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Mergers and Acquisitions – Focus on the Marathon, Not the Sprint

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By John Voket

RISMEDIA, October 8, 2009—When working with mergers and acquisitions, it is important to have a transition plan in place before the actual transaction takes place. The entire process must be focused on the agent’s needs so that productivity and profitability are the end results. Here, Craig Owen, Vice President, Willis Management, Keller Williams Realty in San Antonio, Texas discusses what he has learned along the way while working with mergers and acquisitions. 

Owen_CraigCraig Owen
Vice President
Willis Management
Keller Williams Realty
San Antonio, Texas 

Years in business: 20
Number of offices: 5
Number of Agents: 2,300
Region served: South Texas
Best tip for dealing with difficult customers: Listen carefully and don’t pass judgment. Always take the high road to avoid future confrontation.
Best time management tip: Use only one capture tool instead of multiple tools. This will increase efficiency and productivity.
Best tip for running a successful meeting: Set an agenda and allow a collaborative style to maximize creativity and effectiveness.
Key to staying profitable: Long-term standards in a contagious and warm culture, a consistent operations model for the agents and, most importantly, a lead generation model for growth. 

What are your strategies for working in declining markets?
Fiscal management is by far one of the most important short term goals. Secondly, training our agents for a shift in the market. By equipping our agents, it gives us a huge advantage in the marketplace. Lastly, holding my agents and myself accountable for building relationships and increasing market share. Any increased market share in a down market will be most realized when the market changes, since most wealth is built in a declining market, not an increasing market. 

What are two fundamentals that are essential to your company’s continued success?
Models and systems to teach our agents is my first fundamental. Second, succeeding through our people. I think one of the biggest mistakes a company can make is not to seek, train and develop its future people to take them to the next level. 

How did you develop an interest in handling mergers and acquisitions?
It was actually by accident. I was able to participate in several large- and medium-size roll-ins over the past years. I became wise through the mistakes and errors that were made. I always like the energy in recruiting. It’s pretty awesome to use your creative and entrepreneurial side to put together a large merge when no one thought it was possible, including the seller at the time. It’s fun to look back and see how happy the owner is—but more importantly, the agent who joined. 

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned when it comes to mergers and acquisitions?
Use a transition plan before the transaction takes place. Also, create a business environment of systems and models. Both allow more comfort for staff in the day-to-day operations, which leads to more productivity and profitability. Always remember that the M&A process is a marathon and not a sprint. It must be focused on the agent’s needs. The company must be flexible and understanding to its agent partners and the relationship must be put first by placing focus on systems and models that are highly task-oriented, giving agents the very best environment possible. 

I learned early that agents are our greatest and only asset and should be treated like passengers on a plane. If they’re not treated with respect, care and appreciation, they may just decide to take a parachute and jump out. More importantly, it’s our responsibility to give them the highest level of care and security possible. We can’t rely on reaction steps—we have to anticipate and be proactive before the moment. It’s responsive systems not reaction steps that show we are servant leaders and truly care about our greatest asset—the agents. 

What advice would you give to someone getting involved in M&As?
Leave your ego at home. Don’t be greedy. Think long term. Be private. Be creative and think outside the box. When working with M&As, the buyer must realize that many of the independent broker/owners may have a lot of pride and many years of blood, sweat and tears in their business. We must always be private and show humility. I’ve seen first-hand how not being discreet can cost an opportunity. If they can’t trust you and what you say on the front end, how can they trust you on the back end? 

As for ego—the buyer is not allowed to have one. Come from a place of contribution and have an abundance mentality. Look for ways to allow the roll-in candidate to find opportunities long term…maybe a leadership position would be appropriate if they qualify or possibly involvement in leadership councils or masterminds. Gaining their respect will ensure a better capture rate of agents and better retention of agents. Remember, influence is the name of the game. One more very important thing: quite often, owners that sell their businesses will return to opening another brokerage if your vision isn’t big enough for them. Make it big enough for your best people. This way, they will expand and grow to make your agents and office more profitable. 

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