Editor’s Note: This is the cover story in the August 2020 issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine. Subscribe today.
RISMedia invited Allan Dalton to pen this month’s cover story—given his status as a long-time executive, thought leader and author—in order to provide an insider’s view of the leadership mission at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. Thanks to his unique vantage point within the organization, along with his deep industry knowledge, Dalton offers an insightful look into the brand and its strategic vision.
“Unstoppable” is a one-word mission statement, selected by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CEO Chris Stuart, to describe one of his many global network goals. The inspiration behind this power-packed proclamation is none other than Warren Buffett. When the so-called “Oracle of Omaha” remarked, “Get on a train that is going 80 miles an hour; don’t get stuck on the sidelines,” Chris, who ironically worked for years at Oracle, took this sagacious advice as…if you will…an oracle, inferring that Mr. Buffett was using this transportation metaphor to ask, “How fast and how resolute are we to achieve our goals? Are we unrelenting, unwavering or even unstoppable?”
According to our CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices must continue to be unstoppable. Such superhero-like and overtly aggressive statements by Chris are surprising to many who know him—especially given his highly scientific, strategic and scholarly presentations and speeches. Chris is certainly more professorial than pompous, and decidedly more erudite than egotistical.
Rather than resorting to brand-related hype, Chris is instead renowned within the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices global network for his elevated and comprehensive consumer-centric rhetorical style. Our leader routinely speaks of “closing the real estate loyalty gap,” “creating a sustainable real estate ecosystem” and becoming a Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices “Forever Agent.” Chris also recently announced the development of The Real Estate IQ Institute, dedicated to increasing the “influence quotient” of all those within the network.
While the academic nature of Chris’s vision might seem at odds with the locker room-like and feisty fanfare surrounding the use of “unstoppable,” one can find an explanation in his background. Many know of Chris’s brokerage and high-tech pedigree from his years at Oracle and his senior management brokerage years at Intero. Often overlooked is that Chris is from Texas, where he played high school football. His background as a bio-science graduate, along with his years on the gridiron, explains his fusion of grit and genius…two staples of his remarkable leadership.
When I ask Chris if he believes that Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is unstoppable, he rationally responds, “Only time will tell if we are truly unstoppable. We only focus on being unstoppable in terms of our unwavering commitment to enhancing the lives of consumers through the efforts of our clients, brokers and agents. We would never convey to consumers that we are unstoppable. Our fate or fortune is not a public concern. I want our network brokers and agents to realize that we can only achieve unstoppability through providing consumer solutions. Unstoppable for us must never imply being arrogant, pompous or self-congratulatory. Unstoppability also requires that I surround myself with people who want to serve our network and cannot be—or who do not want to be—stopped. Our network is replete with the highest quality of brokers and agents who not only deserve our unstoppable efforts, but demand the same.”
I also asked Chris to introduce his Unstoppable Team, and unsurprisingly, he begins with his mentor. Gino Blefari is described by Chris as the real estate industry’s GOAT (Greatest of All Time), an attribution usually reserved for generational athletes or entertainers. Chris’s admiration for Gino, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices and CEO of HomeServices of America, knows no bounds.
“The impact that Gino continues to have on the real estate industry is unrivaled,” Chris explains. “Gino’s incomparable and varied industry background began with his becoming the top-producing agent in highly competitive Santa Clara County, Calif. Gino then became president of the largest CENTURY 21 brokerage in the world at the time. Amazingly, seven of the top 11 offices in CENTURY 21’s global network were in his company.”
The ‘GOAT’ subsequently founded and led Intero Real Estate from being a start-up vision to a North American Top 10 brokerage. Of note is that this epic growth was attained without acquisitions. Instead, his company owed its success to Gino’s legendary ‘West Coast Real Estate Offense,’ a behavior-changing accountability system, which Gino is currently employing to help numerous brokerages achieve documentable, exponential growth and profits. After the sale of Intero to HomeServices of America, Gino became CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, and is now CEO of HomeServices of America.
