J. Lennox Scott shares how a steadfast commitment to excellence has powered John L. Scott Real Estate for 90 years
Seattle in the 1930s was a youthful city on Puget Sound on the western edge of the nation—a friendly city with tree-lined streets, a burgeoning city center, and 350,000 hard-working residents largely connected to the lumber and fishing industries. Named for the Native American chief of the tribes who settled it, Seattle was 80 years old and primed for growth, with thousands of acres of undeveloped land.
Into this thriving city with a small-town vibe came a young Scottish immigrant named John L. Scott. A ship-building engineer by trade, Scott drove into town in his Ford Model T, with his bride and infant son in tow, on the way to San Diego. However, he took one look around and felt he was destined to call Seattle home as it reminded him of Scotland.
He settled in, working for a short time in the lumber business before gravitating to real estate, and in 1931, he opened the doors of his business, John L. Scott Real Estate.
Ninety years ago, young John had no way of knowing he was launching a legacy—or a dynasty. Today, led by his grandson J. Lennox Scott, the company is celebrating its 90th anniversary, continuing to flourish with more than 100 offices and over 3,000 agents in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California.
Barbara Pronin: Lennox, three generations and 90 years in business is a huge milestone to celebrate, and it says a lot about your family’s strength and savvy over the years. But you were only 23 when you inherited the company. What was it like to take on that responsibility at such a young age?
J. Lennox Scott: It was a daunting challenge. My dad, who was the second generation to lead the company, unfortunately passed away far too young in 1977. I was 23 and just out of college. I had always known this would be my career path, as I had worked for the company in various capacities over the years—I started by painting signs at the age of 10. But little did I imagine that just 13 years later—after I’d been selling real estate for just under a year—I’d be called upon to take the reins. But there we were. Ready or not, I became CEO in 1980, just in time for the start of the Great Recession when home mortgage rates shot up to 16%.
BP: How did you figure out where to begin to lead this large and successful company?
JLS: Luckily for me, with the love the team had for my dad, they told me they would support me in this endeavor. I knew what I didn’t know but I was eager to learn, and I was fortunate to be surrounded—and supported—by the best agents and the most knowledgeable leadership team anyone could possibly imagine. It was real teamwork at a time when we needed it most, and still today, collaboration is the basis for our model. It’s the frequency of focus on the vital few items that vault us forward, tracking and sending our path ahead. We’re laser-focused on providing the right resources and solutions for both our agents and our clients.
BP: Ninety years is a long time for any company to thrive. What’s the backbone of John L. Scott Real Estate? What makes it grow and prosper?
JLS: I think it starts with our commitment to transactional excellence—a promise to do our very best for every buyer and seller—and a long history of fulfilling that promise. You know, when your family name is on the door, you feel that commitment every day—and I’m proud to say it’s already continuing into a fourth generation. My daughter, Savannah, who’s 26, started out as a team assistant six years ago, and was just recently licensed to sell real estate—and my daughter Stephanie, who’s an artist, provides the geometric artwork that’s becoming a hallmark in our offices.
BP: How would you describe your company culture, Lennox? What motivates your most successful agents?
JLS: Without question, our culture is built around the power of teamwork, of helping, of being kind, of celebrating the success of our teammates as much as we rejoice in our own. Our mantra here is, ‘Good to great, great to greatness’—and there are many components to greatness. Our agents are as competitive as any, they have proven entrepreneurial spirit—but they understand that part of greatness is sharing and helping—and that extends to our clients. Our goal is to provide an Ultimate Client ExperienceTM, being their personal representative, and additionally, delivering marketing excellence for sellers. That means easing the pain points for buyers and sellers—not just providing bridge loans, for example, but facilitating iBuyer solutions; or our Market Ready Plus+ program, giving sellers access to capital so they can fix up their home to showcase it before listing…or providing buyers with access to their equity so they are able to buy before they sell. In fact, more than 80% of our business today comes from repeat and referrals. This is the greatest compliment we can receive.
BP: The COVID-19 pandemic upended life as we knew it. How has the health crisis impacted your business?
