The Port City Globetrotter

03 Nov 2020

Tony Harrington is building connections and making positive change on a global level


Tony Harrington sometimes ponders the seemingly improbable course of his life. “Things happen and evolve, and you just don’t ever think you’re going to be where you are until you’re already there,” he said. Harrington’s childhood was spent in the very rural Black Jack community near Greenville, NC. “Being from rural NC, I could have easily pulled up a house in the back yard of my parents and been happy, but I wanted to see the big picture. It opened my eyes at a very young age,” said Harrington.

That eye-opening diversion came barely out of high school when he was recruited by a flight crew that frequented the hotel where he was working at the front desk. “One of the supervising managers was flying; she asked me to interview. Within a week’s time they had flown me to Charlotte and hired me. I wasn’t able to finish college, because they took me off to see the world at 18 years old, and I didn’t look back,” Harrington said.

Beginning with Piedmont out of Charlotte, he flew globally. Next stop was American Airlines out of Raleigh for a year before becoming a flight service instructor, then manager, for American’s world headquarters in Dallas. “Every six weeks we would have classes of 100 to 150 students from across the globe, and many times three or four overlapping classes going through the whole gamut of safety procedures, aircraft types, understanding the US and world markets, food service, customer service. To this date I can go on an airplane and flight crews will recognize me,” said Harrington.

From Dallas, Harrington moved to New York City where he managed international flight bases including New York Kennedy, Boston, Nashville and Miami. His last position was managing the Raleigh flight service for Paris, which required him to regularly fly to their destinations to observe and supervise. “Every week I was anywhere between Paris and London in my mid-20s. As you can imagine, having an opportunity to see the world at my leisure at that age gave me so much more of an opinion of the world and how it works,” Harrington said.

That insight serves him well now as he has become involved with economic development efforts in the state.

Harrington left the airline industry for real estate in 1997. “I had met my partner, and we decided it was time to make a transition,” he said. He had seen flight attendants who were also in real estate successfully multi-talking. “I felt that was intriguing,” Harrington said. “I was very fortunate when I started that Ed was working with clients who were looking to downsize; I became a natural fit.” Before long, he answered a Wilmington friend’s call to work in appraisals. They moved permanently to their beach house, and he learned the residential appraisal business. “After a few years I decided I wanted to get back into residential sales, so I opened my firm. Since then, we’ve evolved into international sales,” said Harrington. He has twenty-five brokers who he describes as very diverse and hand selected.

While he and Alexander have been very active in many charitable organizations in Raleigh and Wilmington, that did not always extend into his business life. Harrington says he was happily operating his business without concerning himself with outside opportunities or influences when another broker told him that he needed to start volunteering in his profession. “She was very active, and I was not. I was happy with running my corner of the world and not participating,” Harrington said.

Nonetheless, she convinced him to attend the national REALTOR® association meeting. “It opened my eyes. I saw there was a larger picture and a community of individuals eager to effect change and protect the private property rights of home ownership and homeowners. So, I slowly started,” said Harrington.

He began volunteering for the state association. “I was asked to join a new committee, the NC REALTOR® Economic Development Committee. It has members from all across the state – business leaders, owners, appraisers – who come together to effect change in economic development across the state,” Harrington said. They have come to recognize that a large portion of the potential economic development in the state is from outside of the state and county; Harrington was asked to chair an initiative to bring global awareness to the 50,000 plus association members across the state. The resulting NC REALTOR® Global Network focuses on networking, education, and awareness of global and international concepts. “We made a conscious decision to advertise North Carolina to the world. We have attended the MIPIM international conference in Cannes, France. We are basically advertising the state to the global investor who is looking to do something stateside. We’ve been working with the Department of Commerce, the governor’s office, the Economic Development Partnership of NC and other organizations to collaborate to effect change and investment in North Carolina,” said Harrington.

The committee’s work has twice been recognized at the highest level by the national association.

An offshoot of the work is that Harrington realized his company’s reach could also be international. He has joined international organizations, and has since worked with clients in France, Italy and other countries. “I joined all of the internationally recognized organizations, including an international multiple listing service. I hold the certified international property specialist,” Harrington said.  

He noted that while many brokers are cultivating business locally, the only way to bring true economic development is to go out and get new investment dollars and bring them into the region. “We’ve got a lot to offer with the ports, airport, rail system. We’re halfway between New York and Florida,” said Harrington.

Since becoming so involved at the state level, Harrington has added local involvement. He currently sits as president of the 3000-member local REALTOR® association.

Harrington is encouraged about the market. Even with the pandemic, sales in our region are steady and rising. “New brokers are joining the market regularly with 60 to 100 attending new member classes every month,” he said. With a lack of inventory and low interest rates, he expects that to continue.

Harrington also believes the adjustments we’ve made to conduct business virtually will serve us well in the future. “Now we’re able to do things on the fly, and we’re going to continue that. I think we’ve learned how to better communicate and connect,” Harrington said.

Noting that he and Alexander share a passion for volunteerism, he said they continue their community efforts through Cameron Museum of Art, Thalian Association, UNCW, CFCC, Rotary International and other organizations including local efforts to achieve affordable housing. Harrington was elected a deacon at First Presbyterian Church this past year.

Is there a favorite? “My absolute favorite is the work I’m doing now collaboratively – protecting property rights to global economic development to creating programs and services for REALTOR® members in the state and locally,” Harrington said. “It’s some of the most dynamic work of anything I’ve done. Through that initial ask of going on the state economic development committee, its come full circle in my business. I dove in headfirst and tried to understand something I didn’t know, and now it’s predominant in my business. You never know what life’s going to bring to you.”

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