Above: Dan Forsman, Chairman, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties
For Dan Forsman, the seasoned Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties, there isn’t a mountain that can’t be climbed, a problem that can’t be solved or an opportunity that isn’t worth exploring with his signature energy and drive.
It’s an attitude he’s honed as the son of Naval-career parents who moved often during his childhood, making him the new kid on the block, quick to adapt and figure out a way to make the most out of every adventure.
“I was always a small kid, so I took up powerlifting in college and set out to win a national championship with the University of Nebraska,” Forsman says. “It was a pretty lofty goal, but in my sophomore year, I placed third in a meet and stood on the same podium with the world champion, and being on that podium was a lesson in aspiration and endurance that has stayed with me all my life.”
It’s that passion for achievement that Forsman has consistently worked to instill in his leadership team, and what has made Georgia Properties one of the highest-producing and most award-winning real estate firms in the industry, an undisputed leader in the Metro Atlanta market and consistently ranked as one of the most respected in the nation.
“I worked as a busboy and a janitor in my early days, and when I came to Georgia, was a deckhand and later captain on a 68-foot shrimp boat on the Georgia coast. I quickly learned if you don’t catch, you don’t eat,” Forsman says. “This was another life lesson that reinforced my determination to make the most of the opportunities I’ve been given, and motivated me to create opportunities for those around me to do the same.”
As a straight-A student in accounting at the University of Georgia who passed the CPA exam the first time, Forsman did successful turns at two top accounting firms before moving into real estate at age 30, when he took on the unfamiliar role of relocation director. Despite the challenges of entering a new industry, Forsman made it work. He then started a successful foreclosure business and, ultimately, put up his life savings to buy into Merrill Lynch Real Estate, which in 1989, became Prudential Georgia Real Estate, and in 2013, was acquired by HomeServices of America. The brokerage soon became Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties, one of the earliest adopters of the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand.
“We were pleased to become part of the Warren Buffett and HomeServices cachet of quality, trust, integrity and professionalism. I saw it as another opportunity to follow my own advice and take my team to the next level,” Forsman says. “The gameplan was, and is, to put your head down, stay focused and be prepared to climb ‘Mount St. Excellence.’ It’s not about how much you do. It’s about how much quicker, better and faster you accomplish your goals…and help others accomplish theirs.”
Combatting disruption with distinction
Being world class doesn’t happen by accident, Forsman notes.
“The steps you need to be better are all around you, but you must be on the lookout for them constantly,” he says. “You must be able to look at complicated things and reduce them to a simple process.”
A lot of that has to do with mindset. An unfailing spirit of positivity and optimism is what Forsman expects his executives to instill in every sales associate and employee. And positivity isn’t just a buzzword placed on a plaque in an office lobby; it’s a continuous advantage Georgia Properties possesses against the ever-present forces of disruption in a constantly evolving real estate industry.
If you look at the success of Georgia Properties in the past two years, you’ll recognize the power of positivity at work. The brokerage recorded $5.2 billion in sales last year—a company record expected to be broken again by even more sales in 2022—with a growing team of employees, 29 office locations (and growing) and more than 1,600 sales associates throughout Georgia.
“It was an epic year,” Forsman says. “I now find myself in an extraordinary position because of the success of our company, and the growth and prosperity our sales associates, employees and leadership team were able to generate.”
He is, of course, alluding to recent leadership advancements within Georgia Properties: Forsman is now assuming the Chairman role; DeAnn Golden will become President and Chief Executive Officer; Kathy Connelly will serve as Chief Operating Officer; Lori Lane will be President of Georgia Properties’ New Homes Division and Executive Strategist, Luxury Collection and Global Living; and Todd Tucker will assume the role of Executive Vice President for real estate operations and qualifying broker. Mary Wargula, a highly experienced professional who joined the firm in 1993, will step into an expanded role as Senior Vice President of brokerage offices and regional manager, along with continued leadership of the North Fulton/Alpharetta office. Janet Mauldin will also be promoted to Senior Vice President of relocation, while Amy Gant has been appointed to Senior Vice President and Regional Manager of the firm’s Southern Crescent region.
“Dan has truly spent his career pouring his knowledge, experience, confidence and leadership philosophies into myself, Kathy, Lori, Todd and all of our brokers and agents,” says Golden, a second-generation, 26-year veteran of the real estate industry who joined the company in 2004 and previously served as a successful sales associate, team member, trainer, coach, managing broker, regional manager, executive leadership member and the 2019 Atlanta REALTORS® Association President. “This is a tremendous honor to follow in his legacy, knowing how much confidence he has in our team to take our company to the next level,” she says.
