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REAL Trending Special Edition: Tami Bonnell


Tracey Velt:

This is your host Tracey Velt, managing editor for REAL Trends. Today, we’re speaking to Tami Bonnell, she’s CEO of EXIT Realty Corp. International. Now Tammy is an internationally renowned speaker and a 30 plus year veteran in the real estate industry. She’s passionate about investing in people. And Tammy was honored by STEMconnector as one of its 100 corporate women leaders in STEM, which is science, technology, engineering, and math. She’s been instrumental in building three major brands and joined EXIT Realty Corp. International in 1999 and was appointed CEO in 2012. So welcome, Tammy.

Tami Bonnell:

Thank you. Glad to be here.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, so, obviously, I think you’ve officially shattered the glass ceiling in a real estate, so you’re one of only a few female franchise CEOs. So tell me a little bit about how you encourage other females to lead and what this means to you?

Tami Bonnell:

Well, I’m really grateful that I actually work with an organization that everybody that got their job was already doing their job. So we’ve really picked the best person for the job. Out of our top 19 leaders in our corporation, 13 of them are female. So our CEO and chief operating officer are female. And I think that’s very unique in this business, but it was truly just picking the best person for the job. And I think that it bodes really well with equal representation in the industry, right? 67% of realtors are female. So it makes sense that they would see a lot of female leadership, but I think it’s important for all of us to help the next generation get there. So in our company, we have a mentorship opportunity so that the 60 somethings are helping the 50 somethings and the 40 somethings and the 30 somethings and the 20 somethings and all the way back down the list so that we really help that next generation from a business perspective.

Tami Bonnell:

But I also belong to National Diversity Leadership Inclusion Council, which is part of the National Association of Women in the Real Estate Business. And we actually have 10 leadership principles that we’re actually airing right now on a Facebook Live. So we’re doing a new principal every single month. And we invite everyone from students to people in every diverse group you can possibly think of. There are people in real estate and people in mortgages on it, but there are also people that are serving in the military and that are leaders in other organizations. And I think that’s definitely having an impact, but I’ve focused on this for a really long time. So, probably since the pandemic started I’ve spoken to about 1,000 girl scouts. And it’s funny, out of that whole entire group, doing all these Zoom meetings, when I asked how many of you have met a female CEO, literally not one single child has raised their hand.

Tami Bonnell:

So I think giving people exposure to experiences at a younger age will help that next generation go further. I think it is all about exposure and knowing what you have for opportunities that are out there. When I travel, which obviously has been limited this year, but normally I’m on 100 planes a year and speak a couple of 100 times, when I travel I make sure that I add in and even request from our regional owners or whoever I’m going out to speak for, give me the name of a place there that, if there’s enough time, I can add value. So it might be a high school or a university or that kind of thing, to be able to have an opportunity to speak. And I think that it’s just really exposure that makes all the difference in the world.

Tracey Velt:

Oh, I love that. And is it on the EXIT Realty’s Facebook page, the main Facebook page, or is it on yours? Because I know you do videos as well.

Tami Bonnell:

Yeah, I do a lot of videos. There’ll be some things that are on my Facebook page and EXIT’s, but also NAWRB because the leadership council comes right out of there.

Tracey Velt:

Perfect.

Tami Bonnell:

Diversity and leadership.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. And I do agree. It’s so important to really let little girls know what’s possible out there. And I think that’s wonderful that you’re speaking to them at that age especially so kudos.

Tami Bonnell:

Well, thank you. I think it is just that whole opportunity. I just turned 60 this past Sunday. And so I grew up in an era where my mum was home full-time and that’s a very different picture, but I always knew that I wanted to do something more and very different than that.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Well, you certainly did. And happy birthday.

Tami Bonnell:

Thank you.

Tracey Velt:

So let’s reflect a little bit on your last nine years as CEO. What do you find as one or two of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned over those last nine years?

