This Article was originally published in REAL Trends’ Summer 2013 Volume 7 \ Issue 1 of LORE
Whoever said that Generation Y would be changing the face of real estate hasn’t met these Gen Xers. They’re tech-savvy, business savvy and building businesses that go beyond tech to get to the heart of what real estate is really about—relationships. They have the in-person skills of the Baby Boomers mixed with the tech know-how of the younger generation, and they’re making their mark on today’s real estate industry.
LORE magazine interviewed five carefully selected leaders to find out how they got their start and what they’re passionate about. Ironically, three of the five started in the financial market—as stockbrokers and analysts. One worked in the corporate world, owning a company, and another dropped out of college and worked odd jobs until he landed in real estate. The one thing they all have in common is drive and passion. They all love what they do, and it shows.
Phyllis Browning Co.
Despite having a mother who is a prominent real estate leader, Jennifer Shemwell didn’t exactly plan to get into the family business. “I graduated from Yale University in 1991 with a degree in economics and political science,” says Shemwell, who went to work for a stock brokerage firm upon graduation. “I also worked for the U.S. government at the World’s Fair in 1992.” Working at those jobs made Shemwell aware that she would rather be an “ambassador for people.” At the time, her mother’s company, Phyllis Browning Co., was four years old and expanding. “I came on board as a relocation director in 1993,” she says. She earned her real estate license and “learned very quickly that I loved sales.” Driven by the need to earn the respect of her peers, Shemwell worked hard and was a top sales associate in San Antonio. “I got my brokerage license to prove that I was capable of being successful on my own, not just because Mother owned the company,” she says. Since 2008, Shemwell has run her mother’s company, which has five offices and 150 sales associates.
Like most flourishing brokers, Shemwell is passionate about helping people achieve their goals. “I love to train agents to be successful and to be the best they can be,” she says. That’s why she spends a lot of time training agents new to the company on how to be the most professional agents in the city. “We give them the tools they need to differentiate themselves,” she says. She takes pride in the culture of her business, which, she says, is “a very formal office. Men wear coats and ties; women come to work well dressed. People have a lot of respect for each other.” In fact, says Shemwell, her office culture reflects the very essence of Texas, where everything really is bigger. “We take our work and each other very seriously, but we also have a lot of fun.” So much so that the local newspaper voted Phyllis Browning Co. a top San Antonio workplace in 2012. Because of this company culture, “People naturally become good friends with other agents in the office. We’re competitive against ourselves, not each other,” says Shemwell.
We challenge each other to beat goals from last year,but not at the expense of the person sitting next to [us] It’s part of her ideal of offering good, old-fashioned customer service to both buyers and sellers and to their peers.
With a schedule like Shemwell’s, downtime is vital. “I enjoy Bikram yoga because it builds time for stillness and deep breathing into my life. It allows me to slow down and collect my thoughts,” she says. As a former high school and college tennis champ (she won a state championship in high school), Shemwell stays fit by playing the game, although she doesn’t have time to join a club team. After all, she has three young children at home—Paris, Browning and Reed.
“I make my famous homemade pancakes almost every Saturday morning. We really love to cook together.” The family, including husband Bob, who is a partner in an architecture firm, keeps busy participating in a host of activities, including cross country running, baseball, tennis, lacrosse and ballet dancing. And through it all, Shemwell is crystal clear about how she wants to be perceived in both her business life and her personal life— as the consummate professional who truly cares about the people with whom she works and plays. “My mother inspires me because she treats people so well. She is the ultimate model for taking care of people and for providing impeccable customer service. Not only that, but she can balance so many things in a day,” says Shemwell, who notes that her mother is still the No. 1 agent in the market. There’s no doubt that Browning’s careful attention to people has rubbed off on Shemwell. “I love what I do and love helping people. When you share your passion, people respond.”
Re/Max Ability Plus Carmel
Jimmy Dulin had an epiphany as a college freshman. “I was attending Broward Community College in Miami, Fla., when I raised my hand in my American history class. I told the professor, ‘I’m an Indiana guy, and I’m going back home,’” laughs Dulin. “That was my last day of school.” And that was the beginning of Dulin’s realization that he needed to find a career that would provide him flexible hours and unlimited potential. He found that career in real estate. “When I got back to Indiana, I delivered pizzas, bartended, waited on tables and cleaned a video store. I sold real estate during the day, saved my money and worked hard,” he says. That was in 1991, when Dulin was 21 years old. In March 1992, a RE/MAX broker recognized his work ethic. “I was recruited by the No. 1 regional broker-owner, but I couldn’t afford to join RE/MAX,” says Dulin. However, the broker believed in him and offered to cover his desk fee until he could afford it.
Within three years, Dulin had decided he wanted to move up. “By 1995, I joined [the broker] as a small minority partner in the firm,” he says. But it all came crashing down on Dulin when the managing partner in the firm was caught embezzling the office money. “Although I was only a small, minority partner, I lost it all and had to find a new (business) home,” says Dulin. He found that in RE/MAX Realty Specialists, also in Carmel. By 1999, he became a partner, although reluctantly. “I would agree only if we had a third partner,” he says. It was a big year for Dulin. Not only did he become a partner in the firm, but also his son was born and his wife quit working. “We were also building a custom home,” laughs Dulin. Within two months of becoming a partner, he put his first merger together.
“The other RE/MAX office was owned by two well-respected managers, and we took their firm name: RE/MAX Ability Plus,” says Dulin. With five principals, the company was profitable, yet stagnant. So, in 2001, Dulin and two others bought out the remaining partners. They launched a second office and breathed new life into the company. Several years later, Dulin offered to buy out the remaining two partners, but it wasn’t until 2007 that they finally agreed. “I was 37 years old, and five agents immediately quit when they heard I was going to be the owner,” says Dulin. “We were down to 32 agents. Flash forward to today, and we have 120 agents and have done nine mergers over the last four years. We’ve reported double-digit growth each year.” While Dulin loved selling homes, he loves owning a company even more. “I traded in the lifestyle of making tremendous money selling homes to pursue my passion,” he says.
As sole owner, Dulin knew he had to make an impact.
“The one underlying issue is that in my marketplace, the companies all looked the same. I wanted to create a company that felt and looked different. I wanted to stand out physically and philosophically.”
It’s safe to say that Dulin was passionate about shaking up the norm. He redesigned his offices so that all the workspaces were in the center of the room. “We moved all the activity and people to the center, and doing that created some movement and excitement. We created a buzz,” he says. That was the physical transformation. The philosophical one came alive when Dulin “reversed the roles. We identified the agent as the customer. Putting the agent as our No. 1 prospect allows us to set a tone not duplicated by competitors.”
Today, Dulin finds his leadership role exhilarating. “The minute you accept someone else’s license underneath you, you must accept and embrace that responsibility,” he says. “I wake up every morning and ask, ‘What can we do to create a system or opportunity that improves the chance of our agents’ success?’ We have a clear mission statement, and it includes the agents in the process. We’re not afraid to say no if something doesn’t align with where we’re going. It makes relationships easier.” And Dulin truly listens to what his agents want. “I tackle the challenges that get in the way of our real estate professionals’ selling homes. I’ll talk to agents about what’s going on, and I’ll build a system that removes the this-and-the-that. My goal is to have agents focus on listing, selling and prospecting. Beyond those three activities, they should enjoy their families.”
Speaking of family, Dulin carves out plenty of time to spend with his family and his hobbies. He’s been married 15 years to Tamara, a pharmacist. He’s also a foodie. “I’m studying to be a chef and getting an associate’s degree in culinary arts.” In fact, Dulin is currently building a new office that will have a full commercial kitchen so that he can cook for his sales associates. His son, Jd (13), is a junior-ranked golfer who competes nationally. His daughter, Alli (11), is a cheerleader, dancer, model and performer. “She recently competed in cheer nationals at Disney World,” he says. “I’m a softy. My son epitomizes commitment, dedication, focus and drive. My daughter wakes up every morning with the warmest and kindest disposition and heart. She will make the world a better place. And I’ve never met anyone as pure and good as my wife.” If all that doesn’t sound like enough, Dulin loves to ride Motocross. “I’m not interested in risking my life, but I love to ride motorcycles,” he says.
That’s not to say that Dulin doesn’t take risks with his business. He does so because he admires the risks that Dave Liniger, co-founder of RE/MAX International, took to make his company a success. “I can’t compare to the successes that he’s had in his career, but I do feel an incredible connection. The things I’m attempting to do are new to my side of the business, much like the risks he took to create a new organization,” says Dulin. “I’m drawn to Dave’s success, his fight and his spirit.” That fight is what got Dulin where he is today. “I’m very blessed.”
Park Co. Realtors
Dawn Lahlum, broker-owner of Park Co. Realtors, didn’t sell real estate before becoming a broker owner. In fact, she didn’t even become a manager before becoming a broker. “I started in real estate in the most unconventional of ways,” says Lahlum. Right out of college, she worked with Minnkota Power Cooperative as a records management specialist. Her next job was with a local hospital. In each of Lahlum’s positions, her success depended on her strong people and organizational skills, which she had learned early on. “I grew up on a small dairy and grain farm in central North Dakota, where I learned the meaning of hard work and earning a living off of a market-driven business,” she says. Not only that, but she was in a serious car accident the night she graduated from high school. “I should not have survived,” she says.
“It was a major turning point in my life, teaching me that life is too short not to make use of the talents that God gave me.” With corporate experience in systems management, she was brought into Park Co. Realtors in 1994 to incorporate technology into the company. In fact, it wasn’t until 1999 that Lahlum earned her real estate license and 2000 when she earned her broker’s license.
“After a year, I fell in love with real estate and the people at Park Co.,” she says. She saw potential for professional and personal growth in “an exciting industry with unlimited potential. Individuals determined their own ceiling,” says Lahlum. Along the way she took mental notes on what she would and wouldn’t do if she pursued a real estate career. In 2000, she got her chance to put those mental notes into play. “When I started, our CEO was thinking about retirement, and I worked with her closely,” says Lahlum. “Eventually, in 1998, I became a vice president. So, when [the CEO] retired two years later, I assumed the majority of her duties.” In 2012, Lahlum, along with two partners, bought the company. “At a young age, I knew I would own a business someday. I just didn’t know what type of business that would be and certainly never guessed it would be a real estate company,” she laughs. As with most profitable managers, it’s Lahlum’s ability to serve her sales associates and staff and to see trends missed by others that are key to her success. “I’ve been told that I have the ability to see what others can’t,” she says. While that is important, it’s her passion for others that truly drives her success.
“I love to see agents do well. For me, it’s about being able to provide the tools, training and coaching necessary for success and to witness our associates reaching new levels far above their goals and expectations. That’s what brings me to work every day!” One example of that is a new, all-encompassing internal transaction management system, called the ParkPRO System. “It’s a game changer for us. It’s changed the way our agents provide services to clients and how we provide services to our agents,” she says. She credits the company’s focus on serving the agent as a way to positively impact the lives of sales associates, staff, their families, customers and ultimately, she says, the community.
“Technology integration without the loss of personal touch is a driving force behind our decisions.”
In fact, Lahlum’s office was one of the first in her market to adopt the use of electronic signatures. She was also asked by the North Dakota Real Estate Commission to help institute measures to make electronic signatures in real estate transactions legal in the state. “That most certainly was a game changer,” she says.
As an innovative leader, Lahlum finds it’s vital to maintain strong ties in the community. “I’m not sure that makes me different from others, but it does define who I am,” she says. And, much of that time giving back is with causes that benefit children. Herself a mother of two, Trista (10) and Max (7), Lahlum, along with husband, Brian (owner of a telecommunications company), believe in giving children the power to dream big. “My parents are hardworking people,” says Lahlum. “They instilled in me, at a young age, (the belief) that life is all about the relationships you have, not the things you have. I was fortunate to find a husband with those same beliefs.” The couple’s commitment to family is so strong that they chose to live a rural lifestyle even though it meant a 90-minute round-trip commute each day. “We live in rural Minnesota on a 15-acre setting where our kids can be close to their grandparents, and we can all enjoy country life,” she says. There, they spend time snowmobiling, ice fishing (they have an ice-fishing house set up on the lake by their home), boating and water skiing. “The kids each have their own snowmobiles,” she says. “My children inspire me. Seeing the potential in their eyes inspires me to be a better person because I know they are looking up to me,” she says.
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