Karim Kadrie grew up watching his Lebanese American parents make a name for themselves in Chattanooga.
His father, Dr. Hytham Kadrie, moved from London, Ontario, to Chattanooga in 1977 to serve as one of the city’s first neurologists. His mother, Osmette Kadrie, volunteered at CHI Memorial Hospital for 13 years after recovering from cancer treatment at the hospital.
In a 2018 piece about Osmette, Chattanooga Times Free Press columnist David Cook tells the story of a Muslim girl who stood up to a Catholic priest who criticized Islam, of a mother who told a schoolyard bully to leave her children alone and of a cancer survivor who ushered countless sick patients to their first radiation treatment – or their 100th.
“Hers was a life of lionhearted bravery,” Cook wrote.
So when Karim realized he had a mind for accounting – that he was good with numbers and a natural problem solver – he seized it as an opportunity to fulfill a purpose.
But accounting was not Karim’s purpose. He discovered this because, for all of his skill, he didn’t love it, he says.
“I wasn’t able to interact with people in accounting,” Karim, 45, explains. “Most of the time, I was in an office with the door closed and I never saw anyone. And that never sat well with me.
“I love numbers, checklists and routine. So on one hand, accounting is on par with who I am. But on the other hand, I don’t have the personality for it. I like talking with people.”
Karim’s parents urged him to muscle through his crisis. He was approaching his forties and doing well in his field, they said, so he should stay where he was.
But Karim had learned too many lessons from his mother about standing his ground to capitulate and insisted he needed to find work that made him happy.
Real estate was the escape hatch that became Karim’s passion.
He slipped his foot through the door as a contract-to-close person for Todd Hennon Properties at Keller Williams in 2018. He later became the team’s office manager and eventually added maintaining its books to his duties.
Karim says he thrived at his new job.
“I loved being around people. And I loved working on contracts. I know a lot of agents don’t care for that part of their work but it was on par with who I am. It’s structured. It’s straightforward. There’s no BS’ing around it. The words on a contract don’t change.”
When Karim’s mother saw how the job made him happy, she abandoned her previous admonition and voiced untethered support for his new venture. Unfortunately, she was once again stricken with cancer and could only encourage him from her bed, where she languished in hospice care for three years.
Karim says he took his mother’s words to heart. After watching several individuals at Keller Williams ascend from novices to successful Realtors, he left the realm of formulas and numbers – and a regular paycheck – and became a real estate agent.
Karim earned his license in 2021 during the waning months of his mother’s life. He says he believes she clung to life partly because she wanted to know he’d be all right.
“My mom and I were like two peas in a pod,” he says. “So, once I had my license, she created a checklist in her mind. At the top of the list was, ‘My son finally earned his license.’ Next was, ‘He listed his first house.’ She died the weekend after I posted the listing on the MLS.”
Karim received his first offer a mere six hours after his mother died. When the people around him insisted he set his work aside to grieve, he refused.
“In the back of my mind, I could hear my mother telling me to focus on my work. She wanted me to be beside her, but she was also saying, ‘This is my hope for you, so do your job and then be the son and brother and uncle you’ve always been.’”
Karim had been a son to his parents, a brother to two siblings and eventually an uncle in Chattanooga, where he grew up after his father moved the family to the city to work. Although he grew up in the American South, his parents had reared him in a home infused with Lebanese culture, including not just their food and their faith but also their staunch durability, he says.
“The Lebanese people are very resilient. The country is the size of New Hampshire, if that, and its people have endured being located between Israel and Syria, and survived a civil war and are still rebuilding after the explosion two years ago.”
(Karim is referring to the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion of a massive amount of ammonium nitrate at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon. The blast killed least 218 people and physically shook the entire country.)
After Karim earned an undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he spent 18 years working in accounting for a succession of nonprofits. He returned to Chattanooga in 2016, in part to be with his mother as she mounted her new battle against cancer.
Karim worked briefly in accounting in Chattanooga before transitioning to real estate. Now that he’s an agent at Keller Williams Greater Chattanooga Realty on Lee Highway, he believes the personality trait that made accounting a ill-suited career for him will make him an excellent Realtor.
“My ability to build authentic relationships is important. I’m a people person. It’s one of my gifts. And that, more than anything else, is what serving a client is about.”
When Karim isn’t working, he says he most likely is spending time with his family. His brother followed in their father’s footsteps to become a neurologist while his sister is a counselor at Chattanooga Preparatory School.
Karim says he either talks or spends time with his family daily. Even then, work is a text message or phone call away. And, for the first time in his life, he says he couldn’t he happier about that.
“I love being a Realtor,” he says. “I’m helping people, like my parents did.”
And, his mother might add from the back of his mind, he’s making a name for himself.