In the men-dominated real estate industry, Stephanie Shojaee is a unicorn. As the president of Shoma Group, she is paving the way for women in real estate. She sticks out among the dark-suited guys she's surrounded by, decked out head to toe in designer everything, and constantly wears heels, living by the motto "dressing properly is a form of good manners.".
This very stylish Miami developer, daughter of working-class Colombian immigrants and first-generation American, has always had a fabulous taste. She has an incredible collection of Hermès handbags that would make any fashionista swoon. As a VIP client of the French brand, Stephanie has been offered unique prized Birkins and Kelly handbags. Some of her favorite bags are the extremely rare Hermès Faubourg Birkin, the Picnic Birkin size 25, the 25 Croc Kelly with Diamonds, and the highly coveted Himalaya 25 Birkin, considered the crown jewel of handbags by Hermès aficionados.
Stephanie's opulent lifestyle has captivated social media. An Instagram video of her receiving a private plane for Christmas went viral worldwide–but few people get to meet Stephanie, the real estate developer, and her mission. Besides her impeccable taste and an extensive collection of Birkins, she also has made it her mission to increase the visibility of women in her field and hire women who are starting in the real estate industry.
At Shoma, she has worked to diversify the firm's workforce and increase the number of women employees. Stephanie is very passionate about the importance of giving young women opportunities and serving as role moodles in professions women might not have access to. She utilizes her popular presence on Instagram, which has nearly 400k followers, to show women they can have a seat at the table and change the men-driven perceptions of real estate development and construction.
How have you been able to conquer the male-dominated real estate industry successfully?
Stephanie Shojaee: Finding success in real estate as a woman is all about remaining strong, persistent, and unintimidated. I have learned that nothing disproves people’s misconceptions of you better than hard work and unwavering perseverance. I’ve always held onto my convictions and trusted my instincts. I got my start in the industry selling real estate, and then pivoted to marketing and development while I was at Shoma Group. I saw how I could make an impact on the marketing side and started to introduce new ideas. I was able to show that my strategies worked and eventually completely changed Shoma's approach to marketing. Over time I took on more and more responsibility and a more active role in the creation of our developments, and now I'm fortunate to lead the company as president alongside my husband, Masoud.
Have you ever found yourself fighting to be taken more seriously at the table, or was that never an issue?
Stephanie Shojaee: Yes, it took years for me to be taken seriously–not only because I’m a woman but because of the way I dress and because of my playful and sometimes cheeky personality. I think there's this misconception that women who care about their appearance and like to dress fashionably can't be legitimate business people. And the fact that I like to have fun at work and have a sense of humor can incorrectly give people the impression that I’m not earnest. Despite that, I’ve always stayed true to myself because honoring and respecting yourself is essential to getting others to respect you and take you seriously.
What efforts have you made to diversify Shoma, especially when hiring more women, and where do those efforts arise from?
Stephanie Shojaee: It has been my mission to improve the gender diversity at Shoma and to bring more women on board. I’m proud to say that women make up half of our team now. As the daughter of immigrants from Colombia who didn’t have professional relationships in the U.S., I’m really passionate about giving young women a launchpad to break into competitive industries like real estate. Especially when they are just starting out, it is critical that they have opportunities for growth and mentorship as they build confidence and evolve as professionals. We are always looking for young talent that can bring a fresh perspective to the job and grow with us.
How do you use your influence on social media to show women they can win in male-dominated industries?
Stephanie Shojaee: I like to post about my work life on social media as a way of not only promoting Shoma but also giving visibility to working women, especially in the world of real estate development, which hasn't made as much progress on gender diversity as other fields. My hope is that it'll help normalize seeing women in roles like mine and show women they can have a seat at the table in this industry.
What recommendations do you have for women who want to enter the real estate world, especially in Miami?
Stephanie Shojaee: Take advantage of opportunities that offer a ton of hands-on experience and learning and with strong leadership that’s keen on promoting from within the company. Also be open-minded. Sometimes people pigeonhole themselves and miss out on great opportunities as a result. It's important to know who you are and know your worth while also being nimble.
For women in development, my advice is to very carefully consider the livability of what you're building and how it can contribute to the entire community where it's located. This is something that I think women in particular are great at. If you're building housing, aim for it to provide the best quality of life possible. For example, in our new project called Shoma Village, I was adamant that the closets be extremely spacious–people can always benefit from more storage space. Details like that will set you apart.
You love fashion and luxury, so do you have any tips for women on how to dress for success and be more confident?
Stephanie Shojaee: There's a lot of power and strength in femininity, and I love to lean into that. For me, dressing and acting like a lady makes me feel poised for success. A great pair of heels always helps with confidence–they allow you to take up more physical space and they often make noise with each footstep, calling attention to your presence. Take care of your personal appearance so you look and feel like you’re at your best. And never underestimate the impact of dressing up. As Tom Ford said, ‘Dressing well is a form of good manners.
