“I’m just a cat from the hood in a suit.” Simply stated, and although it is quite a concise and accurate testimony, one look at Jaebadiah Gardner’s past will tell you this young man is a lot of things, none of them being simple. As a recent law school graduate and Founder & CEO of GardnerGlobal, Inc., a real estate development and property management company, Gardner now finds himself shaking hands with some rather unconventional people.
Lucky for Gardner, he was forced to learn how to adapt at a very young age. Growing up inside the predominantly Latino Los Angeles Unified School District Gardner was given his first experience with a true dichotomy: a minority amongst minorities. He is bi-racial, African & Mexican-American raised by Mexican grandparents in Southern California during the 1980’s crack epidemic which had it’s grip on his own family; regardless of what race he identified with, he realized one thing: people were struggling. It was then, not yet old enough to know what struggle even meant, that he made a decision. Although he respected his Grandparent’s tireless efforts in raising he and his sister on their social security income, he decided that this would not be his story. Little did he know that by making this pact with himself, he would actually be planting the seed that would later grow into a foundation of promise for those around him.
Fast forward a few years and move north a few states, Seattle, Washington would mark the city where ambition met opportunity, a union only made possible by a young man’s resilient spirit. At 14, culture shock was an understatement for Gardner as he transplanted from a city where they wore fresh Nike Cortez to the city of Birkenstocks. Not only was this a new family, a new city, and a very different landscape, but also Gardner’s father and step-mom had decided to place him in private school. Now for the average person, private school is ideal, that is, if your parents are within the private school income bracket. Gardner realized early on that if he wanted to keep up with kids at school, which meant everything from school clothes to paying his tuition, he would have to work. At a crucial time in adolescence it was truly a matter of sink or swim, and this young entrepreneur emerged like a 100-Meter Gold Medalist.
While other teenagers were playing video games and sleeping late, Gardner was knocking on doors promoting his first business, mowing lawns. During the summers after the school year, Gardner worked doing landscaping on the school grounds from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and this income went directly to pay his private school tuition. An hour and a fresh shower later, Gardner worked at Old Navy from 6pm to midnight, this would be his pocket money to go back-to-school shopping.
Continuing to work around the clock, Gardner attended the University of Washington and found his first experience with community outreach work as Co-Director of E.M.P.O.W.E.R. (Encouraging Minority People to Overcome With Education and Respect). This was a program set up to help motivate minority youth struggling with academics and encourage them to strive for higher education through college enrollment. It was here that Gardner got his first taste as a messenger of hope for people who may have never known they were capable of anything but social disparity.
During his time at the University, Gardner collaboratively worked with his close friend, Sumona Das Gupta and the Universities top administration to insure the conception and construction of a monument that permanently changed the landscape of the campus. After graduating from the University of Washington, Jaebadiah went to work for Turner construction building high-rises downtown Seattle. This experience fueled Gardner’s passion in real estate development. He would come home after his “normal” work hours and chip away at the GardnerGlobal business plan. Quickly, Gardner realized that he wanted to be on the other end of the table, the owner/developer side.
But unlike traditional investors and most key players in real estate, Gardner did not come from money, nor was he an heir to a large company. Although he wanted a piece of this pie, he knew he would not be eating it with a silver spoon, because quite frankly, he was not born with one. He was, however, born with a conviction and humility that drove him to forget about the silver spoon and instead pick up a silver shovel and started digging. He spent the next 3 years as an engineer at one of the largest construction companies, Turner Construction.
At the height of the recession, Gardner was laid off but did not panic as he pulled out a little something he had been storing in his back pocket all along. “Entrepreneurs are products of many things and one of them is our current economic climate. I’m left with no choice but to be creative. I don’t have the time to waste on complaining or blaming, I’m ready to make change, pun intended”, says Gardner.
He may have known that in order to get anywhere he would have to start at the bottom, but in the meantime, this did not prevent him from executing his plan to reach the top. The GardnerGlobal business plan was born out of Gardner’s vision to introduce the unconventional concept that successful business can actually coincide with social consciousness. Being a product himself of low-income housing and witnessing real estate investors capitalizing on the poverty stricken neighborhoods he grew up in, he knew there was a way to bridge this wealth gap. No matter how great his business plan was, it still required startup capital, and as a recently laid off entrepreneur looking for investors, Gardner decided to add one more endeavor to the list: law school.
While most college kids are looking for America’s top party schools, Gardner was calculating the best city in which to pursue his law degree while choosing a market that would best suit his first real estate investment. Grand Rapids, Michigan turned out to be the least saturated and most affordable market, and it was there that Gardner found a classmate turned partner that was willing to invest into GardnerGlobal’s first real business venture. While attending Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Gardner and his partner combined their financial aid to purchase and renovate a two-level duplex; their goal was to create affordable housing for low-income families. A low-income student offering assistance to low-income families, Gardner is no stranger to irony. While other students were up all night studying for exams, Gardner was studying AND answering around the clock calls from contractors and tenants. His classmates were stressing over finals while he’s buying real estate via text and taking calls in class telling contractors where to be and how to build. Despite many hard learned lessons, Gardner was able to generate enough cash flow to sustain him through his next two years of Law School.
This is not a case of “having it good”, this is a case of a perseverant visionary that stops at nothing to get what he knows he deserves. What makes Gardner even more unique is that he is not driven by personal gain, but by the belief that real estate investment can and will be a tool to actually close the wealth gap rather than furthering the divide.
What’s he doing now? Jaebadiah will graduate from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in September 2012. Gardner has come back to the city where it all started, Seattle, Washington. Only now he’s doing a bit more than just mowing lawns. GardnerGlobal is currently managing a 26-unit multi-family apartment in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood and is expanding the property management portfolio. He works with local Seattle businesses and non-profits in a consultant capacity as GG manages client’s web and social media presence and business operations.
With the revitalizing relocation to Seattle, GardnerGlobal is thriving and currently in pre-development of it’s first multi-million dollar development deal. Gardner continues to work harder now more than ever before building and fostering relationships. “It’s been humbling and at times insurmountably difficult, but as an entrepreneur I know this going into it. I’m the first in my family on many fronts, from a Bachelor’s degree to a law degree but I could not do it alone. My family, friends and community are my stilts”, says Gardner.
There is a definite beauty in the struggle. Regardless of his degrees, accomplishments, accolades or titles, at the end of the day, he’s “just a cat from the hood in a suit.” In an age-old business, Gardner challenges what your vision of a real estate developer should be; Jaebadiah Gardner is what the next generation of American business and real estate development looks like.
At 29 and four months back into Seattle, Gardner was appointed to the Board of the Seattle Breakfast Group as their Marketing chair. In addition, Gardner was appointed to the Board of the Seattle Urban League Young Professionals, sitting as the Economic Development Chair.
“Both sides of my families, the Mexican side and the Black side have struggled, that cycle of struggling ends with me”, says Gardner.
– Jessica L. Medlen
*All photos by Atuanya Priester, A Real Grip, LLC.