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REAL Trends 500: Budge Huskey, CEO of Premier Sotheby's International Realty in Florida and North Carolina

Jun 16, 2020 7:44:57 AM

Budge Huskey, CEO of Premier Sotheby's International Realty in Florida and North Carolina.

Ranked No. 92 by transaction sides and No. 28 by transaction volume, REAL Trends 500.

Tracey Velt:

This is Tracey Velt, editor in chief of content for REAL Trends. We're speaking to the top brokers in the country to take a peek at how they built their businesses. We'll talk about lessons learned, personal passions, and their top strategies for recruiting and retaining productive agents. Today we're speaking with Budge Huskey, CEO of Premier Sotheby's International Realty in Florida and North Carolina. Welcome, Budge.

Budge Huskey:

Thank you so much, Tracey. Great to be with you.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, thanks for joining us. We'll start with an easy one. Tell me a little bit about how you got started in the business and ultimately came to run Premier Sotheby's, which I know is not your first rodeo.

Budge Huskey:

I always say, even though I've technically been in the business for 35 years, it's been a lifetime because I grew up in the business. My father was a Realtor and developer for 60 years before he passed--in the Orlando market. My first jobs, of course, were cleaning the branch office, putting up signs, all those types of things, but like a lot of people who are second- or third-generation brokers, the last thing they want to do is to get into real estate because they grew up in it.

So like them, I went to college. I decided I'd go to a graduate school and get my MBA. It was a path to do something other than real estate, and some of that was related to an internship I won in London to work with a firm there.

Budge Huskey:

So, that was the path, and then my father and I got to talking and I said, "Well, maybe this is a unique opportunity. We'd regret if we didn't work together." So, I came back to Central Florida and started with the firm in and worked with him for 14 years before deciding that I needed to strike out on my own. I left there and became a Coldwell Banker branch manager. At that time, it was a corporate-owned shop.

And three years later, I was a regional manager. Three years later, I was president of Florida. Three years later, I was a EVP of NRT over the Southeast. And then three years after that, they asked me to take over as CEO of the global franchise brand, which I did, and that took me to New Jersey for six years.

Budge Huskey:

It's a great opportunity, great experience, wouldn't trade it for the world, but became increasingly certain that my desire that I really wanted to be back in the brokerage business, and I really wanted to be back in Florida.

The opportunity came up with a person whom I've worked with in the past who was running Premier Sotheby's to come down and be the succession plan. That was three years ago and just couldn't be happier to be where I am now.

Tracey Velt:

Well, great. You work in threes, so that's interesting.

Budge Huskey:

It seems to be the case.

Tracey Velt:

Obviously you have a lot of experience in the industry, so the lessons learned have got to be plentiful. But let's go through just your two top lessons learned while building your brokerage or working in the business.

Budge Huskey:

Sure, and you're right. It is hard to pick just two. Most of them are painful, but they are great learning experiences. The first one though I'd say may sound overly simplistic, but I believe it's the most important and that is simply people, not stuff.

Over decades in this business, I realized that so much of the energy and resources invested in strategy and programs and tools are really merely an attempt to compensate for not having the right people in the first place.

Not that everything I mentioned is unnecessary. You have to have that in running any organization, but rather that if you simply have the right people in leadership at all levels of the organization, it's amazing how good things just happen organically without being forced or micromanaged.

Budge Huskey:

Increasingly, I realize that excessive accountability is really a statement of lack of confidence or trust in the people around you. That's reflected in how we run our organization. We're just not that type of company that drills everything in, because that tells me that we didn't have the right person.

The second lesson among many is that at the end of the day, culture is the greatest competitive advantage. The true value of any company, or brand for that matter, is the consistency of the consumer experience and levels of service. I found that is only possible through creating a culture of high expectations and having very clear and very high standards.

Budge Huskey:

There's so many great brokers out there in the business today, but too much of the industry, at least in my opinion, has become the Wild West where people literally run from standards. There's no oversight or responsibility to others. The customer comes last.

That doesn't mean the organizations aren't financially successful, because many of them are, and there's no right business model. But the day I can't run an organization of quality where people are proud to be associated is the day I make the decision to retire from real estate.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. Yes, definitely great lessons. Every entrepreneur has some type of aha moment as they grow through the business. What was yours? What was one that really stands out to you?

Budge Huskey:

Yeah, again, there are many, but I will say that one stands out, and that is a lesson from the Great Recession. I was running Florida at the time and had 150 offices, 5,000 agents, and this was in 2005, which the market began turning here in the middle of that year.

I gathered all our leadership team together at that time and made the statement that the world was about to change. Obviously I didn't realize how much it would change at the time, but the idea of judging our success by sheer number of branch offices and agents, that those days were over.

Budge Huskey:

From now on, it was all about agent productivity. It was about company dollar, and it was about quality. That was a fundamental shift in how I viewed the business, because before then it was just acquisition, acquisition, let's make it as large as we possibly can.

Now my attitude is very different. And since that day, I've never once given a management team a head count goal for a number of associates recruiting, because it's really about cultural fit. It's about LTM volume hired and the incremental company dollar that we get from bringing in more talent in the organization. Bigger is not always better when it comes to real estate.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, that is definitely true, and it transitions well into my next question, which is... Obviously building a business is generally done with a strategic mix of organic growth and then mergers and acquisitions.