Why did you start the company’s sales and management division?
Stephanie Shojaee: I started Shoma MGMT so that we could continue to oversee our rental communities well after they’re complete and residents move in, strengthening our relationships with our tenants and giving the experience a more personal touch. With rental properties, it is common for developers to bring in a third-party company to manage the property and handle leasing, but I didn't want us to just be the developer with their name on the building that's otherwise anonymous. We pride ourselves on creating an unparalleled living experience, so I thought it only made sense for us to see that through to the end. This holistic approach allows us to put our Shoma stamp on every aspect of life in our rental communities.
As president of Shoma, what have you done differently, and what have you learned in this position?
Stephanie Shojaee: In my transition to president, my day-to-day has not changed that much. My role at Shoma has been fluid from the start, so I am still wearing multiple hats and overseeing each of our developments. I have started to take on a more active role in our acquisitions, which has been an interesting experience because I’m taking meetings with a new realm of people that I have to prove myself to who, again, aren’t used to dealing with developers who are women. It’s given me tremendous respect for all the women who broke the glass ceiling before me–who overcame barriers when society was far less evolved. There’s still room for progress but we’ve come a long way thanks to them.
How have you used social media marketing to continue Shoma’s mission?
Stephanie Shojaee: When I joined Shoma, one of the first things I noticed was that the company wasn’t using any digital marketing tactics. It still relied on traditional newspaper and mail campaigns for outreach. I felt that there was a huge audience that we were missing out on that we could capture through digital marketing. So I learned how to implement Google Ads and hired graphic designers and animators to create eye-catching, exciting digital materials–fully taking advantage of the endless possibilities available through digital marketing. It was a new paradigm for getting the word out about developments but it quickly proved successful. Social media plays an important role in our digital marketing strategy too. We use it to get out our message about who we are through day-to-day content and to give people a behind-the-scenes look at our projects while they’re under construction.
What has been your favorite development by Shoma?
Stephanie Shojaee: I love them all so it would be hard for me to pick a favorite but I will say I am very proud of our success with Sanctuary Doral Apartments. This was our first major development that I spearheaded from the beginning and I put my heart and soul into making it perfect. It was extremely rewarding to see it lease up so fast–in less than eight months–and then purchased for a landmark $102.5M, which was a testament to the high caliber of product we created. I am also extremely proud of our newest concept Shoma Bazaar, which we recently opened at Sanctuary Doral. Our vision was to give Doral a luxury dining and entertainment destination unlike anything it had ever seen, and to create a concept that we could have at all of our multifamily developments. Since this is the first of many, we had really high hopes and expectations for it, and we are so thrilled with the fantastic response it’s received from the Doral community, as well as from local chefs and restaurateurs who are eager to participate in the next one that we launch. Shoma Bazaar is also special to us because it’s Shoma’s first foray into the hospitality world–we own and operate BFF: Burgers, Franks & Fries as well as the bar and biergarten. It has been so much fun making our vision come to life and we are excited to bring more locations to South Florida soon.
What do you want to tell immigrants or children of immigrants who aspire to get to where you are one day?
Stephanie Shojaee: I want every immigrant and child of immigrants to know that they can dream big. Often the best things in life don’t come easily, but hard work really does pay off. Do whatever it takes to reach your goals, and do not let people’s opinions, bullying, or skepticism discourage you or lead you astray. Only you can decide your future.
What is your favorite bag you own?
Stephanie Shojaee: My Hermès Diamond Kelly 25.
If you could have dinner with any designer, dead or alive, who would it be?
Stephanie Shojaee: I would love to have dinner with Coco Chanel. She revolutionized fashion for women and, still to this day, the Chanel brand is the epitome of elegance and class.
Stephanie represents one of the city's largest development firms, which has completed more than 10,000 homes and condominiums, and more than one million square feet of retail and office space, totaling $5 billion in real estate transactions. At the company founded in 1988 by her now-husband of three years, she oversees everything they build, including rental apartment buildings, retail centers, office buildings, and condominiums. She created the company's sales and management division and is involved in the marketing efforts.
She works tenaciously to uphold Shoma's mission to create exceptional living experiences that provide excellent amenities to their surrounding communities, stimulating growth and opportunities for generations. Her persistence has resulted in reverberating success. Under her leadership, Shoma has leased up and sold out at a record pace, including Sanctuary Doral Apartments, which sold for a landmark $102.5 million last year.
Since Stephanie joined Shoma as CMO in 2013, she has completely transformed how the firm markets its developments, helping it maintain its presence in social media through her keen understanding of digital marketing and a sharp eye for appealing to the masses. As president, she will lead the charge to expand the company beyond South Florida into new domestic and international markets, including California, Texas, Mexico, and Colombia. She also has plans to launch an affordable housing division at the firm, which she sees as critical for Miami, the most expensive housing market in the country, now surpassing New York.
Photography by: Courtesy Shoma Group, Wanthy Dimaren