“Gino’s illustrious real estate road, while well-traveled, represents a journey that is unlikely to ever be traversed again,” adds Chris. “I believe his best years are still ahead due to his legendary regimen, discipline, work ethic and talent. Gino is the very definition of what it means to be unstoppable.”
Chris’s team is composed of several other “unstoppable” executives who support the network and its members, such as Chief Financial Officer Steve Ladd, whose financial rectitude is essential for the company and the brand.
“I refer to Steve as the financial conscience of our organization,” says Chris. “His mission is to help both our brokers and our organization maximize profitability. Steve does an impeccable job managing the inevitable tension that exists in all companies between revenue pursuits and expense vigilance. He is all about doing everything possible toward driving profitable growth.”
In explaining the value of his Executive Vice President, Business Development Michael Jalbert, Chris is equally laudatory.
“Michael is a gift to every existing and future network broker who appreciates the inextricable link between their success and global growth. He is peerless in our industry when it comes to inspiring the combination of domestic and global expansion. His track record of building out brands and brokerages throughout the world is a tribute to his strategic brilliance, brand loyalty, meticulous diplomacy, deep business and franchise background. His communication skills and leadership ability to inspire his global team of franchise consultants makes Michael and his team unstoppable.”
Chris also shares high praise for Senior Vice President of Network Services Rosalie Warner, a former president of Prudential Real Estate Affiliates. “Rosalie represents the gold standard for how a leading executive of a global brand should deliver consultative and administrative services to its network,” he says. “Rosalie is our executive glue. She not only makes sure that our metaphorical trains all run on time, she is also instrumental in helping us build our unstoppable trains. Rosalie is where effectiveness and efficiency meet to deliver incomparable value to our network.”
When I ask Chris about myself, I am humbled (although a little disappointed with his brevity!): “Allan, given your many years of brokerage and brand-effective leadership, you provide our organization with an invaluable resource for both agents and brokers alike. You are also, due to your legacy of creating innumerable consumer-centric systems, a great sounding board for my strategic vision, including collaborating with me on the development of the Real Estate IQ Institute. Allan, in a word, you are unrelenting.”
Chris describes Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion and Women in Leadership Teresa Palacios Smith as an unstoppable force for progressive and necessary change.
“While Teresa is passionately intent on correcting injustices in the entire industry, country and world at large, the impact she is having on our brands regarding her mission to make real estate more diverse and inclusive is truly inspirational,” he says. “The former president of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals and the founder of Woman Who Lead, Teresa is an incomparable crusader for equality across all professional and human segments of the industry. She is an epic change-agent for social, professional, economic and societal justice. Beyond all of Teresa’s brand and association contributions, she is respected as a mentor for a wide variety of network agents and brokers.”
“Gino deserves credit for having the sensitivity and notable foresight, back when he was CEO of HSF Affiliates, for creating my position,” Teresa adds. “He has long been a strong advocate for diversity, inclusion and women leadership.”
For Chris to satisfy his quest for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices to become and remain an unstoppable brand and network, world-class marketing driven by a marketing maestro is required. He believes he has just that in Vice President of Marketing and Communications Wendy Durand.
“Wendy has impeccably defined and delivered on our brand promise,” Chris explains. “She is indispensable in helping me merchandise and then market our value proposition, and meticulously drives our brand’s cultural and business values. She promulgates our value proposition across vast media, social media, and global broker and agent channels, and has proven to be extremely deft in coalescing the marketing efforts of our brokerages’ marketing directors. Wendy also provides vital guidance to our ad agency and media partners, like the Wall Street Journal, and is our greatest consumer influencer in transforming our luxury marketing.”
Chris describes Vice President of Operations Edward Maldonado as one of his resident geniuses and an indispensable part of the team. “Edward is universally respected,” he says. “His high-level operational acumen speaks to his ability to take complex challenges and opportunities and break them down into workable solutions. Perhaps more than any other executive on our team, he never seeks recognition. His humility is one reason why he is so effective in leading collaborative teams in his endless pursuit of problem-solving and the development of opportunities for our organization. No one on the team applies metrics, science and recommendations more than Edward.”
