Think you’re a road warrior? Chances are, your travel schedule pales in comparison to Rick Davidson’s. The CENTURY 21 CEO is resolute in his belief that interacting with the firm’s worldwide network is essential to the collective success of all. From Tokyo, Japan to Boiling Springs, S.C.—and everywhere in between—Davidson’s travels bring him face-to-face with those who matter most: the brokers and sales professionals that comprise the global real estate franchise. In this exclusive interview, Davidson shares how he maximizes—and survives—life on the road.
Maria Patterson: You maintain an extremely impressive travel schedule. Is this typical for someone leading a major franchise? Or do you go beyond the norm?
Rick Davidson: It’s a requirement of the job when you are leading one of the world’s largest residential real estate franchises. We are a globally complex organization with approximately 7,000 independently owned and operated franchised broker offices in 77 countries and territories worldwide with more than 102,000 independent sales professionals. Our franchisees have extensive operations in many of the key global markets, including: the United States, China, Japan, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, the UK, Brazil, Columbia and Venezuela, to name a few. So, the need to have my arms firmly around our global enterprise requires an extensive travel schedule, however, it also goes beyond that. We are in the relationship business. Establishing and developing long-term relationships with CENTURY 21® brokers and sales associates throughout the global markets is a core component of our long-term success.
MP: Why do you feel it’s important to attend this many events/visit so many offices?
RD: First and foremost, by attending events and visiting offices, I am able to build a mutual trust and confidence in our leadership and the strategic direction of the brand. Secondly, whether it is here or abroad, you cannot understand a real estate market until you put your feet on the soil. I am able to gain an understanding of the societal culture, the business culture and processes, and the real estate marketplace economy and how it functions. This understanding of the macroeconomic factors impacting a particular country or region, and how that relates to their ability to franchise into those markets and be successful as real estate entrepreneurs, helps me to formulate ideas and offer suggestions on how our franchise members can grow their book of business.
In addition, the success of any company is tied to leveraging the collective strength of the organization. We have incredibly successful U.S. franchisees and international master franchisors, through which we are able to share great ideas on how they have built their business and are serving their customers. This is one way we create synergies for our global brand.
MP: How do you decide which events to attend?
RD: The decision is based on the needs of the business and our opportunity for growth in a particular marketplace. Internationally, for example, we have two Masters Meetings annually. One is always at our International Global Conference and the second is held in one of our international markets. Typically, we select a region where we have a strong presence so that we can learn from them and hear directly from their franchisees on what is working and the benefits of being part of the C21® System. We come together as a global organization to leverage our strength and global market position.
For example, one of the most significant ideas to come out of these meetings over the last three years is the development and implementation of CENTURY21global.com. CENTURY21global.com is the only franchise brand website in the global marketplace with CENTURY 21® listings exclusively. It is a collaborative effort between 30 different countries that participate in listing feeds, and features 36 currency conversions and 16 language translations. This is vitally important when you consider the recent NAR International Buying Report that shows that in 2013, a total of $92.2 billion of real estate transactions in the U.S. included a principal from the international markets. Given the significance of our brand in the global marketplace, our affiliates are poised to capture this international business activity, provided we continue to strategically leverage our global platform.
MP: How do your travels benefit you as the leader of a major firm?
RD: As mentioned earlier, my travel helps me to strengthen relationships, understand the global economy and economic trends, learn about local and regional business and real estate practices, and see first-hand technology, tools, platforms and processes that are being used in markets outside the U.S. In turn, this knowledge affords me a broader view of our industry and helps me to be more effective in my role as CEO.
MP: How do you balance your travel schedule with the need to be present at CENTURY 21 headquarters?
RD: It’s a delicate balance. While I do need to be visible in the office—talking with the team, understanding their projects, being involved in meetings and conference calls, etc.—I have an incredible amount of confidence in the team at C21®. We have a great field-base operations staff and a headquarters staff in Madison, N.J., that is second to none. Also, I believe strongly in empowering the team to accomplish the task at hand and to lead the organization toward the performance objectives that we establish each year. I look to, and lean on, my senior leadership team, including Greg Sexton, our chief operating officer, and Bev Thorne, our chief marketing officer.
MP: How do you ensure that you are ‘in the loop’ on important happenings, both in the home office and on the road?
RD: Technology has enabled the ability to communicate at all times with the office, members of the corporate team and our global customer base. We have many standard communications processes that enable a consistent flow of information. That being said, nothing beats a direct conversation, and we rely heavily on voice-to-voice communications. One example, we have a senior leadership-team call every Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. EST, no matter if we are at home or on the road. We talk about issues the company is facing for the particular day and week, look at “what’s hot,” discuss business trends and address our specific objectives.