An Entrepreneurial Pioneer
From the 1950s into the 1970s, Margarite Syphax flourished as an influential African-American entrepreneur and businesswoman in Arlington County, amassing land and developing real estate and commercial properties in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. along with her husband, William T. Syphax. Through decades of hard work, and Margarite’s hands-on management style, the Syphaxs’ engineering, management, and construction companies grew to become one of the top 100 African-American led firms in the country during the early 1970s.
As a young woman, Margarite began her professional life as an entertainer for the U.S.O. during World War II (pursuing a life-long passion for dancing and entertaining). It was during this time that she met William, and they quickly became engaged. Not long after marriage, they decided to relocate to Northern Virginia where William had family, and they both planed to continue their projected career paths in Government service.
However, Virginia after World War II was still segregated, and upon arriving in Arlington in 1947 Margarite and William were faced with limited housing options. Realizing that several of their Northern Virginia neighbors and friends were placed in substandard housing units and faced segregationist attitudes from housing authorities, the couple decided that it was time for a change.
1950s - W.T. Syphax Real Estate Company
Throughout the early 50s, Margarite and William explored the real-estate market and various housing development opportunities in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. In 1954, they founded a property development and construction business, the W.T. Syphax Real Estate Company, transforming their part-time passion into a full-time reality. Their small engineering and construction firm specialized in the development of affordable housing for African-American residents in Northern Virginia.
Although William was the President, Margarite was quickly recognized as a hands-on business owner in her own right. Officially she served as the company’s Secretary-Treasurer, but Margarite was constantly out on construction and building sites. The workers, unaccustomed to women on work sites, did not take her seriously at first, but quickly recognized that Margarite was a dedicated entrepreneur.
“I would throw on a pair of overalls and get right out there on the job. Many times the suppliers and inspectors had a hard time believing that I was for real and really knew what I was doing. But, I made them believe.”
Throughout the 1950s their company continued to grow and flourish, but with the challenging times, the Syphaxes recognized that changes were on the horizon.
1960s - Syphax Management Company
In the 1960s, segregation sentiments were still present in Virginia. As a result, the Syphaxes had a difficult time finding property managers for their recently developed apartment complexes. This spurred the Syphaxes to rethink their original business model, resulting in the development of a branch of the corporation that would specialize in property management, The Syphax Management Company.
The Syphax Management Company flourished under Margarite's leadership. By the 1960s she was one of only two African-American women to hold the certificate of Certified Property Managers in the United States from the Institute of Real Estate Management of the National Association of Real Estate Boards.
Margarite was also active in numerous task forces that were designed to better Arlington County. Her participation included, but was not limited to; the Arlington County Plumbing Board, the Arlington Tenant/Landlord Commission, the Minority Contractors Resource Center, Inc. Board, and the Metropolitan Board of Directors Health and Welfare Council. She also served on the Bicentennial Commission of Arlington County, VA.
In addition to civic and community service and activities, Margarite was very active in Mt. Olive Baptist Church, was part of the Ladies Auxiliary, a lifelong member of the NAACP, active in National Links, Inc., and she helped foster and financially and emotionally support countless children throughout her lifetime.
Her hard work did not go unnoticed. In the early 1970s, Margarite was invited to the White House, and recognized for her contributions to and leadership position among African-American women in enterprise.
As an activator of change, and a strong female entrepreneur, Margarite instigated significant transformations in Arlington county in a little over two decades. Along with William, she turned their dream to create affordable housing for African-American residents in Arlington into a multi-million-dollar enterprise, which reached beyond the geography of Northern Virginia. On being recognized in Black Enterprise magazine’s “Top 100 Black Firms” in June 1973, the Syphaxs’ were identified as a nationally recognized business duo.
The accomplishments and successes of Margartite Syphax are numerous. However, when asked what she deemed was the secret to her success, she simply said, “an enthusiastic love for life and humanity." By all accounts, this mindset has served her well over the years.