DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter
Four years ago, Linda Gary was faced with the greatest challenge of her life. Her husband, James R. Gary, died of a heart attack at age 51, leaving her in charge of the couple’s Woodland Hills residential real estate company.
Until then, Gary had been a behind-the-scenes player in the company. Now, she was forced to assume the top job in the midst of the worst real estate market in decades.
“I think the feeling in the community was that the company could not survive without him because it was so strongly identified with his leadership,” said Gary, the 54-year-old president of James R. Gary & Co. Ltd.
“And I really think the amazing story is the fact that we have survived through four and a half years of the worst recession in Los Angeles to happen since the Depression,” she said.
And survive it has. Last year, the company was the largest women-owned business in Los Angeles County, with $260 million in revenues.
Respect for the company as well as for its president is strong in the residential real estate community.
“She has taken what was already a great company and made it even better, if that was even possible,” said Mike Glickman, executive director of Fred Sands Realtors.
Even under Linda Gary’s leadership, James R. Gary’s personality still looms large.
From the brick, two-story, Georgian-style building that Gary self designed, to the snapshots of Gary in traditional Scottish garb that line the building’s hallways, it’s apparent that the almost-20-year-old company continues to be influenced by its founder.
But while control of James R. Gary & Co. was more concentrated under her husband’s leadership, Linda Gary said the company’s current success can be attributed to the team approach she has taken to running it.
“There was no way I could step into his shoes and run the company the way he did,” Gary said. “I was far more dependent on the management staff than he was, and the management staff has blossomed by having much more responsibility than they have had in the past.”
Michele C. Morley, the company’s chief executive officer, agreed that no single person can take complete responsibility for the company’s success.
“It’s very much of a team approach here,” Morley said.
Gary attributed the team approach in part to the female management. The company is 90 percent women-owned with Gary herself owning 68.3 percent and it has women in several top positions, including CEO, controller and marketing director.
“I think women are better with teams,” Gary said. “However, I think it’s changing, because more and more businesses have really worked at developing a good team approach.”
Gary and her future husband met while both worked summer jobs in Colorado’s Estes Park while each was attending college she in Missouri, and he in Denver.
After James Gary graduated college, he took a job as a salesman with Procter & Gamble Co. in California. The two got married in 1963.
James Gary worked in several jobs including as a stockbroker and as the owner of a small oil company before moving into residential real estate by way of apartment building construction.
Linda Gary, meanwhile, spent three years as a kindergarten teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District before getting into real estate investing with her husband.
During the time her husband ran the family business, Gary was the money manager. Even today that’s where her main interest lies, she said.
“My true main focus is to make sure we’re always financially sound here. I work very closely with the controller to manage the money,” she said.
But her other commitment one that her husband also considered important is to serve the community. Her civic activities include sitting on the boards of Valley Women’s Center Inc., Valley Community Legal Foundation and Community West Hills Medical Center.
“We definitely see that a business needs to give back to the community to have the privilege of doing business in the community,” she said.