Tami Bonnell:

Well, I think that probably the biggest one I learned was that people become who we tell them they can be. And so when you see something really good in someone you need to address it right away. And what I found, not over managing anybody, really giving them the opportunity to have that freedom to grow, because most of the time they just need a 1% to 5% adjustment, right. Pointing their head just that much in a slightly different direction and then they start to see something in themselves they didn’t see before. The rest is really strictly from them.

Tami Bonnell:

And I found that that’s a whole lot better than trying to be in any type of control. It’s really helping them to really self realize. And probably the second thing is that we need to lead and follow the core of our organization. Right? You have to really know who you are as an organization, what it is you want to represent. And you really have to understand that. So, that it’s consistent all the time. Like our organization, we were built on human potential. So during the recession, we didn’t lay anybody off. We said, “We have to outsell and out-think our way out of this.” And so we did, and by doing that and not letting anybody go, there’s a trust there. And people grow when they’re in an environment that they trust. And so staying consistent with that, even during the pandemic, we did the same thing.

Tami Bonnell:

We didn’t lay anybody off. We said, “We’re not going to look at our balance sheet. We’re going to look at our people.”

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. It’s so important. Especially in real estate, it is all about the people and it’s about the relationships. So I commend you for that and recognizing that so.

Tami Bonnell:

Well, thank you.

Tracey Velt:

So let’s talk about your aha moment as it pertains to aspiring to become a leader early in your career. What was that aha moment that really drove you to where you are today?

Tami Bonnell:

Well, I had a leader, his name’s John Burchette, and he was probably one of the best bosses that I’ve ever had. And I was in a management position in my late twenties and I was managing almost 500 people. And I had to lay 65 of them off a couple of weeks before Christmas.

Tami Bonnell:

And there were two things that happened. One, my brother had been in a very serious accident, my youngest brother, and he had real serious complications. He ended up with 21 reconstructive surgeries. And then unfortunately he ended up passing away and John did two things. One, he asked me when I had to lay those people off, “Tami, if those people were doing their job, would you have to lay them off? And if you don’t what happens to the other 400 people?” And that really struck a nerve that this is a reflection. My dad always said that you’re a reflection of who you surround yourself with. And so that made it a whole lot easier to know that I really wanted to protect those 400 people that were really doing more than their job. And it was amazing because we never needed to hire more people in order to get the job done.

Tami Bonnell:

Those other 65 people were doing so much less and you know what I get? Thank you notes from some of those people, because they’re doing a different type of job now and they found their lane. This really wasn’t it for them. So that was probably the first aha moment. But when my brother was in all those surgeries, my mum passed away very young, and John said to me really early on, “You know what, you’ve made me more money than I’ll ever make you because I’m a really good business person, but I also am a human being. And you do whatever you think is necessary. If you have to take time off, if you have to be present there, I always trusted you to do your job.” And I remember just thinking, I want to be exactly like that someday.

Tracey Velt:

So those are great lessons and I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your brother and your mother early, so it’s… My mom has still with me, but she worked some when I was in high school, she didn’t work until I was in high school. And just the act of her going back to work really spurred me to want to do more with my life. So it’s so important to have those types of people in your life and those kinds of moments, as hard as they are, sometimes they really spur us to be better. So, yeah.

Tami Bonnell:

I completely agree.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. So I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about EXIT and the pandemic. So I noticed you said, first of all, you didn’t lay anybody off, but then you also had a corporate stimulus package for broker owners. And so I wanted to find out a little bit more about that. And since it’s been a few months since some of that was passed out, what has been the impact of that?

Tami Bonnell:

Well, we literally, within 48 hours of when we were sheltered in place, put together a stimulus package worth an excess of $50 million.

