Candace Dyal is the owner and president of DyalCompass, a real estate development company that creates environmentally friendly luxury properties. She’s charismatic, inspiring and visionary, and she’s not afraid to try new things. She says, “In life I try to say yes to everything. If my broker thinks it’s a good idea to go to China, and I’ve never been, I’m like, okay, fine.” To say yes to more Candace, read on!
From what I know, you have a really interesting background. Where did you begin and how did you get to where you are now?
After college I worked for Simmons selling mattresses to Macy’s. I wanted to learn everything about business – distribution, marketing, financing, accounting, sales – all the legs that are necessary for success. I realized, quickly, that I was an incredibly good salesperson, and that was something I hadn’t known about myself. But then [Simmons] kept moving me, rather quickly, and I’ve moved a lot in my life. I didn’t want to move anymore. So I said that I was leaving, and I went to go take the Series 7. There were two other women – this was 1979. Then I went to work in finance, and I took a 60% pay cut. I was working on a straight commission, and I didn’t have any clients yet. I stayed on Wall Street for almost 13 years. I met a lot fascinating people, and I met some people I don’t want to ever be.
Then what happened?
After 13 years, I felt that I had finance down, and I wanted to start something. So I decided to start a children’s wear line, Galapagos Wear. The line was little firemen coats, just like the New York City Firemen coats, with the LL Bean dead duck pocket in the back. I just woke up one day with the idea. I got sewing machines, I opened an account at Neiman Marcus, I sold to Children’s Place. It was successful on sales but not on receipts. Very few people would pay – this was during the recession in 1993. Finally I closed the company, sold what I could, and decided to be a real estate broker – I had two children, and at the time I was still married. I started from scratch and became #5 out of 300 brokers. Then we were transferred to London for my husband’s job. He and I got divorced over there, and when I came back, the kids came with me. We moved to Boston – the kids were going to boarding school nearby. My friends were all encouraging me to come back to Wall Street. But I didn’t want to do that.
How did you get from there to DyalCompass?
This is when things really started. We have a house on Kiawah Island. One summer, my son Nick caught on fire, and we went to Kiawah for him to heal. There was a lot of soul searching that summer. One day Nick and I were walking on the beach, and I said to him, “This house is an old Georgian. I can make it green, and I can honor the land that it’s built on.” Nick said, “That’s really risky.” I think risk is a good thing. It means you’re showing up in life. So I immediately said, “Okay, I’m doing it.” I got an architect, got a contractor, helped make the design, learned more about LEED, and I had the first silver LEED building on Kiawah Island. National Geographic made it one of the top ten beachfront homes in America. That’s when I started Indigo Park.
Indigo Park is where the houses in Kiawah are.
DyalCompass—my company—owns Indigo Park. That’s the parcel of twelve acres of land with LEED homes in Kiawah Island. When we started it was like wading through mud. There were days when I thought I was going to fall on my face, when I was really sure I was going to fail.
Why green homes?
My parents never wasted. They were upper middle class, but they didn’t buy things just to have them. When they bought a car, they drove it until it had 200,000 miles on it. We had sweaters for 15 years. We didn’t have a gazillion Christmas presents. They were always buying and selling houses, leasing them, renting them, whatever, and they would make me tile and paint baseboards. All my friends would be down at the mall, and I would say to my parents, “Why are you making me do this?” and they would say, “Work ethic,” and I would say, “But I don’t need to work.” And guess what? I thank them every day for that work ethic. So there was the idea of not wasting things. I also wanted to build houses that were normal sized. Houses that are 7,000 square feet, 10,000 square feet just seemed stupid. You can have a 5-bedroom house that’s 3,500 square feet. It can be efficient, and it can be more comfortable, and there can be fewer carbon emissions, which affect your health. Of course, everybody thought I was nuts. Things started to take off, and then, in 2013, we were the first LEED-certified HDTV Dream Home ever. I got on the show because I wrote to them cold. The letter said, “You don’t know me, but we’re doing the future.” And they called me. Even after that, it was slow-going. A lot of brokers weren’t up to speed on geothermal – they were like, “What aisle is that in?”
Well, what does geothermal mean?
It’s a looping system. You draw your heating and your cooling from the Earth. You literally dial it up. We’ve now rented a few homes, and we have some sales under our belts. We rent three times as much as everybody else. And the Millennials are calling in. They’re asking for green homes. It’s just healthier. Now I’m working on townhouses, one in the West Village, and one on the Upper West Side.
What is LEED certification?
It’s Leading Environmental Efficiency Design. It’s a point system. You get points for the landscaping, like if you don’t have grass, because grass has pesticides, and it’s not drought resistant. It’s about the materials. We use Nu-Cedar, so you never have to paint your house, and we use low VOC paints or no VOC paints. It’s about Energy Star appliances. Reclaimed things. Fewer dumpsters. Fewer landfills. You want as many points as possible. There are different levels of certification—silver, gold, platinum.
What are your favorite materials to use?
Probably the Nu-Cedar, which looks like a cedar shake shingle. We got it from the military. It’s baked on enamel, so you never have to paint it, and it doesn’t rot or fade. It’s totally recyclable, and there’s a lifetime warranty. It’s kind of like when you’re dating, and you’re looking for someone who has honesty and integrity. Nu-Cedar has honesty and integrity.
How do you make houses like that affordable?
Well, we’re getting there. There are some architects that are doing it. Some are designing these modular boxes. Those are great, and I would like to get into that, but right now my hands are full with Indigo Park and two townhouses. But I do think there has to be a way to make things more affordable.
What are three things that you did or do to overcome the fear of failure, and why are they helpful?
- When I’m down in Kiawah, I have an 8:00am meeting every day. That meeting is me walking the beach by myself. It centers me.
- I’m tenacious, and I tap into that tenacity. I imagine the worst that could happen. And I know that as long as I have food and shelter, I’ll survive.
- I’m not defined by money, and I’m not defined by what I’m doing. When I meet people, and they ask what I do, I’m like, “I’m living. Questions?” I have two children, and I want them to see that people can do jobs that make the world better. Think about it if everybody took that attitude. What would the world be like? It would just be amazing.