Investing in the future

Five years ago, Norah Steinhouse (BSBA ’99, BSIBL ’99, MBA ’05) took a leap of faith, leaving her career as foreign exchange trader, vice president at BOK Financial to begin a real estate investment business with her husband, Tim. As a new mom, Steinhouse wanted the freedom and flexibility to work mostly from home while still producing a solid income source for her family. She found herself sketching out a business plan over a cup of coffee early one Saturday morning. Two-and-a-half hours later, she pitched the idea to her husband, and the idea for a business was born.

real estate investmentWhile the company’s success wasn’t built overnight, Steinhouse had been laying the groundwork for her turn as an entrepreneur since high school. She grew up in a small town just outside of Chicago. Instead of the typical part-time job at a restaurant or retail chain, Steinhouse spent her afternoons compiling educational data for a research consultant. The opportunity to work independently and to manage her own projects from start to finish offered a glimpse into the life of an entrepreneur. “It was interesting and rewarding, but I saw the extensive hours my boss worked — I never thought I would work for myself,” she said.

Though The University of Tulsa wasn’t on Steinhouse’s radar when it came time to choose a college, her dad convinced her to give it a second look. She applied to TU, as well as the Univer-sity of Notre Dame and a couple of other universities in Illinois. “Little did I know in 1995 that choosing TU would be a critical decision that would open up a 20-plus-year adventure and blessing after blessing in my life.”

Steinhouse majored in finance and also was part of the first official class to graduate with a degree in international business and language. Determined to finish in four years, Steinhouse mapped out an accelerated course of study with the help of her adviser, Professor Mark Collins. She fostered her love of Spanish language and culture at TU, immersing herself in Tulsa’s vibrant Hispanic communities, and cofounded the TU Global Network (TUGN). “All of my extracurricular activities complemented and enhanced the complex business and language concepts I was learning in the classroom,” she said.

At BOK, Steinhouse consulted with clients and tailored solutions to fit their foreign exchange needs. By the end of her 13-year tenure at the bank, she had a seven-state territory and was instrumental in helping grow foreign exchange sales and revenues exponentially. “I used all facets of my TU education; accounting and finance concepts were applied daily. I regularly worked with clients doing business globally so my international knowledge was critical, and I even periodically used my Spanish-speaking skills.”

Steinhouse returned to TU to pursue an MBA, benefiting from the corporate experience that enriched her time in the classroom. She was promoted midway through the program to foreign exchange trader. As part of an assigned class project, Steinhouse revisited her high school job experience, using it as a foundation to write a business plan for a similar concept in Tulsa. That exercise planted the seed.

Years later, she channeled her energy into starting a business she could manage herself. She and her husband already owned rental properties, so forming a real estate investment business felt like a natural progression. They hit the ground running after Stein-house crafted her business plan that fateful Saturday morning and now own a portfolio of rental properties in Tulsa and Sand Springs. A property management company assists with leasing, repairs and making the homes ready to rent.

Though Steinhouse’s husband has a full-time career outside of their business, the pair collaborates on property acquisitions and sales. “When there is a house to sell, Tim will generally meet with buyer prospects and I get involved with the negotiating process when someone prefers to communicate in Spanish,” said Stein-house. She adds that, “Tim has been a critical asset and supporter of the business.”

Steinhouse manages all of the day-to-day operations and needs of the business, noting that her time at the bank has proved beneficial to its success. “It gave me valuable exposure to a variety of accounting applications, negotiating, banking loan terminology and requirements, banking operations, seeing small businesses in action and practical approaches when meeting with clients and prospects.”

The past five years have not come without challenges and learning experiences. “To name just a few, we’ve had to learn how to address vacancies, a variety of tenant situations and myriad repair and make-ready issues.” The partnership of their property management team as well as valuable advice from real estate investor friends have seen the couple through tough situations along the way. “Each time, we have emerged stronger and equipped with more knowledge,” she said.

Steinhouse has found the freedom and flexibility she initially sought in transitioning to life as an entrepreneur. “It takes a lot of hard work and planning and requires a great deal of time and commitment, but having the flexibility to occasionally rearrange my work schedule to respond to what happens in life and be there for the needs of my family has been a real blessing,” she said. “It is very rewarding to know that you own what you are building.”