On The Front Lines: How The Bosnian War Shaped This Entrepreneur's Career Path


Transitioning from an investigative journalist to a real estate entrepreneur was a major career change Aleksandra Scepanovic never saw happening in her lifetime, but now as the managing director and co-founder of Ideal Properties Group, it's safe to say that same career move has her at the helm of one of the leading real estate firms in Brooklyn, New York.

But before actually moving to the Big Apple for the first time in 1999, Aleksandra was reporting hard news on the front lines of war-torn Bosnia. These same challenging investigative reporting experiences fueled her strong work ethic, and also lead her to pursue a new future in New York City. Although Scepanovic never imagined moving to New York at first, moving to the East Coast allowed her to build a new business from the ground up successfully, and of course, achieve her own version of the American Dream.

“I've always found the American dream to be an interesting conjecture, based on the notion of hard work, little play and a solid, however unfounded, dash of unwavering hope for a better future," says Scepanovic. “For me, personally, it seems that these embedded prerequisites to achieving the American version of success are simply part of my makeup. I was born an eternal optimist capable of dreaming grand dreams, and a workaholic, who finds even the most tedious and repetitive work – fun, or if not entirely fun, then at least interesting enough for me to want to complete."

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Now, staying 20 steps ahead of the Brooklyn real estate game, Scepanovic works alongside her partner Erik Serras who serves as the Principal Broker of Ideal Properties Group. And although not all couple work partnerships are easy, both parties make it work by running the business on equal terms.

“The most important aspect of our partnership is the clear definition of our respective spheres of influence," she says. “What I do, he cannot, no matter how at times he feels that he could. The same goes for me – I am, beyond any doubt, the wrong person to complete his tasks. In short, the most important part is understanding which parts you're responsible for bringing into the partnership, and which parts are your partners', and make sure to stick to them. If his or her job is to generate revenue, and yours is to develop training programs – no matter how good you feel you may be in sales, relinquish the task to your partner."

Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times

As Ideal Properties Group continues to expand, Scepanovic sees the company far ahead of where it is today in the next five years. And although she has faced several challenges as a female entrepreneur, she advises other female business owners to keep on going, no matter how much others disapprove.

“Jump in, breathe, don't look back or listen to theories your friends, family, or competitors are likely to offer, as to how (un)likely your effort is to succeed," she suggests. “Arm yourself with confidence, and never stop."

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Momtors: The New Wave of Mentors Helping New Moms Transition Back Into Careers

New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.

Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.

Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:

"I didn't think you'd come back."

"You must feel so guilty."

"You missed a lot while you were out."

To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.

There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.

Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.

Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.

It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.

Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship

How to be a good Momtor?

Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.

Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.

Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.

Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.