JLS: In many ways, the pandemic affirmed the caring we have for each other and for the community. We used all available pathways to increase our connectivity, reaching out to clients and to each other via video and Zoom, changing our business practices to keep people safe, and using ingenuity and electronic skills to keep real estate in motion. Later, as the pandemic drove people to reevaluate their priorities, and many found themselves able to work remotely, we were busier than ever, but we were also well-positioned to manage the great rush to relocate. In all, we booked 34,000 transactions in 2020 with a dollar value of $16 billion.
BP: Can you give us a sense of how the company grew to its present reach and scope?
JLS: When my grandfather settled in Seattle more than 90 years ago, it was first because it reminded him of his homeland in Scotland, but also because he recognized the city’s potential for growth—and he was right. As the trolley lines came in, making it easier for people to commute, he went from one office to three. In the 1940s, with the expansion of floating bridges across Lake Washington, the company expanded again—and then was able to grow again with the coming of the freeways and the ferries across Puget Sound. Today, as you mentioned, we operate 110 offices with more than 3,000 agents in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and now franchising in California.
BP: The world is changing in many ways, Lennox. Diversity and inclusion are on everyone’s agenda. How is your company responding?
JLS: What a wake-up call to the nation was the murder of George Floyd—and what a reminder that there is so much more to do. As an industry and individually, we have worked hard to support diversity, which leads to fair housing. The timing is right to take great leaps forward as an industry. Following the passage of two bills this year, we are working now with the state of Washington to identify and help remove any racist language from home title documents, and to make diversity education mandatory for all real estate professionals. Oregon, as you may know, has banned the practice of so-called “love letters,” with the law becoming effective Jan. 1, 2022. Agents there may no longer present these letters, which are written by buyers in an effort to woo sellers, because of the risk that could pose to fair housing. We remain squarely focused on eliminating barriers and promoting equal homeownership rights—it’s another facet of our commitment to customer care.
BP: There is a quote by you on your website that says, “Our business is transactional excellence, but our higher purpose is Living Life as a Contribution®.” Tell me how you came to believe that, and how you put it into action.
JLS: Our practice of living up to a higher purpose began with my grandfather and has been 90 years in the making. The John L. Scott Foundation supports 25 children’s healthcare events for 19 different hospitals, most years helping raise some $15 million-plus for that purpose. In addition, in non-COVID years, members of our John L. Scott family personally serve 50 dinners every year to families with sick children at Ronald McDonald Houses. In 2020 and 2021, we were not able to volunteer in person, but have kept our commitment with Ronald McDonald Houses by providing catered meals to residents. Most of our agents and team members give back in other ways to the communities they serve as well. It’s a natural part of our culture of care. There is also a more spiritual aspect to what we do based on the principles my wife sets out in her book, “Speaking the Language of Miracles.” It starts with the premise that the situation—any situation—is not who you are. For many people, it opens the door to a journey of self-discovery and to the inspiration and empowerment that are vital to positive outcomes.
BP: So, affirmation is a core value…? JLS: Yes, and our statement of who we are is the desired outcome. Our executive team takes this practical five-step approach: What’s the situation? What’s the desired outcome? What role can we play in the desired outcome? What activities can we do to back this up? And finally, track and sense our progress, learn as we go and anticipate what’s coming next. Discipline is key. It’s critical.
BP: If you had a crystal ball, Lennox, what changes to the industry would you predict, and how is the company preparing for them?
JLS: Actually, I gave a speech on that topic in 2008, and it’s something we continue to think about and work on today. There were three things that technology is moving forward. First, reduce the transaction process time. We’ve got it down now to 10 days, but we want to get it down to five. That would free up the agent and provide more certainty to buyers and sellers. Second, assist the residential investor nation by ensuring that every listing can be seen nationally in a nano-second. Third, provide a portal to give each property owner easy access to all the information on their property.
One of the responsibilities of leading brokerages is to identify these kinds of issues before they become issues and develop practical and doable solutions to address them. This is our approach that keeps our company proactive and passionate in a world where needs have been ever changing since my grandfather came to town 90 years ago.
For more information, please visit www.johnlscott.com.
Barbara Pronin is a contributing editor to RISMedia.
As an Associate Online Editor, Jordan Grice produces a mix of content and reports for RISMedia’s online publication, daily newsletters and Real Estate magazine. He also plays a role in writing, editing and publishing content featured in RISMedia’s RealEdge Podcast page. Prior to joining RISMedia, Jordan has served as a journalist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Republican and Local Voice Media (now Local Daily Media).