Forsman enters his new role as Chairman with complete assurance in the bright future ahead for Georgia Properties. “I have all the gratitude in the world for Mr. Ed Erbesfeld, who founded the company in 1963 before passing the reins over to me and Toni McGowan, my longtime business partner, who in 2020, transitioned to EVP Emeritus. When I was contemplating these leadership changes after more than 37 gratifying years as President and CEO of this company, I just thought to myself, ‘I’ve got a great team, why not let them run it?'”
The next integral member of that great team is Lane, an iconic industry leader brought into Georgia Properties in 2006 to expand the firm’s New Homes presence. In this new chapter of the brokerage, Lane will serve as President of the New Homes Division. She will continue to lead the growth and development of the division, where Lane and her team currently represent more than 30 exclusive communities around the metro area and have won hundreds of awards for their clients, and their sales and marketing success.
“Dan allowed me to do what was needed to build a New Homes Division,” says Lane. “Today, we are honored to represent some of the most respected builders and developers in Metro Atlanta, and we continue to focus on the latest innovations to give our clients an advantage in a highly competitive marketplace.”
Over the years, Lane has expanded the brand’s luxury real estate marketing efforts, launching its iconic Black and White Luxury Collection in 2015. Two years later, the thriving endeavor was awarded the MAX (Marketing for Excellence) Award by Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business and the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Lane will continue to provide expert advisory leadership to Georgia Properties’ Luxury Collection and expand Global Lifestyles initiatives with a focus on affluent shoppers.
“Dan encouraged me at every turn,” Lane says. “That’s the kind of leader he is, and it’s the kind of leader I always want to be. He gives his staff the space to grow and thrive—and as our luxury sales began to skyrocket, he was the first to acknowledge and appreciate what we’ve accomplished. The truth is, Dan is at his happiest when he sees his people shine, so you can imagine how happy he is today, introducing this new leadership team and giving us the ability to shine brighter than ever before.”
Added Connelly, recently appointed member of the Worldwide ERC Board of Directors and new Georgia Properties COO: “The hallmark of an excellent leader is an excellent succession plan, and Dan has been planning this moment for years.”
Tucker, Georgia Properties EVP and newly named qualifying broker, agrees. “Dan’s decision is far from sudden; it’s the result of years of careful mentoring, immense support and active collaboration. He’s putting us in this leadership spotlight because he knows we’re ready to follow his extraordinary legacy of success and use it to move our employees, sales associates and the clients they serve forward.”
“My role, especially as newly installed Chairman, is to be the cheerleader,” Forsman says. “It’s a privilege to be part of their success.”
The result of Forsman and team’s unbridled confidence has been significant company growth. Of the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties’ total 2021 sales volume of $5.2 billion, $2.46 billion was attributed to the Luxury Collection—a 269% increase in marketshare since its 2015 inception.
Always moving forward
The pandemic years were personally trying for Forsman as he navigated the company through the health crisis and kept everyone safe. In the last 16 months, Forsman suffered the loss of three beloved family members. He not only persevered, but also made a concerted effort to focus on the strength and compassion of the doctors, nurses, first responders and scientists who were working on finding solutions and providing care to a nation in crisis.
That was the silver lining, Forsman says. For him, the pandemic brought about a renewed understanding that what draws people together to accomplish a single, all-important goal also inspires an impenetrable drive to overcome anything.
“Looking back, I realize that the initial quarantine periods, the loss and isolation, were like another 9/11 moment for me,” he says. “The one thing I knew was that we were not going away. We were not giving up. We had to rally the team and find new ways to triumph.”
Like brokerages nationwide, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties quickly pivoted to Zoom and other virtual platforms, innovating new ways to do business safely, both for associates and clients. Forsman held weekly virtual leadership meetings designed to maintain the company’s deep-rooted positive attitude, and to help associates transition to “the new normal.” The result was a record-breaking year in 2021.
Connelly has been with the firm for over 28 years, and in that time, had the opportunity to witness Forsman’s innovation in action. “Dan moves fast, but he walks all around an issue, really sees it from all sides,” she says. “It’s why our company has developed a reputation of always being 15 minutes ahead of the competition, and our new leaders will continue that forward-moving momentum he’s established.”
Forsman’s mission for his new leadership team and company is simple: “It’s to grow marketshare while not forgetting for a moment who we are. We’re a fully diversified real estate company, and what others promise, we deliver. I want my company to be the most admired, to get the best grades for customer service and to be known as the go-to place for homebuyers and sellers because we consistently get extraordinary results.”
