RISMEDIA, June 16, 2010—Rick Haase is excited about going to work every day. As the newly named president of residential operations for New Orleans-based Latter & Blum, Haase is ready to take on his newfound responsibilities and challenges, starting with the self-imposed task of providing more to the company’s 1,400 agents and employees. In this exclusive interview, Haase discusses the decision to join Latter & Blum, why he’s so excited about his job and what he thinks lies ahead for the city of New Orleans.
Stephanie Andre: Congratulations on your new position with Latter & Blum. You were at Prudential Gardner for quite some time. What about this position—and Latter & Blum—made you decide to make the switch?
Rick Haase: After 33 years in the real estate business, the last eight and a half at Prudential Gardner Real Estate, this was a great opportunity for me. Latter & Blum is a wonderful company with phenomenal leadership. The executive team at Latter & Blum is an amazing group of talented people. Engaging each day with a team of people who are passionate about succeeding is energizing and will have a synergistic impact on our agents and clients.
The company speaks for itself. In addition to the residential real estate side of the business, Latter & Blum also has a highly developed commercial real estate business and property management division; it’s the largest in Louisiana. We also have a commercial property appraisal operation, mortgage and insurance. The ability to offer all those additional core services puts Latter & Blum in a unique situation; it affords the company the ability to leverage those services to help generate the residential real estate side of the business. It also gives our employees and agents an opportunity to diversify their career and remain in our company while doing so.
While Latter & Blum is known to be a New Orleans company, it’s also important to remember that we are also number one in Baton Rouge under the extremely well-respected brand, C.J. Brown, Inc., in Alexandria as Noles-Frye Realty and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast as well. Part of my responsibility is to grow our existing footprint and also capitalize on the opportunities we have to expand.
One other thing that makes this company unique is the passion that Latter & Blum, and specifically, CEO Robert Merrick, has for charity and community involvement. Whether the need arises from the arts and humanities, education, public benefits or aid in the time of natural disaster, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Bob and his company have been there and been involved. It’s exciting to be part of a company that gives back so much to the community—with both their time and donations.
SA: How’s the transition been thus far?
RH: It’s been great. It’s always a challenge to get through an organization of this size, build relationships and assess what needs to be prioritized. One really has to take the time to get to know people and listen to how we can become a better company. It’s definitely a challenge, but one I am excited about.
SA: What are you most excited about as you begin this new chapter?
RH: You know, real estate feels like it’s at a crossroads right now. There have been the major shifts with the economy and the loss of jobs in the region; changes to mortgage underwriting and in how we use technology; our relatively recent natural disasters; and now, the oil spill off our shores. More than ever, we need to focus on training and education, practical business solutions, getting our message out to the public and better internal communications. Those are the four areas that I am going to be working most diligently on.
What’s interesting, too, is that just about every day, I find something absolutely amazing about Latter & Blum that appears to be a well-kept secret. I also find things that would benefit from a process of continuous improvement. The goal is simply to always have Latter & Blum be considered the best place to be for our agents, employees and clients.
It’s a very exciting time for me and I am fortunate to be working with a very good company.
SA: How are you planning to reach out to your agents and what are you looking to achieve when you speak with them?
RH: Through the establishment of focus groups, project teams and task forces, we are beginning to tap into the very deep pool of knowledge held by our managers and agents at Latter & Blum. We have already started to build new systems that will assist them in doing their jobs well. That’s what I’m focusing on right now; it’s not something that will happen instantly but it’s going to happen…and soon. At the end of the day, it all translates into helping our agents win more business through delivering exceptionally high levels of customer service. That’s the goal.
We will be helping them navigate the new waters of social media, online communication and marketing tools. We are working on getting them state-of-the-art websites that will be incredibly user-friendly and have the right real estate sales tools needed to help them thrive.
SA: The city of New Orleans and the surrounding areas have been hit with so much over the past five years. What do you see coming for the New Orleans market?
RH: The story in New Orleans about the real estate market is really about jobs. Thousands of companies left after Katrina, and that was before we were hit by the impact of the national economy.
Plus, with the recent oil spill off the Gulf, we’re all concerned about the many people earning their livelihood from the rich waters of the Gulf, not to mention the impact on our ecosystem…we just