This week my travels found me in Louisville, Kentucky for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices sales convention. Each year, our outstanding events team—led by vice president of Global Conference & Meeting Services, Denise Doyle, and the team at Corporate Magic, including the incomparable CEO Jim Kirk—selects a theme, and for 2022 the theme was “InvalYOUable.”
Yes, spelled just like that because at the end of the day, the value you bring to your organization, your clients, your colleagues, and the people in your life, is highly individualized and a reflection of your unique experiences, skills, talent, determination and ability to inspire others to achieve their goals faster than they would in your absence.
As I sat in general sessions, attended networking events, and met with attendees, there were three leaders whose InvalYOUable characteristics shined so bright, I just have to highlight them.
Let’s start with Christy Budnick, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. From Christy, we learn the power of optimism. Spend 30 seconds around Christy and you’ll understand how infectious her positivity truly is; she lights up a room, and when she delivered her keynote at the general session for the first time this year as Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CEO, her optimism took center stage.
Christy is also coachable; she learned from the best: her mother, Linda Sherrer. Linda is founder and chairperson of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty. She has been an iconic force in real estate for decades, and still is today. From Christy, we also learn the importance of being in the trenches, comprehending the complexities of an industry before you lead it to even bigger and better ways of operating. Christy has been there. A seasoned agent, manager, CEO, she gets real estate because she’s one of us. And that’s a trait we can all learn from and admire.
From keynote speaker Jade Simmons, we learn the power of your personal journey to create breakthroughs in your life. Jade began her presentation playing (no slaying) on a grand piano, as only a professional concert pianist (who played renowned halls including those at the White House and U.S. Supreme Court) could.
Jade’s original vision was to be a classical pianist, a life of Rachmaninoff, and said it would sound something like this. On cue, her hands flew across the piano keys in perfect rhythm and mesmerizing crescendos, and we were moved not only by her words but also by the messages she conveyed through her music.
Jade explained that she finally came to realize life didn’t have to be one thing or the other, all classics, all day. She played another tune that skillfully combined classical with modern, rhythmic beats, and she told us there is great power in embracing the things we cannot change because those are the things that make you, YOU.
Jade understood being a Black female made her distinctive in the classical music world. She also understood that her profound love of rhythm was another opportunity for a breakthrough. Somewhere between her classical journey and combining it with rhythmic excellence, Jade found a photo of herself as a little girl, sitting in diapers playing the African bongos. It was this nostalgic visual that reminded her why she kept coming back to drum lines and beats; rhythm had been a part of her all along.
Instead of trying to go the purely classical route, she instead embraced this unique facet of her passions and expanded the once-tight vision she had of how she must succeed. Immediately, everything changed. She did not, as she says, compartmentalize her brilliance, she instead took every extraordinary part of her and used that to find her next breakthrough.
Finally, last but certainly not least, from keynote speaker Magie Cook we learn about perseverance, forgiveness, and mindful success, and even learned the day she delivered her keynote was also her birthday. (The crowd of course sang to her.) It’s funny when I first read the description of Magie Cook before I had the opportunity to hear her speak, I imagined she might be very tall. In high school, Magie had an opportunity to play basketball for the Mexican National Team, until a broken collarbone left her sidelined. Next, she got a scholarship to play for the University of Charleston.
So, was Magie a towering 6’3”? Nope. When I saw her in person, she was actually 5’2”, and once you hear her speak, it all makes sense. Magie is fierce. She’s got incredible grit. She grew up one of 68 children in a Mexican orphanage, doing construction work, gathering soil and hunting for her own food at a very early age. She practiced basketball with another orphan (found in a dumpster as a baby). She ran drills blindfolded and was so good her orphan brother thought she could surely see where she was going. Not even something fundamental like height could stop Magie from basketball greatness.
She was unstoppable because she had the mindset of a champion. Either life controls you, or you take control of your life, she says. Even when she was homeless after college, living in the streets and in the woods, it didn’t stop her from pursuing her dreams. (She says she didn’t even notice she was homeless because she had grown up much the same way.) As a gift, some friends gave her $800 and she entered a salsa competition, unanimously winning. That one win would turn into an idea for a salsa business that would eventually see her product available in 38 states, major supermarkets and sold to Campbell’s in a multi-million-dollar deal.
When she came out to her father, he told her she’d never amount to anything. That she’d wind up in jail with AIDS. She took his cruel words and used them as fuel. (As she says, “If anything can stop you, nothing can stop you.”) She wanted to show her father she would make it, she would succeed and even read a letter her father wrote her years after those terrible words were spoken, where he expressed how proud he was of her.
When she read the letter, there wasn’t a dry eye in the sales convention house. We were moved by the acceptance in his words, and by the fact that we all know the ending to her story—she did it, she found success despite everything and in her determination to succeed against prejudice, bias, homelessness, poverty and insurmountable odds, we realized that we can do it, too.
So, what’s the message? Christy, Jade and Magie all share one thing in common: their success is the result of their unique attributes, those special traits that make them the incredible leaders they are today. They know their value with absolute conviction and use it to show others just how InvalYOUable they can be.
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.