The Thirty-A Review July 2020

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Celeste Rustin b y A n d y B u t c h e r N o matter how far you go, no matter what other great places you get to see, for some people there’s just something about home that keeps tugging them back. And so, after a varied and successful business career that has taken her from the frozen reaches of Russia to the warm waters of the Cayman Islands, Celeste Rustin has returned to the Emerald Coast. “We used to spend every summer here,” she recalls of family vacations from Albany, Georgia, where her father ran a roofing company. “My folks bought a place in Laguna Beach and from the time I was in second grade we would make a beeline here every year. It was just fabulous growing up.” Having lived the big city life enough, and with three of seven siblings in the area and a vibrant property market for her to bring her realtor experience to, “I decided this would be a good place to come home,” Rustin says. Things have certainly changed since her childhood visits—her parents bought a lot for around $600 that today costs two hundred times that—but its distinctive appeal endures. “I’ve been to beaches literally all over the world, and there is no place quite like this with its white sand and turquoise water,” she says. “The beaches here are just spectacular, so inviting. It’s just so soothing to my soul.” A Berkshire Hathaway agent and certified inter- national property specialist with an interest in commercial development, she sees at least one silver property market lining in the coronavirus cloud. Stay-at- home orders have made more people realize that remote working is feasible long-term, she observes, perhaps encouraging them to look to this area not just as a second home location, but their primary address. “I think people may decide they can realize their own vision instead of being tied to a corporate vision,” she says. “That they can find a more gracious lifestyle here instead of sitting in traffic for two hours a day each way in a big city.” Rustin has followed an unorthodox career path to the 30-A area. Or, more accurately, she cut her own. Leaving Albany for Atlanta barely out of her teens, she got into publishing and “realized I had a real knack for it.” She founded her own ad agency, through clients of which she was then introduced to the world of real estate, where she in turn did well.

Deciding to return to school to complete the studies that had been interrupted by her flourishing businesses, she later moved to New York and enrolled at Columbia University. While there she helped computerize education systems for Wall Street, pioneering distance- learning opportunities that took her to Eastern Europe for several years after the fall of the Iron Curtain as Columbia’s vice president for the region. “All these Western companies were buying huge manufacturing plants over there and needed education for their busi- ness partners.” What has been described as her distinctive mix of “Southern charm and New York tenacity” subsequently saw her involved in business in the Cayman Islands, (where she lived for a period), and Oklahoma during the oil and gas boom days. Along the way she also ran the president’s office at Georgetown University for four years, earned an MBA, and learned Russian, Hungarian, and Spanish. Though she has no children of her own, she has a passel of nephews and nieces. Concern for the welfare of young people like them and their peers prompted Rustin to use her tech know-how to help develop Drug-Free Georgia, an awareness and prevention program for schools that has been replicated in other states. “I’ve gotten great satisfaction from every business I have ever owned, because it has always led me to the next point in my career or in my path,” she says. Her advice to young people looking to enjoy similar opportunities: “Get a good education, no matter where it’s from.” Where does the moxie to strike out into new areas, especially as a single young woman in post-Communist Eastern Europe, come from? “Having five brothers, I guess,” she laughs. “I’ve just never had any fear. I have always thought, I could do that. I’ll take on anybody or anything, really.” That spirit has taken her up in the air (“those ultralights are really fun”) and out to sea (“I love boating and seawater fishing”), as well as trekking all over Mexico to visit historic Mayan sites. Machu Picchu is on the bucket list.

Celeste Rustin

I’ve gotten great satisfaction from every business I have ever owned, because it has always led me to the next point in my career or in my path.

Celeste Rustin can be reached at (850) 238-9595 or

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