Mayi de la Vega owes much of her success to her family and her upbringing. Like many others who fled from Cuba to Miami, de la Vega’s parents left everything behind and started over. Her family moved into a small apartment, and as a child, de la Vega says she remembers tagging along with her mom as she cleaned offices. At the time, her father, a former professional umpire, could only afford one-way bus fares to the grocery store. De la Vega says her father sang on their walk home as a way to distract and entertain the family.
Today, the Cuban American real estate dynamo is the founder and CEO of ONE Sotheby’s International Realty (ONE SIR), which is one of the top luxury brokerage firms in Florida and garners billions in annual sales. It was the influence of her parents that this first-generation American and credits for laying the groundwork for her success.
“One of the greatest lessons I learned from my parents was watching them set an example of work ethic, discipline and perseverance,” she says. “Just seeing everything they went through arriving as refugees from Cuba in my childhood, I saw them work really hard. The greatest lesson I learned from them is that there’s no easy way, and you really have to work hard to get ahead in life.”
A Family of Entrepreneurial Spirit
After de la Vega earned a business degree from Florida International University in 1982, she encouraged her father to start a business selling aerospace parts to companies like Boeing. He listened, and at his company, de la Vega worked her way up to Chief Operating Officer, overseeing company operations and accounting. She also traveled with her father to Europe and South America and learned the importance of relationships and people skills in the business world.
But after de la Vega started a family, she wanted a flexible schedule to raise her son and daughter, so she turned to real estate. De la Vega started her real estate career at Coldwell Banker, focusing on single-family luxury homes in Coral Gables, Fla., and during the economic recession in 2008, she bought a Sotheby’s International Realty franchise, becoming the first Cuban American woman to do so.
“I’m a people person, I love architecture and I love building relationships, and real estate is a relationship business. I also love traveling and a sense of adventure. The Sotheby’s brand gave me the opportunity to do all that,” she said. “It gives me the opportunity to be myself, and I’m able to connect with others, so that was really what I loved about it most.”
De la Vega passed her love of real estate onto her son, Daniel de la Vega, who started out as a developer in a construction company and now serves as the president of ONE Sotheby’s International Realty in Coral Gables. Over 12 years, the duo expanded the firm to include 27 offices with over 1,300 associates. Offices span from Miami to Amelia Island.
“There are so many advantages working with family because you know someone always has your back. Also, I have a certain amount of peace in knowing that he has grown up to be a very smart and hardworking young man.” She also says that she’s learning from him as well.
“I’ve learned to be on time,” she jokes. “I’m a little more flexible with my time, but he’s a stickler.”
Navigating One of the Country’s Most Popular Markets
A lifelong Miami resident, de la Vega knows the market and has ridden out the industry’s highs and lows. She not only bought a brokerage at the height of the market downturn of 2008, but she weathered the housing rollercoaster in the years prior. South Florida home prices peaked in 2005 and then plummeted by as much as 36% in 2007. As a result, she’s no novice when it comes to navigating what’s happening right now. what’s happening right now.
Like many industries, real estate professionals had to get creative during the onset of the pandemic. Her brokerage focused on providing tools to agents and partners and fostered collaboration and connection with other Sotheby’s offices. Under de la Vega’s leadership, the company boosted its digital marketing and online presence and launched a podcast, The New Luxury.
“The first thing we learn in real estate is to be flexible, adaptable, and know that at any moment things can change. During the pandemic, we became cheerleaders. I sat on phone calls with my team and very early on found ways to keep our agents engaged,” she says. “We really felt a big sense of community with our agents.”
Like many places in Florida, Miami’s current market boasts tremendous demand and soaring prices. Still, de la Vega says the South Florida market is in line with current trends and is heading toward a cooldown.
“We’re pulling back because I think some people know that sellers are asking double or triple what they paid for. I think Florida, for the most part, will be a state that people will gravitate to. The demand for real estate in Florida will continue to rise, but not at such a fast pace: at a healthy pace.”
Inspiring Others to Pursue Their Dreams
De la Vega’s career has also motivated aspiring agents and brokers in an industry where a growing number of agents and brokers are women. Her advice to other women? Lead with professionalism.
“Keep it simple,” she says. “In order to succeed, you really need to know the industry and earn respect based on your knowledge and your professionalism. That's the most important thing. Work hard and be the utmost professional.”
As well as being a role model for women, de la Vega has an active philanthropic role in Miami, especially in the Cuban community. She sits on several boards including the Florida International University Casa Cuba Initiative and the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, and she’s a Guardian Angel Society Member for Jackson Memorial Hospital. She says giving back to Miami and to the Cuban community specifically helps create a legacy that will uphold and celebrate the community in the future.
“Being able to give back and make an impact in our communities means the world to me. Casa Cuba is an extraordinary project because of its unique opportunity to honor the Cuban legacy, preserve our community’s roots and family stories for future generations and contribute to a better tomorrow. It is all about honoring the Cuban people of South Florida and their accomplishments,” de la Vega says.
She might be running a top real estate brokerage in one of the country’s most sought-after cities, but de la Vega never forgot where it all started: humble beginnings in which her Cuban immigrant parents sought to make a better life for themselves and their family. Family, she says, remains her top priority.
“I like to keep it simple and I kind of live a low-profile life,” she says. “When I’m not working, I like to spend my time reading and cooking with my family. To me, spending time with family is everything.”