Overwhelming passion, a fiery drive and a determination to succeed no matter what are traits that set apart the great and successful; and Britnie Turner is an excellent example of such attributes. A highly successful visionary, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Turner has made her mark in the real estate industry as a force to be reckoned with.
Once struggling to find direction in her next step in life, Turner now spends her time and energy helping others find hope and encouragement. She is the President and CEO of Aerial Development Group, a Nashville, Tennessee-based residential and commercial development company. Through her company Turner seeks to elevate the lives of people, communities and everything else she touches. She is a strong and purposeful young woman with wisdom beyond her age. She has won several awards and has been recognized on credible stages as a rising, young professional.
Britnie Turner speaks to WOW about her journey to significance. She opens up about her past, her struggles, the difficult road she’s had to walk through and her determination to make it all count for good.
WOW: Britnie, tell us about your family and growing up years
I was raised on a farm as the second of 6 children. With an engineer/entrepreneur as a father and my mother as our schoolteacher, my childhood was a humble one. There were no handouts, no name brands or “mine.” Value was placed on hard work and good character. From a young age, I learned how to work and how to make it fun. With an 8 person family, everything becomes a team event; this is something that has become an identifying part of my leadership style.
WOW: What schools did you attend?
I was homeschooled until 8th grade and graduated from North Augusta High School in South Carolina. I then went to MorningStar University, a 1-2 year leadership and survival school. I never attended a formal college.
WOW: Survival and leadership school, whose idea what that?
It was my idea. Near the end of my highschool career I felt very lost. I felt like I was going to implode with stress because I had no direction on what the exact next step should be. After a powerful experience at the age of 12 my vision was to do work in the roughest parts of Africa and this “calling” has been my guiding force throughout those six years. I now had figured out what I needed to learn so I could be of any value when I went over there.
After now having peace about any of my options, I happened to start a deep conversation with a random waiter at an Applebee’s in North Carolina. He was in the leadership school. What he was learning and his resulting perspective on life was so inspiring and exactly what I wanted to develop in myself that I signed up the next da. i learned they had a survival school that teaches you not only how to survive in the wilderness but how to stay focused on the mission when everything you planned fails. During training, we were pushed past everything we thought were our mental limits, physically and emotionally resulting in our ability to face the rawest side of our insecurities, weaknesses, and mental blocks. We had a final test at the end of the year, which was a 70-mile Appalachian Trail hike that had to be completed in less than 60 hours. If you didn’t finish your whole year was technically for nothing. The instructors planned almost insurmountable obstacles throughout the trip, including but not limited to losing all supplies and our campsite. I successfully finished the hike in 54 hours with two fractured ankles. Little did I know then how often those skills would be used in business and life.
WOW: So you’re a young, North Carolina beauty queen working in a male dominated industry. What is that like?
I never thought about it. I didn’t see why being a woman would matter to anyone. Who cares, right? I realized early on that not everyone feels this way, as I have had to work very hard to have the basic options men would in business. It’s not always going to be this way but it is going to be a tougher sell when people haven’t seen it done before. I do not let this bother me. It is actually a motivation for me to be open about how we’re setting the example as a company. In my mind, we are all valuable human beings – male or female. Some women get caught up in statistics and it can become a great excuse. I like to warn against the use of any excuses. If you want something find a way to figure it out and get it done. though real estate development is currently a male dominated industry, I have shown how a woman cannot only exist in this industry as a leader but also how a woman’s perspective can lead to quite the industry disruption.
WOW: Where did the idea of Aerial Development Group come from?
A man by the name of Gene Strite taught at my leadership school when I was 18. He spoke about how real estate can create cash flow, and you can use that cash-flow to fund your mission. I was so jazzed about this idea that I went out and bought my first house a few weeks later. In the process of buying it I started learning more about real estate investing and how to create a business that would have significant funds to then make a bigger difference in the world. One can do this because you don’t have to ask people for money; you have revenue that can be used to positively impact anything. Smitten with the concept, I decided to dedicate the next several years to building a successful real estate renovation company. I decided to do this in 2007 – needless to say it was more than a struggle to get it off the ground during the largest economic crash in American history.
WOW: Describe a social venture development company.