When it comes to Vice President of Program Management Karen Cain, Chris uses the “five i’s”—”Karen is intelligent, inspirational, involved, integrated and indispensable,” he explains. “She is at the heart of virtually every initiative within the organization—every aspect of our value proposition that requires planning, systems, measurement and execution. Karen’s ability to execute, while always remaining highly positive and team oriented, is second to none. I can’t recall ever approaching Karen with any task where she did not immediately grasp the need then help build out the necessary strategy and solution.”
Vice President of Global Conferences and Meeting Services Denise Doyle, according to Chris, is unparalleled in her field. “Denise possesses the unmistakable ability to demonstrate supreme respect, love and devotion to our global network of brokers and agents,” he explains. “These qualities manifest in her excellence in staging both global extravaganzas and regional gatherings. She accomplishes all of this while also being a fierce negotiator with the unending number of convention and meeting operators with whom she transacts. Our ‘General of Galas,’ Denise is unstoppable in ensuring our network receives value through highly organized educational, networking, recognition and entertaining events, including our epic annual global business conference.”
In commenting on his Vice President, Solution Strategy Mike Fortes, Chris says, “Mike is a remarkable combination of strategist and solutionist. I know of some executives who are strategy-centered, but cannot drive their strategy into a solution, while others can only be part of the solution without being part of a strategy. Mike, because he looks at challenges and opportunities from the perspective of both the consumer and the needs of the network, is brilliant in the development and execution of our technological needs. He is a tireless worker who is always there to serve the needs of our network.”
Given the high value Chris places on his organization’s educational and consultative deliverables, he expects much from Vice President of Network Services Bob Watson…and Bob exceeds expectations.
“What Bob provides our global network is anything but elementary,” says Chris. “His level of sophistication begins with how he has deeply examined our brand culture, including my vision and strategies. From there, Bob has built delivery systems to carry out our cultural offerings globally. He has simultaneously trained and led both our educational and consulting teams in their successful execution. Other than Michael Jalbert, nobody in our organization has been more valuable in assimilating our brand value and culture globally than Bob. This is in addition to his immense value domestically.
“I would be remiss,” Chris adds, “if I did not include two of the more invaluable, and at times most valuable, executives on our entire team: our accomplished attorneys, David Beard and Patti Mansur-Brown. Each of them is enormously valuable to the proper and legal functioning of everything for which our organization is responsible. I have saved them for last because more than any other executives in our organization, they prefer to remain out of the limelight.
“I refer to our Vice President and Corporate Counsel David Beard as our legal solutionist. I don’t always understand how he accomplishes the results that he does, but I do appreciate how he expertly balances and protects our organization in terms of risk and our business objectives.
“David works closely with our highly esteemed Vice President and General Counsel Patti Mansur-Brown,” Chris continues. “Patti is the ultimate defender of our brand. Her level of legalistic vigilance ensures that our entire existing, pending and future network members understand and comply with our legal guidelines. Regarding issues related to brand usage, along with her steadfast and unwavering dedication to ensuring that all our internal and external communications comply within legal and ethical guidelines, Patti is legendary and deeply appreciated. Patti keeps all of us out of trouble, even though at times it can be a thankless task, but one for which I am forever grateful.”
Chris ended our interview as he began—with the word “unstoppable.”
“In an age where much attention is devoted to naming teams, such as The Avengers or The Dream Team, I like to define what we have developed as ‘The Unstoppable Team,'” he says. “Think about it—within the word ‘avengers’ is the concept of vengeance; and when it comes to ‘dream teams,’ I believe more in reality than in dreams. I completely support the idea and the ideal that Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is real estate’s 80-mile-an-hour train…we’re unstoppable.”
For more information, please visit www.bhhs.com.
Allan Dalton is Sr. Vice President of Research and Development for HSF Affiliates LLC. HSF Affiliates operates both Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices and Real Living Real Estate brands. Dalton is CEO of the Real Living brand and the former CEO of realtor.com®.