Kevin Jappaya, alum and Board of Visitors member talks about the leap of faith it took to start his business

Three people standing together at an event.
Joceline and Kevin Jappaya with their
daughter Isabella (middle)

Kevin Jappaya always knew that he wanted to work in business, but he didn’t expect to operate his own successful real estate firm.

“I grew up in the business world. My parents are business owners, they owned some retail businesses and hotels so I grew up in the hotel industry,” says Jappaya. “I was always fascinated with business and entrepreneurship and that’s what led me to where I am today.”

Jappaya majored in accounting at the Mike Ilitch School of Business and graduated in 2002. His parents started their businesses to help give their children a better life, starting with a college education.

“I was a first-generation student. My parents didn’t have that educational background. Wayne State opened my eyes to the real world,” explains Jappaya. “I majored in accounting, and when I started at the business school, I didn’t really understand what accounting was. It really gave me a foundation on how to create entities and structure businesses.”

While in college, Jappaya helped his parents manage their hotels, an experience he says provided first-hand knowledge of the day-to-day operations of a successful enterprise. After graduation he continued to work for his parent’s business, learning as much as he could about the industry.

“The hotel industry is one where you can learn pretty much every facet of business. There was a lot of training involved, you learn everything from sales and marketing, to accounting and finance, to customer service and human resources,” explains Jappaya. “You get your hands in every sector of the business world.”

After his parents sold some of their hotels, Jappaya started to look into new business ventures, which brought him to commercial real estate.

“I now had a lot of free time, I was still a young guy trying to look for a career, and I was newly married, so I started getting into real estate with a local company based in Farmington Hills,” says Jappaya. “I thought it was going to be a part time job and it ended up becoming my full-time career.”

Jappaya was there for eight years before deciding it was time to start his own business. For Jappaya, this was a real leap of faith.

“It was probably the most difficult decision I ever made in my life, because I was comfortable where I was and I was doing pretty well,” says Jappaya. “But I looked at my long-term goals and I asked myself where am I going to be in the next 10 or 20 years? I was at a company where I had no equity and no future, where I only got paid if I closed a deal, and I was still a younger guy in the business.”

KJ Commercial was founded ten years ago and became a very successful commercial real estate firm. The Jappaya's have also expanded in the hospitality sector, now owning and operating 10 hotels throughout Michigan. Jappaya’s success has led him back to the Ilitch School as a Board of Visitor member, and he will soon be the proud parent of an Ilitch School student. His daughter, Isabella, will start her freshman year this fall, following in both her parent’s footsteps by attending Wayne State University.

Over twenty years of successful business, the start of a Wayne State family, and a seat on the Mike Ilitch School of Business’ Board of Visitors all began with some part time work helping manage his parent’s businesses, and a business degree from the Ilitch School.

“Wayne State gives you a world class education while learning about the real world and how things transpire,” says Jappaya. “I really do think that with the new business school building being in the heart of the Detroit business community, that the Mike Ilitch School of Business education is a game changer.”

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