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Helen_Hanna_Casey_2012In the current issue of NAWRB Magazine (National Association of Women in Real Estate Businesses), Helen Hanna Casey, President & Chief Executive Officer of Pittsburgh-based Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, details her life as a leading woman in business in the magazine’s ‘sheCENTER(FOLD)section.

From her dedication to her family, agents and employees, to producing Broadway plays, Helen Hanna Casey chronicles the process of growing a business and delineates what to do, and what not to do, as the member of a family business and a woman entrepreneur.

NAWRB: What does family mean to you and what is your advice to entrepreneurs thinking of going into business with their families?

Helen Hanna Casey: Well, in my case, family means everything. I don’t know anything else except family businesses. It’s been an incredible opportunity as a family to grow together, but also to grow as an individual. So family means everything, first of all. In business, I think why so many families struggle—even though there are all these courses and books for it—is that they fail in some of the key aspects. Those key elements are integration and separation. What I mean is this: you have to separate yourself from the business, but you also always have to be integrated into it. You cannot be outside of your business talking to others about the inside of your business without your family being involved. It’s not like having a job where somebody else is your boss. When you’re in a business with your family, everything always has to be relayed from the inside with your family in mind.

The next part of it is communication, which is a huge reason I think so many entrepreneurs fail in the second and third generations of family businesses; they don’t communicate their expectations to each other. Either the original owner is so powerful that they can’t give up power, or they’re not developing the people around them to create new entities within that same business model that can take over. If I were going into a family business today, I’d be very careful to note what my role was going to be, what the expectations for me were, and what the long-term plan for me was going to be. If I have ownership, what does that mean to me? If the plan is that I’m going to start at one level in the company, how quickly do I rise or not? Do I have to succeed on my own? I think these all need to be defined clearly beforehand. And in many cases, they’re not.

People decide they’re going into a family business with the expectation that they’ll be a senior person. That may work in that family business if everybody is in agreement, but it may not work in many others and you may begin seeing squabbling between generations. I’ve always felt that my sister and I had a great advantage in the family business, and that is because we are two women with one brother and we have an incredible balance that not all businesses have. In the real estate industry, most of the second- and third-generation businesses with sisters that we know have already been bought out.

I think you have to have growth for individuals. If you want money to come in, it is really tough to keep the business the same. One of your goals has to be that you want your company and employees to expand and grow. In our case, it has been to go to other states and enable people to move there. But you can’t just bring four people in to do the job you’ve done yourself. You have to look at the talents of your people and decide how they can help expand the business. That goes back to communication—being able to sit at your dinner table and discuss these things without arguing, but also sit in a boardroom or in an office and do the same thing.

NAWRB: Do you have a preference between discussing executive decisions within a boardroom and at the dining table?

Helen Hanna Casey: I think I like a little bit of both. And I would never say to anybody that we never disagree or never fight; we’ve never had to take a vote, which is pretty amazing. In the history of our business, we have never had to vote on anything. We’re all salespeople, so we should be selling each other on what we believe should be done. It’s a conversation, and that is why I think communication is so important; it’s not just somebody coming in and saying, “We’re going to do this.”

I think you have to have a little bit of both, but I do think you have to be careful at the dining room table with the additional voices. Sometimes, additional voices—spouses, significant others, children who aren’t in the business—are lending their voices without all of the knowledge and experience, so that’s why some of these decisions need to be made at the office. It’s also important not to disregard them because they may be saying something very important that you haven’t addressed. So, you have to listen to them, but you don’t make the decision there. I also have to add that they may be in the business three years from now, so you can’t dismiss them. They may choose to come into the business; they may have to come into the business. At the end of the day, it’s handled on a case-by-case basis, but the decision has to be made at the office. It can’t be made sitting on the couch or sitting around a dinner table.

NAWRB: Who has inspired you most throughout your life?

Helen Hanna Casey: I mentioned her a moment ago…

To read the full interview with Helen Hanna Casey, please click here to read the original article on NAWRB’s website. 

Desirée Patno is founder and CEO of NAWRB. For more information about NAWRB, visit

According to RISMedia’s 2016 Power Broker Report, Howard Hanna Real Estate Services is the nation’s fourth-largest real estate firm in transaction rank, with nearly 5,000 agents in 157 offices in PA, OH, VA, MI, NY, WV, NC and MD.