Today, looking back on his 37-year real estate journey, Forsman is grateful for it all—the experiences, the accolades, the growth, the prosperity and the family he’s helped create. He is widely recognized as an innovator and an influencer within the real estate community, lauded by employees and agents alike for initiating leading-edge technologies. He is the inventor of the TeamBuilder™ program, rewarding associates and employees for introducing other productive agents into the organization, as well as DreamBuilder™, a benefits program for associates that includes healthcare components, a 401K plan and other services.
“He’s never on the back roads; he’s always up front every day, paving his own roadways for us to drive on with ease,” Connelly says. “He set us up for such tremendous success, and we’re ready to realize his vision in a whole new way.”
Forsman was recently named by Atlantan Magazine as one of the “Top 50 Most Powerful People” and inducted into RISMedia’s Newsmakers Hall of Fame. In addition, in 2006, he was named Broker of the Year for the Global Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Affiliate Network and also received the Industry Icon award from Modern Luxury Interiors. Other accolades include being named Most Admired CEO by the Atlanta Business Chronicle for several years in a row.
Forsman takes the recognition with characteristic humility.
“I’ve been blessed with my life,” he says. “I get up in the morning prepared to take on the day and deal with whatever it has in store.”
“That’s an understatement,” says Golden. “Dan inspires his team to rise every day with gratitude, and with the faith and fortitude to live life to the fullest,” she says. “Dan is a voracious reader, and he inspires us from what he reads each day before most people rise.”
Golden recalls a book study Forsman led years ago on “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins. The book lays out the universal factors that make certain high-achieving companies outperform their peers.
“From this, we learned that greatness is a matter of conscious choice and discipline,” says Golden, “and that the constant stretching of capabilities is central to our team’s leadership style.”
The mission to outperform goes far beyond the company’s sales volume, however. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties was the top fundraiser among the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network in support of the Sunshine Kids Foundation in 2021, raising more than $304,000 for the nonprofit, which provides activities, trips and events for young cancer patients.
Forsman spearheaded an incredible drive to raise additional donations for the foundation at the close of 2021, bringing the company well over the $300,000 mark. The inspired initiative came about after he read “The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea” by Bob Burg. Forsman immediately shared the principle about the power of giving with his entire team. He reiterated the profound impact and boundless gift of bringing smiles and sunshine to children battling cancer along with their families—what mattered most to Forsman.
Golden says that in this new phase of growth, Georgia Properties is planning even more charity events in the future. “Giving back to the communities we serve isn’t just what we do, it’s who we are,” she notes.
Outside of the office, Forsman enjoys an active family life with his wife, Rhonda. They are currently rooting for the success of their four grown children as they set varied career paths outside of real estate.
“It doesn’t matter to me what they choose to do, only that they follow their passion,” he says. “I tell them, ‘Love what you do. Have faith. Make a plan and work it, and find a way to maintain positivity and recharge your batteries through prayer, meditation and study.'”
At 64 years old and now Chairman of his company, Forsman says he has few regrets.
“Could I have been a little kinder—more thoughtful along the way?” he muses. “Perhaps. But for the most part, I’ve lived and led my team with a sincere commitment to take care of yourself and be the best you can be, and I think I have delivered. In the end, you can’t really be judged by others—only by yourself and the results you chalk up every day.”
If Forsman has advice for his new leadership team, it’s to set a goal and enjoy the ride. “I have enjoyed every job I’ve ever had,” says Forsman, “and I always tried to stay focused and achieve more than what was expected, to the best of my capabilities. I know our newly appointed leaders will follow that same trajectory. They’ve been preparing for this their entire careers. That same fire for accomplishment, for excellence, for enjoyment that burns within me burns within each of them with just as much fervor.”
He adds: “DeAnn, Kathy, Lori, Todd, Mary and Janet aren’t just strong leaders. They’re the strongest leaders in the industry who understand that whether it’s a personal tragedy or a global pandemic, you can’t let yourself get caught up in the drama of the day. You have to marshal your strength and get beyond it. No matter what challenges come their way, I have no doubt they will persevere and prosper.”
If there’s a secret sauce to make that happen, Forsman’s counsel is simple. “Stay humble and hungry. Keep your goal clearly in your sights and believe in your heart that you will achieve it.”
For more information, visit https://www.bhhsgeorgia.com/.
Barbara Pronin is a contributing editor to RISMedia.