Tami Bonnell:

And I can tell you it’s because of not laying anybody off during the recession. They had such a trust that this time when we went back to everyone, all the way to the person that answers the phone, everyone raised their hand and said, “What can we do to help? What can we do to be part of the solution?” And so we put together training programs and literally everything you can possibly think of. So mental health, we put together teaching meditation, yoga, understanding the mind-body connection, sending out messages on a regular basis that were positive and uplifting so that people would start their day right, and feel like they had some control. All of our trainers pitched in. And so there was a webinar or a techinar literally daily for the first 120 days. And it was everything from understanding personality profiles, understanding the power of their subconscious mind, to how to do business better, and really how to do business utilizing what we have for technology, to not have to touch as many people but to really be able to have that speed and transparency and still be able to serve the consumer.

Tami Bonnell:

So it was actually for our brokers and for our agents. And it really helped them to stay in control and stay in the right mindset. But it also helped them to really ramp up as they were able to come out and do business.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. So the impact of that, what have you seen? How did that help, other than obviously building trust in the company, which a lot of them had already? What have you seen has been the outcome of that so far during a recovery, although…

Tami Bonnell:

They are rising to the occasion and the brokers are rising to the occasion in their own offices and adding more and more value. Like it’s just been by examples, so they’re doing the same thing with their own people on a local level, they’re definitely participating in giving back to their communities.

Tami Bonnell:

We’ve had more fundraisers, we’ve had a 100 people renew their franchises this year. So that loyalty factor, I think, is even stronger because they realize that even during a time like this, somebody has your back, but they’re paying it forward and they’re doing it themselves and so are the agents. We have a program with our company, The Spirit of EXIT. So money from every transaction goes into a charity and we’ve actually done more this year than any other year. And obviously it’s very needed, but that brings such a closeness to even the people in each individual office, right. They become much tighter as a group and that helps people to do a better job.

Tracey Velt:

Now let’s take a quick break to hear some exciting news from REAL Trends and our sponsors.

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Now back to our podcasts.

Tracey Velt:

And I want to go back to your videos because I watch your videos on Facebook and I have for awhile now, because you were doing them even before the world went completely virtual. So tell me a little bit about the importance of that and the impact that it’s had on the people around you and on yourself.

Tami Bonnell:

Well, I think video almost feels like you’re right there, right?

Tracey Velt:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tami Bonnell:

Certainly during the pandemic, it’s a good way to be able to reach out to people and touch people, but I’ve been doing it for a long time, just wanting to… Our founder and chairman asked me one time, “All right, you’re on this many planes, you’re do this many things. How do we make you into a hologram?” And I actually thought, how can we do this? That we can touch as many lives as humanly possible and touch as many people as humanly possible, but what keeps you doing it is that you’ll get a message from somebody, I would get a private message from somebody that I really needed that today, or that was the right words at the right time, or I’m going to do that.

Tami Bonnell:

And I think that the response was bigger than I expected. It was more than I expected. And I think the most important thing about it, first, I think everybody should do at least some amount of video. Maybe not as much as I do, but some amount of video. And you have to realize that people just want to see a human being. And I think that was really the reason I stuck with it, is that you have to be really real. I have a tattoo on my back from a bet I lost and it says, “Be true to yourself and you’ll be able to lead others.” And I think that you have to really be honest, a couple people actually sent me messages in the beginning of, “I think you should back the camera up a little bit. You looked like you were a little tired today,” or something like that.

Tami Bonnell:

And I just said, “You know what? I’m not going to be different than I am. I’m going to share with them the real me. So when it’s something that touches me, I’m going to be touched. And when I’m tired, you’re going to… Hopefully, it’s not very often, but if you see it, you’re going to see that I’m actually a human being, right. I’m not a hologram. I actually am being genuine.” And I think really people want to be connected and you can’t be connected if you’re not really human.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Yeah. In this age of Instagram influencers and Facetune and everything else, I think it’s refreshing to actually see a real person.