So when talking about Premier Sotheby's, tell me a little bit about your growth plan since the time you started, and did you make a big growth leap in one particular year or has it been progressive growth?

Budge Huskey:

The organization was clearly here before I arrived. I would say the greatest spurt of growth, at least geographically, would have come in 2015 before my arrival in 2016, where we entered several new markets, several what we consider to be very strong growth markets for the future. I can't take credit for that expansion. However, I will take some pride in the fact that the greatest growth in per person productivity and our bottom line actually occurred after my arrival.

We continue to seek out acquisition candidates where it makes sense, but primarily we're going to grow through organic means, as we find very few firms that are a profile in terms of who we are, how we run our business, our focus on luxury sales, and for that matter, our culture. We hope to do maybe one or two a year, but it's going to be just every day trying to find the best individual professional.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. What are some lessons learned trying to figure out the recruiting puzzle?

Budge Huskey:

Everybody approached it a little bit different. I think it's a reflection of the business model that they run. So again, it's one of these things where I don't necessarily, there's one right or wrong way to approach it, but based on ours, it is very individualized. It is very targeted because we are a company that generally doesn't hire someone who's new to the business, only experienced professionals.

So for that reason, the traditional kind of path of a one step or two step that people talk about in recruiting presentations and all that, really isn't necessarily applicable. Our average path with a professional that we bring on, it could be five, 10, 15 meetings over years in order to reach a point where it occurs.

Budge Huskey:

And so for that reason, we kind of look at other attempts. We all get a million emails in our inbox every day from firms that literally blast out to everybody in the world, like everybody's invited to join their firm, and we're going to give you this.

We just look at that as that is the opposite of what we want to be. We want to approach this, is that this is a one-on-one relationship. It is very individualized in terms of the business plan to take them to the next level, and we want to have a degree of exclusivity because it's not simply a one-way decision in this process.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, that makes so much sense, and it really ties in with your culture. I understand that strategy would really work well for you. In business, obviously there are challenges and opportunities. So, we're going to start with where you see the greatest challenge in business and the real estate industry today.

Budge Huskey:

Again, it's going to be different by company and by design, but because we run a company that invests an incredible amount of resources into marketing and support platforms, I think the greatest challenge that we have is maintaining that degree of value proposition where we bring so much to the table in a world of declining margins.

Because bottom line is, people naturally want it all. And increasingly with each year, something has to give because you can't give top commission splits and give the strongest value proposition as it relates to support staff and programs and marketing. And so, constantly trying to figure out what the right balance of that is, is a struggle every single day.

Tracey Velt:

And with challenges, obviously there comes opportunities. Where do you see the most opportunity in the real estate brokerage business today?

Budge Huskey:

Yeah, I think it relates to the last question of yours is, because if margins are constantly under pressure, you're required to find alternative lines of revenue. That's something that we all tend to do, some that's easier than others based on how they're built.

But for us, it's expanding even more so in a new development marketing, expanding our rentals program into other regions, expanding commercial and related services such as mortgage and title. Ultimately, it certainly isn't new. It's been the platform for years, is everybody's increasingly a real estate service organization and not simply a brokerage.

Tracey Velt:

Right. Definitely. So, we're going to transition to some more personal questions now. So what or who inspires you?

Budge Huskey:

I will tell you that every day I'm inspired by our agents, because I see what they do and their commitment and their passion and the level of professionalism they have. I look at so many of them and say that they are infinitely better agents than I ever was when I was selling. But beyond that, I will always state that for, even though he hasn't been with me for many years, my father remains a real source of inspiration.

He was not only the best salesperson I ever knew, but he understood an absolute fundamental of real estate, that it is about people. And it is about making people feel special. It's a degree of empathy. It is just understanding where opportunities were and incredible persistence and perseverance. And every day I attempt, although I may not succeed, in channeling what he was.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, definitely. My last question is, I find that with a lot of entrepreneurs or business people, small or large business owners even, that a childhood or teenage experience really shaped the person they are today. What was that experience for you?

Budge Huskey:

Well, I'll have to narrow it to something that is suitable for a public audience. I'm going to say, I don't know that there's any one particular thing. I do believe that everybody's ultimately influenced by others. And for me, it was probably those who were willing to challenge me.

Because in my youth, I'm going to admit I was very much a rebel and a massive underachiever, is the best way to describe me. It was a couple of teachers along the way, who I look back and I think, they cared enough not to allow that to sit, but to challenge me, call it to my face that I was underachieving and that I was capable of doing so much more, and then went beyond to help me get where I could be.

Budge Huskey:

It really opened my eyes as to how people, we all tend to limit ourselves. Looking back now, it's really hard, especially with my career path and everything that's done. I've been blessed beyond measure and worked very hard for it, so it's hard for me to look back and believe that that was my mindset at one point.

Because now I realize after all these years, I'm more like my father than I ever probably would have been willing to admit in years back. So it is ultimately for me, I love people when people challenge me.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. That's really an interesting story because I never would have guessed that about you either, looking at the leader that I've seen through the years.

Budge Huskey:

Well, that's kind, but absolutely true.

Tracey Velt:

Budge, thank you so much for joining the REAL Trends podcast. I appreciate you taking the time to do so.

Budge Huskey:

Always a privilege and look forward to seeing you at Gathering of Eagles.

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