Jim Fite: Putting Others First
This broker learned early on that if you give without wanting anything in return, you’ll be rewarded in ways you never dreamed possible.
A career in real estate wasn’t Jim Fite’s first choice, despite the fact that his father, Judge, founded CENTURY 21 Judge Fite Company in 1937. “At 16 years old, I was at the dinner table. My mom was an agent. My dad owned the company. As usual, we were talking about real estate,” says Fite, now CEO of the brokerage. Fed up, Fite slammed down his fist and said, “I will never be a Realtor®!” and stormed out of the room.
The problem was that Fite didn’t feel like he was college material either. “My dad was big on education, so I reluctantly went to junior college. I majored in cards the first semester and beer and girls the second,” he laughs. “I think I had some undiagnosed language and learning disabilities. This was before schools tested for that type of thing.”
“My parents invested in my education. If they hadn’t done that, I don’t know where I would be today,” he says. When Fite announced to his dad that he was dropping out of college, his dad gave him a choice: finish college or read, study and think for one hour a day, five days a week and go to school/classes/courses at least one day a month or 12 days a year for the rest of his life. “For the past 45 years, I’ve gone to school 12 to 20-odd days a year to study, and I read for an hour or more a day. He taught me that you should never quit learning.”
After dropping out of college, Fite earned his real estate license in March 1972. “I was 18 years old, and it’s all I’ve ever done since.” By the time he was 22 years old, Fite had the desire to lead and build a great company. “I attended a program at Texas A&M that taught me how to manage a real estate company, along with coursework on investments, government involvement and human relations. “I came back all cocky and told my dad I was ready to take over the company,” he laughs. “About a month later, my dad called me on it. My sister, Jan, and I run the business, and we have for 41 years. He [my dad] was there when we needed him.”
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A Servant’s Heart
In his personal life, Fite and his wife, Petey, have always been involved in multiple charities. “In this world, there are givers and takers. I believe that we do our best to be givers, not takers. We get back in the joy of giving and helping others.”
They also have a Teddy Bear Ministry, which they started 32 years ago. “I was on an advisory board at the Methodist Health System in Dallas, and Petey and I wanted to teach a lesson to our two children, so we decided to do something for the children who were confined to the hospital during the holidays.” In the beginning, the Fite family would bring teddy bears to the children on Christmas Day. From there, the ministry blossomed. “We started going to two hospitals, then someone heard about it and wanted to donate bears. All of sudden, we’ve got bears all over our home,” he laughs.
One year, after giving away bears to all the children, Fite, who was wearing a Santa suit, had one bear left over. This is when he had his aha! moment. “We asked the nurses if there was a patient who needed uplifting,” he says. They suggested visiting a woman who was in a coma. “I walked in as Santa, put a teddy bear in her arms and whispered ‘Merry Christmas and God bless.’ She opened her eyes, replied, ‘And, God Bless you,’ and was awake when we left. The nurses went nuts. We saw a miracle that day. At that moment, we realized that this idea should be expanded beyond children,” he says. Thirty-two years after handing out his first teddy bear, Fite now has a crew helping him and the family. “We get bears donated from around the United States. We have 25 to 30 elves now, delivering bears to hospitals, youth centers and homeless shelters.”
He fondly remembers heading over to a luncheon at a youth center where they feed 1,500 people starting at 1 p.m. every Christmas. “It was bitter cold, and there was a line around the block — people of all ages. I got out dressed as Santa Claus, my wife as Mrs. Claus, and we felt like rock stars. Kids just swarm Santa. We started giving away bears and realized we didn’t have enough,” he says. Fite wondered what he would do, but then one of the elf helpers opened the trunk of Fite’s car and discovered it was full of bears they had forgotten earlier in the day. The last bear was given to the last child—another miracle. “Now, every Christmas, we go to the hospital in the morning and the lunch for the disadvantaged in the afternoon.”
He says that every year at the hospital, miracles happen. “Whether it’s giving someone the opportunity to have joy in their last days or handing a child a teddy bear, it has a huge impact,” he says.
Giving Back as a Company
With Fite’s desire to give back, it’s not surprising that when his company joined the CENTURY 21 system, they wanted to choose a charity for the company to embrace. “We were contributing to a bunch of charities, but not making as big an impact as my sister [Jan Fite Miller] and I wanted. By choosing one charity, we could have a big positive impact,” he says. Easter Seals is the charity of choice for CENTURY 21 corporate, so says Fite, “It seemed like a natural fit.” That first year, his company donated $5,000. This year, they will have donated $250,000, and over the last 19 years, he says, “we’ve raised over $2.5 million.”
Then, after hearing about other brokerages who formed charitable foundations, Fite and Jan started “digging into how to form our own foundation,” he says. In 2017, the Judge Fite Charitable Foundation was formed. “We wanted to have it set up before our 80th-anniversary celebration in March 2017. Our goal was to raise $100,000,” he says.
The company is donating $5 from each closing to the foundation. “We’ve raised $37,500 just from that. Before we announced it, we wanted to tell the agents that 100 percent of our leadership team either pledged money or gave money,” says Fite. The leadership team did contribute, and they raised $96,360 from just 26 people.
Fite says the money will go to agents and customers going through hardships. “Through the years, we’ve been asked by agents to give to this charity or that charity. We’ve had a lot of tornadoes, and we’ve had clients’ homes destroyed. We always gave personally,” he says.
One of the first requests was for a daughter of a Judge Fite agent who has diabetes. “The request was for money to train a service dog. Here’s a person in need in our company, and now we have a way to support people in our company.”
For Fite, it’s all in a day’s work. “I’m blessed if I can give back.” His two children, Eric and DeAnne Fite, both work for his company. Eric is director of operations and president of Judge Fite Insurance, and DeAnne is an agent in one of the offices. “My six grandchildren, ranging from 3 years old to 16 years old keep us busy. I used to play golf back when I had my own time,” he laughs. “Petey and I love to travel the world. We take at least one three-week vacation a year and several small trips scattered to give us stress relief.”
In the end, he says, it’s all about helping others. “I personally feel good when I am able to give and help others. I’m in a position to help others. More than that, I feel it’s my responsibility to do so.”
In His Words: Jim Fite
Believes in: Giving back and hard work
Motivated by: Being a positive example to others.
I have been blessed beyond comprehension. Why else are we on this Earth but to be a role model to others? I work rather than retire because my mission statement motivates me to be a positive example to others by spiritually living life, having strong family values, giving to others, career success and financial stability.
Routine: Every morning, before I get out of bed, I pray and ask for power to accomplish my mission that day. I do my best, and many days I fall short. I get up the next day and start again.
Three things (other than family, friends and phone) I can’t live without: God, my company and my new lake house. Oh, and maybe emails, but I’m not sure that I can’t live without them.
Goals: To be a devoted husband, father and grandfather; to annually travel with my wife to exotic locations; and to reach our company goals and tie them to my personal goals. Money comes and money goes, but in the end, all we have to leave behind are the people we touch and our reputations. That thought was cemented during the recent recession.
Wants people to know: In our extended family, we’ve had some experience with chemical dependence. I’m an advocate for making alcohol and drug addiction an open-door conversation. I realize it’s not socially acceptable to talk about when a child is on drugs or someone has an alcohol problem. But, these are real problems that cross all socio-economic, race and religious borders. If I hear of a family member or staff member who is having issues with this in their family, I will reach out. I will talk to them not as a counselor, but as someone who has walked the walk and seen the other side of hope.. n