Unexpected Business Lessons From Serving In The Israeli Army

Billion-dollar real estate agent Jacky Teplitzky explains how serving in the Israel Defense Forces helped guide her success.

Unexpected Business Lessons From Serving In The Israeli Army
[Photo: Flickr user Israel Defense Forces]

New York City-based real estate agent Jacky Teplitzky’s team has sold more than $1 billion in property since 2000, making her among the top 1% of all New York City agents, as well as a top producer at Douglas Elliman, the nation’s fourth largest real estate company. But her early life was marked by remarkable hardship and change.


After traveling from their Santiago, Chile, home to Israel to play soccer, her father fell in love with the country and moved her family there when she was just 10, transplanting her into a completely different culture where she didn’t speak the language. By 25, she had tackled three different careers in tourism, education, and sales.

Jacky TeplitzkyPhoto: via Twitter

But the experience that most shaped her personality was her two-year service in the Israeli Army, which began at age 18, she says. After just a month of training, she was made a drill sergeant, supervising new recruits–an unusual post for such a young soldier. Five important lessons from her time in the military have stayed with her and have been an important part of her success, she says.

Disadvantages Aren’t Deal-Breakers

When she moved from Chile to Israel, she didn’t speak Hebrew and her experience “wasn’t exactly welcoming” when she first arrived, but Teplitzky learned to ignore the things that seemed to be working against her. As a very young sergeant, she often supervised women who were older than her, and was responsible for doling out both direction and discipline. She had to act experienced beyond her years, or she could undermine her authority.

Later in her career, when she was trying to break into real estate sales in Manhattan, she found more obstacles. No real estate agency would hire her because she wasn’t part of the well-heeled, insular Manhattan social scene–her education was trade school and on-the-job experience instead of boarding school and Ivy League university. But she didn’t let those attitudes dissuade her. She finally found a small agency that was willing to give her a chance. She earned the company’s Rookie of the Year distinction.

But New York didn’t live up to the “open society” mythology. She still found gender-based pay inequality, which was disappointing. Eventually, her hard work and persistence caught the eye of Barbara Corcoran, who owned Corcoran Group in New York City and was a pioneer in a field dominated by men. When Corcoran asked Teplitzky why she wasn’t working for her, the young real estate agent explained that she had tried.


“I said, ‘They told me that you don’t hire newbies like me and people that don’t have credentials.’ She said, ‘Oh, rubbish. You’re going to get a phone call tomorrow.’ And I did,” she says. At Corcoran, Teplitzky found a place where she was treated fairly, paid equitably, and valued for her marketing ability.

Hard Work And Discipline Give You An Edge

In the Israeli Army, Teplitzky learned to be highly organized, focused, and productive, she says. Her service taught her to work under pressure and keep her emotions in check, even in high-stress situations. In the cutthroat world of New York City real estate, being able to keep cool during intense negotiations and deal with people from various cultures and walks of life has been invaluable to her success, she says.

You Won’t Be Everyone’s Cup Of Tea

Teplitzky’s accent belies her multicultural heritage, making her feel somewhat as an outsider no matter where she goes. “I learned very quickly that I would not appeal to all people,” she says.
So, she focused on specializing in the markets she knew best, and began courting international buyers before it was popular to do so. Her experience in tourism and well-traveled past gave her an easier rapport with people who were coming to the U.S., who felt comfortable with her. As she has built her 12-person team, she hired people who were strong in areas where she wasn’t. Buyers’ agents work with finicky clients who need a lot of hand-holding. She prefers marketing properties and working with sellers. “I’m not good with small talk,” she says.

Strength And Kindness Are Not Mutually Exclusive

When Teplitzky was responsible for doling out both direction and discipline, she also knew many of her soldiers were making a big adjustment to military life. Some had also recently moved to Israel and were completing their mandatory service. Teplitzky understood exactly what they were going through. She helped them work through those emotions while maintaining her leadership status.

“I had to basically learn how to explain to them that I’m coming from the same place, but by the same token, be respected by them, and [help them] understand that I’m their superior and they have to follow my lead,” she says.


Never Forget Where You Came From

Even as she’s reached such a high level of success, Teplitzky still remembers her humbler beginnings. She remembers bunking with a room full of other women, being lonely and away from home, and having no safety net in the form of wealthy family members and friends who could help her if her job didn’t work out.

Those memories are a guiding force, keeping her grounded and committed to giving back. She’s returned to Israel to show her two sons the modest home in which she grew up. She is a frequent guest speaker at local colleges and universities, especially about how women can succeed in male-dominated industries. She sits on the board of directors of the UJA-Federation of New York, and volunteers time to WIZO, which provides for the welfare of women, children, and the elderly. She and her sons have worked on fundraisers for Chilean earthquake victims and the Pajama Program, a charity that provides sleepwear to children in need.

“I’m a single mom with two sons. From the time I was 25, I had to support two families–my own and my parents. I know what it’s like to have very little. And it’s important to give where you can,” she says.

About the author

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites