Have you ever sought to accomplish a goal only to achieve another, much larger one?
That’s what happened to Emma Rovick, a 1950s housewife and mother of three who intended to make enough money to buy a piano for her daughter, and ended up founding the largest residential real estate firm in the Midwest!
Come along with us to learn more about Edina Realty founder Emma Rovick.
From farm life to city life
Emma was born on April 15, 1909, to Helmer and Theodora Link, who owned a dairy farm in Princeton, Minnesota. According to Emma’s son, Roger Rovick, she was included in much of the labor on the farm. In fact, Emma and her brother were responsible for delivering milk to neighbors on their way to school each day! (We like to think that her early days of milk delivery prepared her for what is now referred to as a “pop-by” in real estate; it’s when a Realtor drops by a home with something of value for a client or neighbor to show appreciation and market their services.)
Ultimately, while Emma developed an admiration for the skills and hard work of farming, she determined it wasn’t the future she wanted to build for herself. As a young woman, she moved to an apartment in Minneapolis with some friends, planning to become a secretary to support herself. As the story goes, she took work as a receptionist and office manager at a real estate office in Edina (that’s some great foreshadowing). Around that same time, she met her future husband, Odd Rovick, whom she married in 1935.
The business of raising a family
Odd and Emma built a life together. Odd was the family’s breadwinner, working as an electrical engineer at Northwestern Bell, and Emma dedicated herself to raising the couple’s three children (Roger, David, and Janice). Roger recalled her fondly as a warm and nurturing mother guided by her Christian values.
As her children grew older, Emma’s interest in supporting their development grew right along with them. She had a goal to acquire a piano for her youngest child, Janice. Recognizing that a piano would be a significant purchase, Emma formulated a plan to make some extra money to make it happen. As a former secretary, she decided to dip her toe back into the workforce, putting her stenography skills to work again. (Do you know what stenography is? It’s writing in shorthand, which is a method of rapidly writing using characters, symbols, and abbreviations for words, phrases, and sounds. It was often employed as a means to record meetings and conversations before they could be more formally documented or typed.)
Getting serious about real estate
Emma landed a job at a local building company in Edina as a receptionist, and very soon, she was made the head closer and office manager of the location. She worked for a couple of years in the role and learned scores about real estate during that time, developing deep knowledge and making community connections. This led her to broader ambitions, and Emma decided to venture out on her own.
Emma was in her mid-40s when she purchased a struggling real estate office at 5100 France Ave. in Edina using a loan of $2,000 and some of the couple’s savings. She inherited three salespeople and a space that needed some serious attention and deep cleaning. The company was formally incorporated on Jan. 1, 1955, and in that first year, Edina Realty managed to close 96 transactions and $2 million in sales.
The success of Emma’s venture can be attributed to her hard work as well as the expansion of the area at the time. The city of Edina benefited from tremendous residential growth thanks in large part to the construction of the nation’s first-ever climate-controlled, fully-enclosed mall–Southdale Center–which was built in 1956. This was a boon for Emma and Edina Realty, and she continued to focus on expanding her business, eventually relocating to 3907 W. 50th Street in a larger space.
Over the years, a number of real estate competitors would come into the marketplace, and Emma always reacted the same way: with graciousness and integrity, sending flowers to competitors to welcome them, and working to develop relationships and establish a reputation as a knowledgeable, honest and sincere business professional. She found herself navigating what was a male-dominated industry, and she did so with aplomb.
Honesty, integrity, commitment–and family
Emma proved herself to be a force with an aptitude for real estate and interpersonal relationships. She founded Edina Realty on the principles of honesty, integrity, and commitment–the guiding principles of the company more than 65 years later. Furthermore, she said she never wanted to feel compelled to cross the street to avoid a past client; a sentiment still shared by every agent and employee at the company today.
Over the years, Emma would receive significant recognition in the industry:
- 1970s: First woman to join the Minneapolis Realtors Board of Directors
- 1977: Named inaugural Edina Businessperson of the Year by the Edina Chamber of Commerce
- 1988: Greater Minneapolis Area Board of Realtors rededicated the plaza outside its Minneapolis headquarters as the Emma Rovick Courtyard (posthumous)
- 1988: Emma L. Rovick Award was created as an internal award given annually to one agent and one employee who represent Edina Realty’s values of honesty, integrity, commitment, innovation, and community (posthumous). Edina Realty Home Services still gives out the award each year to one agent and one employee.
- 2011: Induction into the Real Estate Hall of Fame at St. Thomas University (posthumous)
- 2018: Edina Realty launches its digital assistant and complete technology solution for agents called Emma in honor of Rovick
Eventually, Edina Realty became a family business, with Emma’s sons joining the firm. Roger Rovick served as Edina Realty’s first custodian, followed in turn by David, a position each worked until he graduated and joined the firm officially as vice president. Her sons would eventually buy the firm from Emma in 1984, just three years before she died. In the following years, they would work to honor her legacy and continue to grow the business to be the powerhouse it is today.
A national powerhouse with local leadership
The company is owned today by HomeServices of America, Inc., and is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. HomeServices of America grew from the vision of Edina Realty’s former CEO and current HomeServices Chairman Ron Peltier, in 1998. As a young man, Peltier was integral to Edina Realty’s expansion into the eastern Twin Cities metro, opening its first office in Maplewood in the late ‘70s, and working with Emma to expand its footprint throughout the region. Today, HomeServices is the largest real estate company in the country, and it shares its corporate headquarters with Edina Realty in Edina, Minnesota.
Emma’s values – and family – remain integral as well.
Today, more than half of Edina Realty’s employees and agents have been with the company for 10 years or longer, and the company maintains a top spot among large employers as a Star Tribune Top Workplace. Its leadership team consists of several members, like CEO Greg Mason, who still have relationships with the Rovick family, and it maintains female leadership with president Sharry Schmid. Edina Realty has been the market leader in sales for 23 consecutive years.
Furthermore, Dana Callahan, Emma’s granddaughter, is one of several Rovick family members to work at Edina Realty in the years since Emma founded the company. Today, she’s an office administrator in the Wayzata branch of Edina Realty. She said she thinks of her grandmother’s beliefs about real estate and people nearly every day.
“My daughter is named after her; I have Emma everywhere,” Dana said. “It’s an honor to be part of this company. I love that it’s continued to carry on the path she set forward.”
Dana added that her grandmother would be amazed at what Edina Realty has become, but said it still “feels like home” despite it being so long that Emma has been gone.
“I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else,” she said. “I feel honored, in a way. I love this company and that it still honors everything she did.”
Not a bad legacy for a woman who set out to buy a piano all those years ago.
Edina Realty. Company archives.
Edina Realty. Roger Rovick video interview archives.
Emma Rovick -- Member of the Minnesota Real Estate Hall of Fame.” YouTube, 14 December 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiKXMyzS9Ho. Accessed 5 March 2023.
Katz, David. “Edina Realty Build on Integrity, Savvy of Woman Who Started It.” About Town, vol. 29, no. 3, 4, Summer 2018, 6-11, 6-10. EdinaMN.gov.
“Women's History Month: The Mother of Edina Realty - Emma Rovick.” Minnesota Realtors, Minnesota Realtors, 10 March 2021, https://www.mnrealtor.com/blogs/mnr-news1/2021/03/10/womens-history-month-the-mother-of-edina-realty-em. Accessed 5 March 2023.