Wanda Riley wears multiple hats in her role at Cushman & Wakefield, overseeing both the Orlando and Jacksonville markets and leading operations in Florida overall. It keeps her moving at a good clip around the state, but the Orlando native finds she loves coming home to simplicity and space.
It’s a pattern she recognized pretty early on, along with the observation that in a city where it’s often difficult to find a born local, her industry seems to have a higher percentage than others.
“Ten or 15 years ago I read an article about the various keys to success in commercial real estate,” Riley told GrowthSpotter, “and one of them talked about those who lived and grew up in the areas where they went into business. It helps you understand where things came from, how they’ve grown and developed.”
And to be sure, Riley came of age on the edge of Orlando’s explosive growth, “right where there was no MetroWest!” she laughs.
The area was orange groves and winding, two-lane roads and little else; hang time for the students of West Orange High School was mostly just that.
“Back then, the bulldozers were just arriving. Someone’s family would have a big farm or grove and people would just congregate. We’d make bonfires.”
Studious in nature, Riley made good grades and the Honor Roll throughout. That didn’t change when she moved to the other side of the metro to earn a management degree at UCF.
Working her way up the ladder at a small advertising firm post-grad, when the company sold, Riley found herself in an enviable position for a 20something: flush with time – and cash from a bonus. She made a bold move she’s never regretted.
“I took a year off from work and traveled and did nothing.”
At the time a relative newlywed, Riley and her then-husband did two weeks in Alaska and another two in Europe.
“We did the Caribbean a couple of times … and then we threw in the long weekends – ‘Hey, let’s go to Cocoa…!’ And we would.”
These days, having experienced life downtown and created a family – daughter Mackenzie, 17, is a senior at Osceola School for the Arts; son Samuel, 13, attends Narcoossee Middle – Riley transitioned back to what was (when she first moved there, anyway) the edge of Orlando’s development frontier: Lake Nona.
“I love coming into the city, experiencing the people and the energy and the amenities and the different things to do, but I also like to have a little space and enjoy a slower pace…. When I first moved here it was similar to where I grew up: roads that were winding and dark at night.”
Now, of course, those bulldozers are back.
“Things have changed since then … but it’s funny now, as the kids and I will go on vacation, and we’ll be gone for a week, and then on the way home one of us will say, ‘Ooooh! I wonder what opened up while we were gone?!”
There isn’t much in the way of free time for Riley, but what she has is often spent amid nature. In fact, Riley sits on the board of Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge & Education Center. Founded in 1989, BTN was granted 20 acres of Orange County conservation land in the Lake Nona area in 2007. It is now the largest non-profit public wildlife rehab facility in Central Florida.
“We hike, kayak, we love anything in the water, we’re big on fishing and we love the beach, the lakes and the rivers.”
She has taken up golf, as well.
“I’m horrible at it,” she chuckles. “But I have an adventurous spirit.”