How well do you listen? What are the motivations and expectations of your clients and audiences?
Early in my life I learned to listen. It started at the kitchen table with my father, a rising star executive with Xerox. I remember the stories he would tell us after attending Xerox training programs in Lynchburg, Virginia, one of which was focused on listening.
A powerful listening and learning experience of mine was in January 2009 when I discovered Pacific Union was for sale. GMAC had acquired Pacific Union in 2000, and Brookfield had acquired GMAC Real Estate Services in the fall of 2008.
Brookfield had bought GMAC Home Services wholesale and would spin six brokerage companies out retail. Pacific Union was to be one of the assets on the “auction block.” In the dark winter of 2009, I was intrigued.
I called my Morgan Lane partners, Jill and Mike Silvas, to discuss. Mike’s brother is Mark Dilbeck, president of Dilbeck Real Estate, with 15 offices in Southern California, and a GMAC franchise. Mark had great advice and the right contacts at Brookfield.
I was credible in my first conversation with Brookfield. They dispatched two MBAs to meet with Mike and me at a restaurant near SFO. I wondered, were we their only meeting? Or who else did they meet with?
Days later I was informed that two senior executives would like to visit with us in San Francisco on March 17, 2009.
We were a company of 24 people. Our largest conference room was 8’ x 8’ in Kentfield, California. We were trying to buy Pacific Union, with 400 people and 17 offices.
I called Kent Ledbetter, vice chairman of JMP Securities, who I became friendly with during my tour at LoopNet.com. “Kent, I need a favor. Can I borrow your conference room on March 17?”
By the way, it’s on the 11th floor of the Transamerica building and seats 12 easily.
Kent calls back to confirm and says, “What is the meeting for?” In confidence, I shared that I was trying to buy Pacific Union. Kent responds, “You mind if I join the meeting? I’ll let them know our investment banking firm has your back in financing the trade.” Answer: “Yes, please join.”
March 17: enter Dave Lacey plus another Brookfield executive. Dave’s hobby at the time was as a racecar driver. The hobby comes across in his personality immediately—fast, intense, focused and competitive.
It was very clear to Dave from our research, strategy and action plan that we would resurrect Pacific Union to a San Francisco Bay Area powerhouse.
About 90 minutes into the conversation, I said to Dave, “I want to buy Pacific Union and return it to its boutique local roots. I want to bring Pacific Union ‘home.’ Would you lend me the money to buy Pacific Union?”
What I heard in Dave’s response was “no.” All parties exchanged niceties, and we parted ways.
After Dave left, Kent and I collected back in the conference room.
Kent: “Did you hear what Dave said?” I replied that I heard him say “no.”
Kent: “You were not listening after ‘no.’ Dave said we will not lend you the money, but we want an offer from you to buy Pacific Union.” An offer, nearly any offer.
Another defining listening moment that literally changed my life.
For more information, visit https://www.WAVGroup.com.
Mark A. McLaughlin, president of McLaughlin Ventures III, acquired Pacific Union in 2009. In 2018, Compass acquired PUI at $14 billion in sales volume, where McLaughlin served as chief real estate strategist. Today, McLaughlin serves as a consultant focused on strategic planning, CEO advisory and mergers and acquisitions.