Tami Bonnell:

Well, I was on a call this year. We’re doing this virtual event that was going on in Minneapolis and it was a real estate journal and everyone was younger than I was. And they all had filters on their cameras. And I didn’t know that until we had a conversation in advance and I was like, “I don’t even know how you figure that out.” So I guess you just get me. But I really do think people really want to have… We’ve gotten too carried away in it. Right. Of just all these Glamour shots and making everybody look… What’s that running joke and real estate that people get a business card from somebody and then when they go meet them, they don’t recognize them.

Tracey Velt:

Right. Yeah.

Tami Bonnell:

That was taken in 1985. That’s awesome.

Tracey Velt:

Or it was when Glamour shots were big.

Tami Bonnell:

Oh. And that’s awful. That’s just awful.

Tami Bonnell:

So I think it’s important to be real. And if you read Simon Sinek or any of the others that are leaders like that, they say the same thing, that it’s really people really want something real. And I think if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s humanized all of us more.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. For sure. It’s made you recognize what you should be grateful for and the importance of the people around you, for sure.

Tami Bonnell:

Okay.

Tracey Velt:

So I think everyone is looking to 2021 as a fresh start. There’s all those funny memes of getting rid of 2020, but obviously as crazy as 2020 was there were a lot of good things about it as well. Just the ability to reconnect and to take stock of what’s important in your life. But where do you see the opportunities in the coming year for real estate professionals and for leaders?

Tami Bonnell:

Well, I think for real estate professionals and for people bringing into this business, I think that we’re going to see a very strong merge and I might go against traffic with this, but I really believe that we’re going to see a very strong merge between humanizing and technology. An agent that doesn’t leverage technology is not going to succeed in this marketplace, but an agent that’s not humanizing and really personalizing it to an individual is not going to be able to earn the income that they think that they deserve. We started doing virtual open houses and virtual closings, and it showed that we could really push the envelope as far as technology goes, but there is nothing that beats somebody having a phenomenal skillset. And so I see that people are going to have to have that skillset and understand the 30,000 foot view so they can see where opportunities are coming from and understand the 2000 foot view and the street level view.

Tami Bonnell:

But more than anything, they need to understand what the consumer that’s in front of them. Put themselves in their shoes. What do they really want and need so that they can really tailor it? Not just the experience economy, giving people a true return on their investment. So I think that they’re going to have to do a little bit more homework in order to justify income. And I think that that’s going to be… I always tell everybody, paying attention, including REAL Trends, actually, that pay attention to that 30,000 foot view, whether you’re representing luxury and you’re paying attention to the wall street journal and Forbes and so on. Or if you’re paying attention to representing seniors, that you have a senior designation and you’re really paying attention to where things are, seeing where those trends are. We’re going to see about anywhere from 20% to 45%, depending on which stat you look at, people that are going to be able to telecommute.

Tami Bonnell:

And it’s probably going to be a hybrid, right? They’re going to work from home four days a week and go in one or stay home three days a week and go in two. So that will give them a better quality of life. They can move out a little bit further. It’s changing faster than migration charts have an opportunity to stay caught up with. So it’s going to be really important for them to pay attention to movers and to pay attention to where they start to see trends. And that’s going to need to be doing their homework, not just going and looking at a migration chart because it’s probably not going to be as accurate. And once they start to see those trends, doing something about it, we have a shortage of inventory. We’re starting to see more new starts as far as new construction goes, but we’re going to see a lot of zoning law changes as well.

Tami Bonnell:

So I think paying attention to planning board and municipalities is going to be important for that. Housing affordability is going to be really important. And I think that it’s going to be a time that we’re going to see more people specialize. Whether they specialize in investor business, or they specialize in first-time home buyers or people that are moving up or senior business, there are going to be specialties, new construction, really understanding what it is that you’re representing and really understanding the person in front of you, I think it’s going to never have been more important. And then leveraging it with technology so that they have the speed and transparency. Consumers, 90% of the time, still want a trusted advisor. And to me, that trusted advisor really needs to give you good advice based on your wants and needs. If you are heading towards retirement and you want to really maximize so that you have that much more of a nest egg, or if you want to start investing, but really asking enough effective questions to make sure that you’re adding value to every single person you’re in front of.