A social venture is a for-profit business that makes money while doing good things. All businesses are started to fill a need, but the social venture fills a need while making giving back to people, the planet, and the community an intrinsic part of how the business operates. Although we are still learning more every day and growing towards many goals in this arena, Aerial is a social venture because we revitalize blighted areas as a defining core of our business. We have a give back program that benefits from our own success. For example, for every house we sell, we sponsor an orphan in the name of the homebuyer for 1 year and give them the option to continue their sponsorship after that. Another example is as we build in neighborhoods, we intelligently engage with the community to figure out the best way to execute that will benefit all stakeholders so as to address social needs through the built environment. One of the projects we are building right now addresses the issue of Tennessee being #4 in the nation for the highest rating of obesity. We are building East Greenway Park, Nashville’s first health and wellness community promoting an active lifestyle through development. We are constantly looking for more ways to meaningfully engage in activities that will grow our social venture platform.
WOW: What would you say is the most rewarding part of your journey?
I had a vision when I was 12, and I have successfully created a business to fund that vision in a powerful way. Instead of going to work to make money then someday donating it to a good cause, I created a business that makes a difference every single day through its very operations and donates to good causes locally and globally. The big picture is totally integrated into how my company operates on a fundamental level (thus the name Aerial). As a values-driven person, I love seeing how so may elements of what Aerial is doing creates positive change. I see this change in neighborhoods, in the cities we work in, in Aerial’s team members, and so many other places most will never see.
WOW: Changing the world through the eyes of Britnie, what does that look like?
Creating opportunities for those who have none, job-by-job, community-by-community, and country-by-country. In the next 10-15 years, Aerial will be a global brand disrupting multiple industries and accelerating positive transformation in all of them.
WOW: Who are your role models, your mentors and how have they helped to shape your world?
Richard Branson is my role model for doing business differently, staying true to my values, starting companies around a mission, and doing a lot of heavy lifting around several tough issues I believe needs to be done by business leaders, not just politicians. In addition, he is really fun to hang out with! I regularly spend time on Necker Island with Richard, his family and other global entrepreneurs (I am actually on the island while conducting this interview). I feel very fortunate to have his insight about growth, multi-vertical branding, and being an industry disrupter.
Phyllis Newhouse is both a powerhouse role model and a mentor. She has been a living example of how to stay strong and provide leadership for a company that is scaling astronomically. I respect her as a person because of what she has persevered through and the attitude she maintained throughout. I’ve never met a stronger woman in my life. Phyllis spends time talking me through my business leadership insecurities and helping me to become the best version of myself.
Gene Strite is the first person to show me how success and money can be tools to do good things in the world. Before 18 when he came into my life I thought that charity and mission work were the only way to make an impact. he not only shed light on a different mindset that I could have, he taught me how to scale. He has been my mentor since early 2012. I am still in business because he has mentored me through my most challenging situations and helped me find the strength and inspiration to keep going.
WOW: You once lived in your car, what was that like?
It was scary. Being totally alone was a huge test for me. In that situation, in the deepest core of my being, I was faced with the questions:
- Who are you when you don’t have anywhere to live?
- Who are you when you have consuming dbt and no way to pay it off?
- Who are you without support from those you hold most dear?
- Who are you when you don’t have stability in any sense of the word?
I started making very serious promises to myself on who I am going to choose to be every day regardless of the outside situations, which still ground me to this day. I possess a grit that gives me an edge, and this grit will never fade because of those powerful yet painful experiences.
WOW: Tell us about your very first house rehab?
My very first solo house rehab was quite the adventure. I had to get the seller (who was also an investor) to owner-finance the house because I didn’t have any money and no banks would lend to me. After starting the renovation on the house, I had a buyer approach me to buy it for a great price when I was finished. I was doing most of the work myself and had to max out my friend’s credit card for renovation materials because mine were already all maxed out. After the renovation was complete and only two days before selling it, the entire back door and door frame got kicked in, the oven was stolen and dragged across the brand new hardwood floors completely destroying them. After being tipped off about the thieves’ plan to come back for more appliances, I decided I would sleep in the house that night to protect the refrigerator in the dead of winter – during a massive snowstorm – with no electricity or heat. I brought my own heat though if you know what I mean… the thieves did, in fact, come back that night. I had set up alarm booby-traps that went off when the thieves got to the house. When they realized they weren’t alone, thankfully they ran away. As if this wasn’t dramatic enough, the day of closing the buyers lost their financing. Everything that could go wrong went wrong, but I ended up pulling it off, making $40,000, and using that to start my career.
