Community Highlights: Meet Valentina Naumenko of Mila Realty and Orlando Short Term Rentals

Today we’d like to introduce you to Valentina Naumenko, Managing Broker and owner of Mila Realty and Orlando Short Term Rentals.

Hi Valentina, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?

My six years old son shared with me his concern about having a job when he gets older. He said he does not like the idea of wasting his days with some boring job. I explained to him that it actually can be a lot of fun and people need to have a job due to a variety of reasons. And the main job that one should focus on is to find the dream job, something that will inspire. A job one will be passionate about. You get it done, and you will never work a day because everything will be just fun. Sharing my story is the message to everyone who is challenged today in terms of understanding where they are and where they want to be.

I do work every day… that may not be an inspiring start and some people may feel sorry for me. But I love what I do, and ability to do what I love is rather a gift than “a job”. I am happy. I enjoy seeing the products of my everyday work. I am following my heart and pursuing my passion when I serve others: team members, customers, students. Today I am an entrepreneur, a professor, a researcher, a consultant, a manager, an investor, a wife to my dearly loved husband and mom of two amazing little guys. I own and operate two successful property management companies. Mila Realty provides property management services for a residential and commercial real estate and Orlando Short Term rentals.

I was born in Russia and raised in Estonia. In Estonia, I graduated from Tartu University with a master’s degree in Business Administration and I earned great work experience as a Human Resource Director. I was very young, and a lot of people were very skeptical about how 22 years will handle 150 employees, most of whom mainly had a tough Soviet Union mentality. I learnt how to connect people’s goals with the company’s goals.

As I continued my personal and professional growth, Estonia became too small for my ambitions. So, I emigrated to the U.S. in 2009. This life change pushed me to seek a new career opportunity. Finding similar job opportunities in the U.S. proved impossible due to my language and experience barriers. Learning English in Estonia is nonessential since Estonia’s first language is Estonian and the second language is Russian. A new cultural fit added extensive stress and was a priority over career opportunities. I finally got a job, in the hotel, as night auditor. The shift hours were 11 pm to 7 am, and hotel management scheduled me only 16 hours a week at the rate of $8 per hour. Notwithstanding, I still loved it and I believe that without this experience, today’s Valentina would not be possible. I learned a lot about Americans and their, customer service, hospitality, and I was able to improve my English. All these were needed for the next step.

Two years later in 2011, I applied for a Property Management position in a new vacation rental company in Kissimmee, FL. They needed a manager to help with the startup. The company owner, Igor, called me to say that they are considering two candidates, and I was one of them because of the hotel background I had. Later they informed me that the position was given to another person because she had a Real Estate license. Later, Igor invited me to help him with English. He was paying me $100 per hour. Big move from $8 to $100! One day I arrived to teach, and Igor asked me to help him translate something in his Kissimmee office. Whatever I did worked greatly, and Igor offered me a part time position in his Property Management office. From part time I went to full time, and then I became an Operations Manager. As a company was going from eight vacation homes to 50 and turning into a strong organization and a successful business, I learned how to clean, repair, manage, organize and lead an American company.

One day, Igor suggested that I obtain a Florida Real Estate license to offer real estate services to the company customers. As soon as I activated my license, Igor asked to show four properties, so he could select and purchase one. His friend joined him for showings. Showing four properties turned into four closings. Igor purchased one, and his friend purchased the other three houses. My very first experience practicing Real Estate was fantastic! I was immersing myself more and more in the real estate, but I did not want to give up my dream, pursuing a doctor’s degree. I was completing a variety of testing and certifications to start working on my dream. I felt the need to fill myself with American education to be ready for the next step. In 2015 I finally got an acceptance letter stating that I can start a Doctorate Business Administration program in Florida Institute of Technology. Same time, I learned that I would become a mother. It was tough. Working full-time, being a full-time doctorate student, and being a mom was not an easy task, and I really struggled to stay focused, and I was afraid that I couldn’t make it. There were times when I was so ready to give up. God was so great to me, and my family was very supportive! In 2018 I became a Doctor in Business Administration. Later I joined the International Advisory committee and became a Conference Chair.

In 2019, again with Igor’s help, we purchased 7HeavenVacation, my previous employer. Today we operate this business as Orlando Short Term Rentals. I have a really strong and amazing team. As you can see hospitality was a significant part of my life for the last 10 years. Because of the vacation rentals, I started managing long term rental homes. This story begins with one homeowner, who was renting one of our vacation homes. This guest purchased his own rental home, and of course, he planned to rent his new home as a vacation rental. During the construction and after closing, his family fell in love with the property, and the owner decided that he will keep it as a second home, which will stay unoccupied. The house came out beautiful, and his decision was clearly understood. Soon, this homeowner realized that with the real estate, he purchased relationships with the Homeowner Association, which is fond of sending some letters to the homeowners from time to time, with the lawn that has to be cut weekly, with the swimming pool to be cleaned weekly, taxes, utilities, and etc. As he was residing outside of the U.S., it was clear that he needed someone to help him. He knew no one else in Orlando, and he asked Valentina to keep an eye on his property. When property started requiring more and more attention, all parties realized that a professional solution is needed to manage the home… This was the beginning of Mila Realty. Today this business manages residential properties, commercial real estate, and communities.

I’m an absolutely happy person because I am able to do what I love: creating jobs for talented people, connecting residents with their new rental homes, and helping vacation rental guests to create lifetime memories. I don’t do it alone though. My team is the best. We all share the same values and create together. I also have a great mentor in my life. You probably noticed I have mentioned his name several times. Igor is one of the key persons who helped me to build myself. Everyone needs some help. Igor was this help to me when it came to my business. I strongly recommend anyone who is looking to succeed in business to connect with knowledgeable, experienced, and supportive mentor. Finally, I wish everyone to identify personal strengths and turn them into a working mechanism, which enables you to have your dream job!

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?

Challenges will always be there. And what matters is how you view the challenges. With time I became more challenge- immune. Not only that, but challenges are also opportunities. You have a chance to fix, transform, and improve. One of the biggest challenges I had was removing the foreignness. Starting a new life is what immigrants do when they move. I had to fill a lot of gaps like English, work, housing, education, social life, new culture. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to study and graduate Florida Institute of Technology, where I earned a Doctor’s Degree in Business Administration. This was my biggest win as throughout the process I was able to overcome my biggest challenges. This experience allowed me to build a stronger personal and entrepreneurial foundations.

Effective employee management is another challenge, and your success or failure is about how you address it. My road to coping with the challenge was through study. I studied Organizational Behavior to the extent that now I teach Organization Behavior and Human Resort Management to others in universities. You need to understand the people’s needs in order to manage successfully. Organizational alignment is something that I researched deeply, and I wrote a dissertation about it.

It always comes back to people’s needs when you are working on the organizational goals. You keep your workplace as a happy place where you satisfy the needs of your employees by utilizing a variety of resources, tools, and systems. With happy people, you have less turnover and as a result, you have strong employees who stay and share their knowledge and provide great customer service. Now your customers are happy, and happy customers become your loyal customers and the loyal customers are the one who create desired profitability and effectiveness of the organization. It’s a whole science, but I love it. Actually, when I am challenged, I almost always turn myself to academia, where I research and study the problem, so I can address it properly.

What does success mean to you?

Success means no regrets. No regrets for decisions you make. Even if they don’t lead to the desired outcome, you are able to recover, learn and keep going. When you look back, you have no regrets.