleading squad. “Someone had to call me and tell me you made it, and I still didn’t believe them because I knew that I was the finals girl. I’m only going to make it to the finals, and then everybody else will make the team.”
I had my mom in my ear telling me, ‘You got it, baby. Just try again next year.’
A Personal Loss
Tiffany, now 33, is the youngest of three siblings, with an older sister (Stephanie) and brother (Aubrey). She knows she didn’t reach the pinnacle of cheerleading alone. She had the support of Stephanie, her mother (Mary Ann), her father (Ed), and friends. Her mother’s support was the linchpin. Tiffany says, “I had my mom in my ear telling me, ‘You got it, baby. Just try again next year.’ And I just could not let her down. I was going to make it happen.”
Her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, changing Tiffany’s and her family’s lives. She was working for a large commercial real estate firm in Atlanta as a procurement analyst before moving back to Houston to be closer to her mother. She was able to work for the Atlanta company 100% remotely.
Tiffany says she was “extremely close” to her mother. “It was not one day that I did not talk to her.” To Tiffany, her mother appeared healthy and her usual self. “And so until her dying day on May 3, 2017, my mom was up and walking and talking; it was not until the day that passed, she just didn’t wake up.” Reflecting, she says, “I recognized how much she poured into me and how much she sacrificed for me. Every single day I can feel her presence.”
Tiffany spiraled into a deep, dark hole of depression. She says, “I was so angry. I was angry with God. I was angry with doctors. I was angry with myself. I was angry with everybody. I was angry with my dad because he is the ‘miracle worker.’ He fixes everything. I go to him to fix every problem in my life. And this was a problem he couldn’t fix.” Tiffany sought help from a therapist.
In his song “Family Business,” Kanye West raps, “This is family business. And this is for the family that can’t be with us.” Mary Ann’s work was not done and would light the way. Her untimely death brought Tiffany into the family business as a second-generation employee.
Knowing she had to move forward with her life, Tiffany studied and received her real estate license. “I knew nobody was going to hire me in the state that I was. I was going to be an awful employee for someone else. I went to my dad and said I work for you now. Let’s go.” Since late 2017, she has been full-time with the firm. Making a living solely as a commission-only professional can be like trying to ride a bull; Tiffany was ready for the ride of her life.
Ed Ryland, 65, is the founder and CEO of ARVO Realty Advisors in Houston, Texas, a firm specializing in CRE. Standing 6’4” tall wearing stylish metal half-rimless glasses, in a blue suit with a white dress shirt, brown shoes, a low haircut, and a neatly trimmed mustache and beard, Ed is a giant in the industry. He is lean and looks like he could play in March Madness today.
His 38 years of experience have earned him respect and a trophy case of awards and accolades. A graduate of William Penn University, located in Oskaloosa, Iowa, he is a Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM)—often called the Ph.D. of commercial real estate—and has his Master of Corporate Real Estate (MCR). According to Ed, he is one of the first African Americans in the Greater Houston area to receive the prestigious CCIM credential. He is the author of the book, The Secrets to Building a Successful Minority-Owned Company.
Arvo in Finnish means value.
Soft-spoken with a slow distinctive southern accent, Ed is quick to credit Mary Ann, his late wife, for the firm’s success. “She was a strong supporter of everything I did during the earlier years of running the business,” he says. Mary Ann worked for the business for several years, “contributing greatly.”
Ed is the CEO, not a broker working on straight commission. He knows how to build an enterprise. Thinking strategically, the firm changed its name to ARVO about twelve years ago after a rebranding exercise. Arvo in Finnish means value. “So each day, we look at the word Arvo. It encourages us to keep looking for ways to add value to our clients, “ Ed says.
Commercial Real Estate
There’s money to be made in commercial real estate (CRE), and ARVO wants to get its share while helping the communities it serves. Nareit, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, reported in 2018 that the total size of the US commercial real estate market was $16 trillion.
The eight types of commercial real estate are multifamily, office, industrial, retail, hotels/hospitality, mixed-use, land and special purpose (this miscellaneous classification includes stadiums, amusement parks, bowling alleys, movie theaters, parking lots, and more).
McDonald’s sells lots of burgers and fries, but the real money is in commercial real estate. The corporation owns the land, and franchisees pay rent for the building that operates on the land. Irving “Magic” Johnson, the five-time NBA champion, made the Lakers’ showtime famous, but real estate helped make him rich, to the tune of a net worth of $600 million—he made just under $40 million in NBA salary during his playing days.