WOW: Contractor steals a million dollars from you, what made you not give up?
This was, in fact, the hardest part of my journey to date because more than everything I had ever made was stolen. There are 2 reasons I didn’t give up:
- Every time I wanted to quit I remembered the image of a little girl I met in Costa Rica who was secually abused by her father at the age of 1. The brokenness in her eyes and the realization of my inability to be able to do anything about this atrocity at the time is burned into my memory. it is the driving force behind my ability to overcome. Every time I think my life is hard, I see her small face and remember that I started this business to help people like her.
- I had to fight for my investors. I decided I had to pay them back regardless of what happened to my personal financial status. I knew this was the right thing to do because they believed in me enough to lend me the money for these projects. I refused to let them down.
I did, in fact, get through it, paying everyone back plus interest. The lessons learned from that horrific event were so powerful that I was forced to create systems in my business so that wouldn’t happen again. This resulted in the company growing significantly, 5 months later we were 5 times bigger.
WOW: Tell us about Horizon Initiative
Horizon is our partner in Africa and our vehicle to sponsor orphans. HI creates self-sustaining micro communities in Kenya and trains the children to become self-sustainable themselves. This is fixing one of the biggest issues for orphans when they leave the orphanage throughout the world. I believe in this organization because they give a hand up not a handout. I am on the board and love the opportunity to contribute to their overall mission and growth.
WOW: Developing third world countries, a dream or a reality?
It is currently a dream but my team and I work every day towards making it a reality. That is my ultimate goal. I want to be the company that governments call when they need help revitalizing their cities to ignite positive change and create opportunities for their people to thrive.
WOW: What is a piece of advice you would give to young women?
I get through the toughest days by remembering it is always worth it, and for me it is worth it because I have my success tied to blessing others. My favorite quote I have found to be overwhelmingly true is: “Every obstacle carries with it a seed of equal or greater opportunity.” – Napoleon Hill
WOW: 10 quick tips for startups and scaling companies:
- Take notes! Evernote app. I take notes on every conversation I have in my life, which has made me very successful. Evernote helps me keep all notes organized so I can actually use them later.
- Keep the goals in your face! Aligntoday.com. This will keep your team on track and accountable for goals and daily tasks as you scale. This is hugely important for entrepreneurial companies.
- FOCUS! Unrollme.com rolls up all of your subscriptions and spam. Your mind is too valuable to be distracted by the noisy updates, review once a day.
- Synchronize! Google Drive/Sheets is a great tool for ever-changing documents with multiple editors. No more excuses about not having the most updated version of something.
- Stay on brand! All of your social media needs to reflect how you want your company to be perceived. you represent the company more than anyone else. Not being on social media is not an option. *Bonus Tip: have a legit email address by owning the web domain. No @comcast.net or @hotmail.com if you want to be taken seriously.
- Be relevant! Keep updated pictures and press. Gone are the days where one can get away with the picture from 20 years ago. Your pictures and media being relevant shows that you know what you’re talking about no matter how busy you are.
- Be findable! Having a Yelp profile is important for customers to feel comfortable with doing business with you. *Bonus Tip: this increases your SEO for popping up first online.
- Embrace technology! Docusign can change your busy life. Keep you on the road while and never miss a signature. Our office will never have a fax machine.
- Be interesting! TED Talks. Listen to 1 TED Talk a day. As focused as you need to be on your business this will keep you fascinating to talk to.
- Have the “A Team!” Be extremely intentional about hiring high level “A” players from your organization. Most startups fall into hiring friends or family, this is one of the biggest reasons companies struggle to scale.
WOW: Top 5 favorite books
- Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill
- The Secret – Rhonda Byrne
- Outwitting the Devil – Napoleon Hill
- Conscious Capitalism – John Mackey
- The Virgin Way – Richard Branson