One tenth of 1 percent. That is the chance of a company lasting as long as Baird & Warner. For more than 150 years, Baird & Warner has led the real estate community with innovative business practices and a “Do Good” business mentality.
This month I had the opportunity to sit down with Baird & Warner’s fifth generation CEO, Steve Baird. My goal was to do some recon for the YPN and identify the company’s buildings blocks of success. If anyone knows it will be Steve: CEO of a real estate company that has prevailed through historic disasters such as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the Great Depression of 1929 – 1939. Our recent economic slump was just another “been there, done that” pebble stone for B&W. With a $4 billion sales year in 2012, about 25 offices and 1,500 agents, Steve Baird’s company continues the legacy started so many years ago.
I conducted this interview at Baird & Warner’s corporate office on LaSalle St. in the Loop. The first thing I noticed was the wall of accolades proudly displayed. Almost all the awards indicated B&W’s achievements in innovation. As I would learn in my interview, innovative thinking is the backbone of the company’s success formula.
Never settle with what you have and find ways to grow and get better.
Named one of the top 100 influential people in real estate, among numerous other honors, Steve Baird was one of the most laid back, easy-to-talk-to people I’ve ever met. Humble, well-spoken and just an overall happy dude, Steve Baird’s interview offered perspective and vision on what defines success.
Read on to get your own perspective from an industry titan. Enjoy!
Me: Baird & Warner was founded in 1855. Since then, are there truths of real estate that have proved themselves over and over again?
SB: It’s all about change and innovation. However, there is a fine balance with innovating and changing too quickly. You have to find that balance of always looking to get better but at your own pace. When we do something, I’m thinking: “What’s the next thing?” You can never finish getting better; there is always room to improve.
Me: How do you nurture and maintain innovation at Baird & Warner?
SB: This is a challenge that will be around forever. You have to always keep pushing the envelope. I personally have a mind that likes new things, so my company is set up on the same principle. We like trying new things and nurture that. We get new ideas from fresh talent and getting younger agents to come work for us. There are very few unique ideas; most ideas are taken from somewhere and just adapted really well. We have a culture at Baird & Warner that is willing to accept failures and missteps/mistakes. This is the best way you learn!
We have something called Break-it Sessions. We are always looking to provide the best technology and resources for our agents. We give a product to our agents to test and ask them to break it. We want them to find the mistakes. This is all part of the development process. When the tool is ready to use, it will come truly ready to use. There are no real estate companies, or maybe a very select few, that have R&D departments. The real estate industry is very weak in innovation as whole. We need to change that.
One practice I follow to find new ideas is looking at different companies and, more importantly, totally different industries. I sit on a few boards that help me with this. Nationally I am involved with top real estate company boards where I can learn, by different region, successful real estate practices. Locally, or Mid-West specific, I sit on business boards whose members are business owners of completely different industries. I learn from them how they operate their businesses in the same environment where B&W operates. Even though I might not learn anything real estate-specific from them, I can adopt a business practice that holds true no matter what you are selling.
Stay away from comfortable! Innovation happens when you are trying something new.
Me: What should real estate agents do daily to grow their businesses?
SB: Stick to the fundamentals:
- Block and Tackling
Find your personal hurdles towards success and tackle them to continue growing your business. Real estate is a practice of hiccups and missteps. Learn every time you make a mistake and become a better real estate agent.
- What makes you successful
We each have strengths. Find yours and work off of that. Don’t keep trying to fix your weaknesses. Rather, acknowledge them and create practices to not let them bring you down. Always ask yourself: “what do I do well and how do I get better?”
- Build your business, find customers
How do you prospect? How do you sell? How do you process the transaction? How do you follow up? Real estate is a systems business. Understand the entire procedure and focus on making every section of the system better. Start with the beginning – finding the customer. How are you doing this? What can you be doing differently? How do you set up a channel to constantly get referrals/new business? Next, how do you sell to your clients? What can you do to make the sales process more fruitful to close more deals? When you close a client, what do you do to follow up and keep mining for referrals and possible future business? Look at every step as something you can perfect and work on it every day.
Accountability is critical. Make accountability measures to ensure you won’t slip. Have a buddy check-in system or even something that tracks your progress. It is too easy to slip. Don’t let yourself quit, even for one day!
Me: Who is your greatest influence?
SB: I have a very close relationship with my father; he still comes into the office four days a week!
We call him our company mascot. Talk about loving what you do. I hold a diverse portfolio of interesting people who keep influencing me from different realms. I remember my Boy Scout leader was a real influence on who I am today. The Dalai Lama is another individual who has influenced me. I consider myself very lucky. I always enjoy learning from different types of people, which has given me different viewpoints shaping the person I am today.
Me: From a business owner’s perspective, what are your top tips for growing a real estate company and brand?
Join us for our March monthly breakfast to hear Steve share his tips in person at Manny's Deli.
Managing Broker/Partner, Vesta Preferred Realty
Past C.A.R. YPN Chair