Tami Bonnell:

It doesn’t matter, the Real Estate National Association of Realtors has been around for more than a hundred years. It’s never changed, value equals income, but I think that it’s so transparent now that you’re going to really have to add value in order to earn that income.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Great advice. I mean, I definitely agree with you about the merging of technology and relationships and realizing that technology is the path toward the relationship, but not the end all be all of it.

Tami Bonnell:

Some of the big disruptors aren’t going to make it. A lot of them aren’t profitable yet and sooner or later investors, shareholders wanting to get their money back. And they’re realizing you can’t put a square peg into a round hole, right?

Tracey Velt:

Yep.

Tami Bonnell:

That this is usually the biggest investment people are going to make. And the same as would you trust your finances to Acorn, right?

Tami Bonnell:

You might want to play with 50 or a 100 bucks on it, but you’re not going to invest your entire portfolio so that you have nothing left at the end of the day, right?

Tracey Velt:

Right.

Tami Bonnell:

You want somebody that knows what they’re doing and knows what they’re talking about so that they can give you great advice. I’ve witnessed some of our people by giving them that advice and telling them to do as much homework on the person as they do on the product that they’re asking enough effective questions that they’re doing multiple transactions with the same person, because of what it is that their intention is. And so they’re helping to increase that person’s net worth. That’s a big change from just getting them into a home. And I think reality is going to hit for a lot of these people that were first time home buyers that jumped in.

Tami Bonnell:

And it was just so urgent for them to just get something with the shortage of inventory, that reality is going to kick in also, that don’t overbuy for an area.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, definitely. Well, my last question, it’s really just in closing, do you have any last thoughts or advice for agents and teams as they head into the new year? You gave me a lot of it. So…

Tami Bonnell:

Well, I think the first thing is knowing what you want, right. And not just what your financial goals are. I always recommend to people that you have a life plan, not just a business plan, right?

Tracey Velt:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tami Bonnell:

And so really put together the targets of what it is that you want to earn. How do you want to represent yourself? What is your mission statement? What it is that you are going to represent, because always going back to that is going to make a really big difference, but put in the pieces of the puzzle that you want for your life too.

Tami Bonnell:

And I will tell you that I give this advice often, but I think that everyone should have an action plan more than anything else. We’ve seen how volatile this past year has been. We’ve seen so many changes. So working on your business, not in it, book off four hours, literally once a month, halfway through the month, because more stuff hits the fan at the beginning and the end of the month. Halfway through the month, book off four hours to work on your business, not in it, work on your life, not in it. Look at all the past, present and future clients and really do your homework on them, put them in your Facebook feed so that you’re seeing what’s going on in their life so that you can make a better connection. You’re utilizing technology the way it was supposed to be, a tool for building that closer relationship, but also for your whole entire family.

Tami Bonnell:

You can’t believe how much time has gone by, and you didn’t connect with this person. You didn’t communicate with this person and how can I maximize on while I’m doing that, working on my business and on my life, not in it, how can I make this the best experience? How can I make this a wow experience? How can I add value? The more you do that and consciously think about it, the more improved your whole entire life is. We spend 20% of our time getting 80% of our results. And I find that this advice, and I’ve given it to a lot of power brokers that once they start to fine tune that, they start doing a lot more of that 20% so that they’re getting 80% of their results from 40% of their time and then 60% of their time so that they really keep fine tuning where they excel.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, great. Right. Well, Tami, you’ve shared a lot of great advice. I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to talk to REAL Trends for our podcast. And I can’t wait to share this with people because I think they’re going to really get a lot of good meat out of it. So thank you.

Tami Bonnell:

Thank you so much. It was really a pleasure and I look forward to connecting with you again soon.

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