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Life is good on the Gold Coast of Florida. For Mike Pappas, president and CEO of The Keyes Company, it’s been a source of personal fulfillment and professional achievement for as long as he can remember. Real estate is in his blood, and his family-owned company enjoys an established reputation for excellence in the industry in six seaside counties.

Founded by Ken Keyes in 1926, during the early Florida boom times, the firm survived both the Great Depression and the Great Hurricane of 1926 before Pappas’ father bought it from Keyes some 40 years later.

“There aren’t too many companies who can trace their heritage back for nearly 90 years,” Pappas notes. “When I got my business degree while running track at Wake Forest University, I felt fortunate to come into a company with this proud tradition in the community.”

Pappas started in sales, as most newbies do, and earned his way through the ranks as a branch manager, then regional manager, and general manager. In 1992, through a leveraged buyout with his brother, Tim, a Certified Public Accountant, the company changed hands into the present generation, with Mike at the helm and Tim as vice president of finance.

Today, they have 2,200 agents in 35 offices serving the Gold Coast counties of Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Volusia.

But for all its achievements, Pappas, whose leadership is based on long-established family values laced with innovation, is not content to let the company rest on its laurels. In this exclusive interview, he shares the people-first strategies that have driven the firm’s success for so long—and his plans to refresh its iconic image and take it to the next level.

Barbara Pronin: Mike, how would you describe your company’s positioning in your marketplace? What sets you apart from the competition?
Mike Pappas:
We are the largest independent, family-owned company in the region and a Founding Member and Shareholder of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®, a global network of more than 500 premier real estate firms in more than 50 countries around the world. That makes us the neighborhood broker with national and international connections. We are also one of the oldest companies in the region, with a wealth of first-hand, local real estate knowledge. And we are consistently ranked among the top 50 companies in the nation by RISMedia’s Annual Power Broker Report. What really sets us apart is the quality of our agents. I think of our team as “leaders of leaders,” because every one of our people is a leader in his or her community. They are REALTOR® board executives throughout our footprint area. They are service club presidents, civic leaders, non-profit charity advisors, deeply rooted contributors in each community we serve—and we have a family-like vibe and mentality. We are a company that cares about each other and our customers. We are committed to each other and to creating the best possible real estate experience for every customer we serve.

BP: How would you describe current market conditions in your area?
I’m delighted to say we have said goodbye to the last remnants of the downturn. South Florida has come back strong and it’s easy to understand why. We have sun and fun, contending sports teams, and a revved-up economic engine. We are a no-tax state, which attracts more and more financial institutions to us. We have a growing arts scene in Miami and we rank among the cruise capitals of the world. In short, we are a world-class region. Who wouldn’t want to live here? Or have a second home in South Florida? It’s a good time to be in real estate.

BP: How has your company evolved over the years, and what has been your approach to growth?
We have a strong belief in, and a long history of, seizing opportunity at times when others are retreating. We’ve always kept our eye on market conditions and responded in appropriate ways. That’s what keeps us fiscally healthy. At the same time, we’ve acquired 50 independent brokerages in just the last 10 years. We are an organization committed to strategic growth, as my father was in his day, and to being on the innovative edge to ensure that we keep getting better as we grow. Our goal is to equip our agents with the best training, the best technology and the best possible strategies for success while integrating and simplifying the real estate transaction. We take care of the business end so they don’t have to. They can get out there and do what they do best, and that is selling real estate.

BP: How are you serving the needs of today’s more informed, diverse and tech-savvy consumers?
By treating them as we do our agents: the way they want to be treated, with what we believe is the right combination of high-tech and high-touch. We offer consumers our market watch reports, social media marketing, virtual tours and worldwide exposure, but still believe the business is done face to face. We have the best-educated, most knowledgeable, and most dedicated agents in the industry. We know our technology is second to none—and superior customer service is a given. We can even boast one of the largest bilingual sales forces in America. We have between 700 and 800 agents—more than a third of our sales staff—who speak two languages or more. In a region like this, an international melting pot, that is a huge advantage.

BP: How are you attracting and retaining the top agents you are so proud of?
When you’ve been in business as long as we have, you naturally attract the best. We have one office manager who has been with the company for 44 years—and a legion of agents who’ve been with us for many years because we treat our employees like family. We work together and play together, whether it’s mentoring or sharing business strategies or hopping on our bikes for a marathon to raise funds for a cause we believe in. We are there for each other every day in every way, and that creates the kind of environment where success and personal growth flourishes. We offer comprehensive training for new agents and the best in education and technology for all, from five-star training and certification programs to the most effective lead capture, data management and mobile platforms available. We don’t believe in putting a Band-Aid on a problem that needs attention. We use what I call the bottom-up effect. We listen, really listen, to what our agents ask for, and we fit the solutions to their needs.