The spending power of Blacks in the US has reached $1.6 trillion. Magic understood this market opportunity long before it was a business strategy to serve the underserved in urban areas. Magic was the first person to own 120 Starbuck franchises, which he would later sell. He focused on underserved communities because it was the right thing to do, and money was to be made.
The Struggle to Succeed
Tiffany would need Ed’s guidance and support because the industry would not welcome her with open arms. Ed knows firsthand. “I would say that I struggled to be accepted as a qualified capable commercial real estate profession,” he says. “I couldn’t get commercial [real estate] folks to return my phone calls.” As a Black pioneer in the industry, Ed had to push aside obstacles in his path just to get a chance. Ed states, “It’s one of the least diverse industries in the country. “
It’s one of the least diverse industries in the country.
“I’ve been working with my dad since I was born,” Tiffany says. In the photographs shared on social media, Ed and Tiffany are an inseparable team. Their posts show their friendly competition, including when Tiffany won a pitch competition that Ed also competed in with others. There’s the photograph of Ed in Converse’s ionic “Chuck Taylors” and Tiffany in Adidas, both with broad smiles like kids celebrating a day off from school.
But family businesses can weigh on any family. “I always tell people you would think working for your parents will be easy, but I think it is ten times harder, “ says Tiffany. “So my dad and I have a great relationship. It’s one that I’m extremely proud of. We have a very open line of communication.”
Tiffany has had her obstacles too. “Someone once made a judgment call about who I was over the phone. They made derogatory comments to me, and these comments were so bad that I was in tears by the end of the phone call.” She explains in more detail, “This guy had essentially cussed me out and alluded to [me] being an angry Black woman.”
She questioned herself and thought it was her. But it wasn’t her because the same guy “completely out of the blue, had the exact same response on another project.” Misogyny, racism, and the struggle for power and equality are real for women—if Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s stellar academic credentials can be questioned, Tiffany was easy pickings.
Tiffany is not an imposing figure. But what she may lack in height, she makes up for in confidence. “I can say being in front of hundreds and thousands of people will naturally increase your confidence,” Tiffany states.
To push the “narrative and envelope” in the industry, Tiffany attended a conference wearing blonde cornrows (a type of braid) versus the “so-called” white norm of straight hair. “People actually liked it, and it was a talking point, “ she says in awe. “Instead of adjusting to others’ expectations, you sometimes have to open up their eyes for them to accept you.” She often wears “loud colors, bright yellow or green to stand out.”
I’m from the old school of networking, shaking hands, building relationships, and getting face to face when meeting folks.
“Quite honestly, I don’t know that I thought it would be a career for her,” Ed says, referring to Tiffany. This is a very, very tough industry.” Ed credits Tiffany with “almost single-handedly getting the organization excited and comfortable with social media.” He says, “I’m from the old school of networking, shaking hands, building relationships, and getting face to face when meeting folks.” He says they had “deep and tense” conversations to find the right balance and path forward, using social media.
Today, ARVO’s Houston location has 14 employees, and the New York City office has 12. The firm has a national reach with affiliates across the country that employ about 125 people. “I’m happy and grateful that she [Tiffany] is in line to take over the business,” says Ed.
Tiffany admires Magic Johnson’s commercial real estate moves. She and Ed know that commercial real estate can create opportunities and generational wealth for underserved communities. That’s what Magic Johnson did.
The “Bleu” Print
To give back, Tiffany created “The Bleu Print,” a CRE and mentorship program, to introduce people of color to commercial real estate. During the pandemic, Tiffany posted on LinkedIn about the lack of diversity in commercial real estate. That post went viral with over 300,000 views and counting.
She saw a pent-up need to educate people of color about commercial real estate. When she and Ed hosted a YouTube session titled Commercial Real Estate 101, over 300 people registered. That video has been viewed over 3900 times since it premiered in August 2020. “I’m not even active on YouTube,” Tiffany states, to explain her surprise at how successful the training was.
Tiffany says, “I’m inspired to make sure that there are more of us. There’s more representation, not just Black women, but Asian women, Latino women, Indian women, and people from all walks of life. “Whenever I see minorities who are investing in a significant way, especially in those underserved, underdeveloped communities, I am always inspired.“
In closing, she says, “I’m going to work with Magic Johnson; he just doesn’t know it yet. But one day, I will represent him on some properties.” And like any successful duo, Ed is there to back her up. “I think that can happen. I believe anything can happen in this industry.”
If Tiffany makes the impact she plans to have in commercial real estate, she may be able to go by the nickname her friends gave her in high school: Sweet T. If a guy can be called Magic, why can’t Tiffany be known as Sweet T?
Anthony Price is an entrepreneur, writer and publisher of Mini Books, concise stories for people who are curious about the world.