Day 2 of RISMedia’s 2016 CEO Exchange kicked off bright and early at the Harvard Club of New York City with a networking breakfast sponsored by ERA Real Estate, during which RISMedia President & CEO John Featherston had the opportunity to candidly discuss the future of ERA with newly appointed President & CEO Susan Yannaccone.
John Featherston: Congratulations on your new role as President & CEO of ERA. You’ve held a variety of roles with a number of franchise organizations, which lends you a unique perspective. How will your background inform your leadership of the brand?
Susan Yannaccone: My experience leading through change during my time with a number of real estate brands provides a great perspective to capitalize on the tremendous momentum ERA has to shape the next generation of the industry. When it comes to change, rather than respond to it, you need to effect it. This will position you to lead the transformation and shape the future. I’d also like to add that I’m forward thinking—always anticipating what’s next so we can keep our customers competitive. I had a mentor who advised me to always ask “What’s next?” and that has stayed with me over the years through the various positions I’ve held.
JF: What’s your vision for the brand?
SY: While ERA has a 45-year history in the industry, we’ve been on a tremendous run lately. Not only has the brand been entirely reimagined, we’ve also seen tremendous growth—opening in 12 major new markets. I plan on continuing to leverage this momentum in a number of ways, while focusing on customer service and truly understanding what the customer needs, in addition to what our brokers and agents need to thrive. As I look toward the future at the helm of ERA, one area of focus will be to increase the brand’s visibility across the country by adding companies, agents and yard signs. In addition, we will leverage our best-in-class learning development platform to fuel productivity and continue our relentless focus on innovation and transform the way we connect with consumers to fuel business. Our customer-first approach and strong focus on leadership development will be instrumental in taking the brand to the next level, positioning it for the next generation of this industry. All of these things will be instrumental in determining where the brand needs to go today and tomorrow.
JF: What are some of the most significant challenges you see the franchise industry facing?
SY: Whether you’re a franchisor or an independent broker, the biggest challenges are going to be keeping up with the pace of change and remaining relevant for today’s consumer. Change isn’t stopping. In fact, the pace of change is accelerating, and you have to be on the forefront to remain relevant. In the end, it’s not about embracing the tool for today, but understanding today so that you’re relevant tomorrow.
JF: As a franchisor, what would you say are the best practices for remaining competitive in today’s market?
SY: First and foremost, be true to your culture and own what makes you unique in the marketplace. From there, it’s important to focus on a customer-first/service approach—a big part of the ERA value proposition. It’s also critical to continually hone your value proposition by understanding customer needs, and be aware of how the value proposition cascades from brand to broker to agent to consumer. Yes, we are in the franchise business, but the value we provide to our brokers must allow our brokers to provide value to their affiliated agents. At ERA, we see our role as being additive to a broker’s existing model so that they truly feel as though they’re better off with us than without us.
JF: You have big shoes to fill as you follow in the footsteps of Charlie Young, who did a great job building ERA. Where do you see yourself taking the brand?
SY: I don’t believe in changing just to change. If what you’re doing is working, continue executing on that. Charlie has done an excellent job. In that vein, I’ll reference a great quote from professional soccer player Mia Hamm: “Celebrate what you’ve accomplished, but raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed.” Setting yourself up for future success is all about finding the things you do well, and executing really well on those. Be true to your culture and uniqueness. As I mentioned earlier, the ERA brand has been reimagined, so we’ll continue to raise the bar and be strategic when it comes to our growth and where we’re going.
JF: What are the key characteristics of your brand of leadership?
SY: When it comes to my style of leadership, accountability reigns supreme. I’m a big fan of the Four Disciplines of Execution, and I work with my team collaboratively to ensure everyone has ownership of how they can meet their goals to successfully move the organization forward. I also believe in authenticity and approaching the job fearlessly. And last but not least, I love a challenge and the feeling of accomplishment I get when I tackle a challenge that’s thrown my way.
JF: The idea that we’re heading toward a slowdown was mentioned during the opening day of our CEO Exchange. If this does occur, what words of wisdom would you offer real estate professionals?
SY: Prepare for it. Be ready to capitalize on any opportunity because there will always be an opportunity in change—and that’s not always a negative. Those who aren’t prepared for a slowdown may be looking to get out of the business altogether. It’s also important to be agile enough to adjust your business for the market you’re in.
JF: What advice do you have when it comes to rallying the troops to recruit and bring in new blood?
SY: Rallying the troops and bringing in new blood begins with providing a collaborative work environment. You also need to understand the way the younger generation thinks by getting their perspective through idea sharing sessions. Marrying the generations together is key, so it’s crucial to remain open and collaborative. And don’t throw away good—or bad—ideas because of a demographic. We’re dealing with a totally new digitally native generation, and we need to understand how to work with them.
JF: Please describe your Young Leaders Network, and its role in the future of ERA Real Estate.
SY: Our Young Leaders Network plays an instrumental role in fostering the next generation of leaders. Open to everyone in the network, members of the group take part in yearly summits and meetings with other brokers to share best practices and learn the fundamentals of running a business before they take over. Individuals also learn what it takes to be involved in a network.