Peg Walsh: Selling St. Barth’s

“You cannot believe how many people want my job,” Peg Walsh tells PINK. She’s living her dream, literally.

She runs one of the Caribbean’s most prestigious luxury villa rental and real estate companies and spends the better half of each year living in one of the earth’s most beautiful places — St. Barth.

This March the happily married mother of three celebrates 25 years as founder and president of St. Barth Properties; which she started with $1,000 and a fax machine, from a desk in her husband’s dental office.

The business has grown to offer more than 160 private villas and hotels with weekly rates ranging from about $10,000 to “a couple hundred thousand over Christmas.”

She also owns St. Barth Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, a premier source for those who want to rent, or buy, on the tiny island in the West Indies.

Named one of The Top Villa Rental Specialists Worldwide by Condé Nast Traveler, Walsh says she’s the lucky one. “I’m very proud and grateful that my dream job is my day-to-day job.”

During our chat with her, she reveals what it’s like dealing with A-list clients and celebrities, how her big personality, support from her husband and passion fuel her success. Oh, and what a typical day in paradise is really like.

LittlePINKBook: What’s your daily ritual on St. Barth?

Peg Walsh: I get up brush my teeth, check my iPhone and email at the same time.

Then I have coffee. We’ll get a baguette from the bakery. I’m sitting on a love seat with my laptop on my knees and looking at a beautiful view over the water all the way to the island of St. Maarten. Later, we walk around Gustavia for exercise. I’m inspecting villas so I’m not chained to my desk. At the end of the day, five nights a week, we go out. I have to try all the restaurants since we give our clients nine pages of helpful hints when they arrive; including best restaurants.

LPB: What are your favorites?

PW: I love the Santa Fé in Lurin, the new Le Carré Lounge near Hermes and L’Esprit de Saline.

LPB: Can’t be easy dealing with such a demanding clientele.

PW: Dealing with the affluent public isn’t easy. You have to be diplomatic. One asked for a view of the sunset but then got angry when the direct sun made the villa warm. Another called on Christmas Eve wanting to surprise the kids the next day with a Christmas tree with red ornaments. Naturally, Christmas trees don’t grow on the island. But we did it.

I got into this business because of my love of St. Barth, not a love of real estate.

LPB: Speaking of challenges, how did you survive the recession?

PW: We made our biggest sale in 2008; a $39 million villa.  Then all of a sudden, it was like what’s going on here? We were all caught off guard. The phones weren’t ringing. There was bad publicity on rich people taking fancy vacations. The villa owners were upset, saying “where are my bookings?”  Then everyone wanted a discount. Since we didn’t budge on pricing, occupancy dropped dramatically. We laid off two people. Now it’s all back; especially the holidays. People are booking high end villas. We’re having trouble finding enough to rent out.

LPB: How did you end up on The Real Housewives of New York City?

PW: I appeared on two episodes when the ladies came to St. Barth and stayed in one of our Villas. The ladies were wonderful. They filmed quite a bit with me and I ended up in two episodes months later when the show aired. Of course that’s when I started watching.

LPB: What’s the biggest obstacle you faced getting started?

PW: Securing my Carte de Séjour.  This is a complicated process. I sought permission to live and work on St. Barth as a legal resident. I had more obstacles because I’m not French. [Competitors] are jealous. They think, “Here’s this American woman who is successful on the island; how dare she.” What got me through was respecting the process.  At no time did I lose my patience or let the frustration get the best of me.  St. Barth is an incredible place and the French Government just can’t green-light anyone who wants to set up shop there.

LPB: What is your biggest weakness as a leader?

PW: I’m a Workaholic.  I’m grateful that my husband Steve is so supportive.

We did a role reversal. He learned how to cook. He delivers my lunch. A fresh fish burger or a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich.  He takes pride that I’m well known. I was always Dr. Walsh’s wife. Now people call him Mr. Peg Walsh.

LPB: How do you find balance?

PW: Take as much vacation as you can possibly get away with. It always pays off dividends. And don’t feel guilty for working when you’re on vacation. Almost everyone does it these days. Especially business owners!

We did a role reversal. He learned how to cook. He delivers my lunch.

LPB: Do you find your home on Cape Cod where you live the other half of the year to be paradise too?

PW: Yes. In Cape Cod our “river room” overlooks the marsh. I can see the Blue Heron. It’s peaceful here. My office is upstairs. From there I can see out to Nantucket Sound from my desk.

LPB: What’s your biggest concern for professional women today?

PW: I think women, and men too, should focus less on what they don’t know and more on what they’re willing to do.  Knowledge comes with taking action and putting yourself out there. If you’re willing to start with nothing, check your ego at the door, and work hard, there’s nothing you can’t do.

LPB: What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

PW: Persevere.  Many people told me to quit when I was starting out and things were rough. But others told me to persevere. And I am grateful to them. Also, I stayed firm in my belief that I should stay in my niche. I got into this business because of my love of St. Barth, not a love of real estate.

LPB: What is one personal goal you haven’t yet achieved?

PW: I haven’t done an around the world trip! Yet.

By Cynthia Good

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