Preparing for Tomorrow: Set Yourself Up for Sustainable Success

Posted on Sep 24 2015 - 10:26am by Paige Tepping

CEO OpeningRISMedia’s 2015 CEO Exchange kicked off on Wednesday, September 16 at The Yale Club in New York, N.Y., with a behind-the-scenes look into how Power Brokers are embracing change in order to meet the needs of an ever-evolving industry and consumer. Moderated by John Featherston, president & CEO of RISMedia, “Here Today, Ready for Tomorrow: Blueprints for Sustainable Success,” set the stage for an enlightening day-and-a-half-long event, attended by an intimate but impressive group of nearly 200 of the nation’s top real estate brokers and industry leaders.

While the opening session panelists each traveled down distinct paths that have ultimately led to their continued success over the years, a common thread emerged: laying the foundation for a successful tomorrow begins with having a plan…and sticking with it through thick and thin.

Jeff Detwiler, president & CEO of Long & Foster Companies—a firm with 47 years of experience in the mid-Atlantic—pointed to the history of his company’s growth being predicated on acquisitions. “While we’ve used acquisitions to grow the company geographically, we’ve also diversified our operations by moving into ancillary businesses,” said Detwiler.

Mark Stark, right, and Dottie Herman share insights on sustainable success during the opening session at RISMedia’s CEO Exchange.

For Mark Stark, CEO & owner of BHHS Nevada Properties and Arizona Properties, the foundation for his firm’s continued success was laid in 2001 when he transformed his entire organization. “I was at the point where I was frustrated with the industry and the fact that I always had to convince my sales executives of my value as a broker,” said Stark. “So I built a model around it and turned my organization into a business service operation,” a shift that has enabled Stark to help his agents build brokerages under the umbrella of the company.

And in an industry that centers on relationships, Dottie Herman—president & CEO of Douglas Elliman Real Estate—has focused her efforts in this area to remain competitive in today’s market. “The relationship is the core of everything,” said Herman, “so we looked at the demographics of where our clients are and strategically picked our markets in order to establish relationships with them.”

Staying Relevant in an Ever-Changing Market

A relative newcomer to the industry, having joined Long & Foster in 2009, Detwiler provided a unique vantage point in terms of the value his firm provides to his agents, as well as the challenges being faced in today’s market. “My agents have made it very clear that we need to listen to them and focus on helping them grow their business while making their life simple.” Whether it’s through delivering a support structure, lead generation/lead cultivation tools, CRM software and even acquisitions, every decision made within the walls of Long & Foster centers around these two objectives.

For Stark, the biggest challenge is being committed to working together. “Real estate is a relationship-based business, so we’re dedicated to staying away from building our business on a technological platform,” said Stark. “Our advice is to stay relevant, and this is the basis of understanding that drives all the decisions we make.”

“To me, branding and culture are key,” added Herman, who noted that Douglas Elliman Real Estate’s success comes from the firm’s brand and the relationship they have with the public. “Not only is our brand very strong, but we’re involved in the markets and communities that we serve. In the end, people will want to come work at your company if you can build a culture, but you have to build what you believe to be the right culture.”


RISMedia President and CEO John Featherston welcomes guests to the Yale Club for the day-and-a-half-long think tank.

Coming Together for Future Solidarity

Looking toward the future, Stark noted that we’re all trying to figure out what’s next.

In fact, according to Detwiler, there are two key areas of opportunity that real estate professionals can’t afford to ignore, the first being the Upstream initiative. “Not only does Upstream provide the opportunity for everyone in this room to take back control of listing data once again, it’ll also allow brokers to work closely with agents, NAR and RPR. This is the first time the industry has come together and shown solidarity in terms of an initiative,” something that Herman feels is crucial.

“Whether it’s Zillow or®, at the end of the day, we’re driving consumers to a different platform,” said Herman. “I’m all for us getting together as an industry to come up with something in order to regain control of our data.”

Getting in front of the mortgage industry is another key component that the real estate industry can’t afford to look past. “In 34 years, we’re going to look back and the industry will be changed because the mortgage industry is coming…and they’re going to take away our business,” said Detwiler, who went on to explain that it’s crucial that we keep an eye on the mortgage industry and remain cognizant about what we do with them and how we position ourselves as real estate professionals.

“Trying to be everything to all people doesn’t work,” concluded Stark. “In many ways, we’ve lost sight of who we are because we’re trying to look at what everyone else is doing, which is causing us to bounce in many different directions.”

Stay tuned for more coverage in the coming days of RISMedia’s 2015 CEO Exchange.

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