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No real estate company knows more about innovative growth than Engel & Völkers. The European-based premium real estate brand opened doors internationally in 1977, and over the past four decades, they’ve stretched far from that first office in Hamburg, Germany. After making big moves across Europe, they expanded to North America in 2007, where they rapidly climbed rank to become a top player in the U.S. and Canada.

Today, the company operates a global network of over 8,000 real estate advisors in more than 700 brokerages spanning 37 countries and five continents. In addition to residential and luxury real estate services, the company heads an aviation division, a yachting division and a real estate academy.

So how does a company that has quite literally taken over the world keep themselves on top? Engel & Völkers’ rich culture is hyper-focused on innovation, and staying true to their three core values: competence, exclusivity and passion.

Meeting of the Minds

These core values recently came together to inspire 400 real estate professionals at the company’s sold-out North American Exchange event. The three-day Exchange, held March 7-9 in Dallas, Texas, fostered camaraderie at all levels, from broker/owners to advisors and support staff. Attendees learned from the best in the industry, with both internal and external experts led by Anthony Hitt, CEO of Engel & Völkers North America, who presented the sharp vision and myriad accomplishments of the company.

“Engel & Völkers as a brand is all about collaboration, whether through exchanging ideas, business or energy,” stated Hitt in his opening statement. “As our North American network continues to gain momentum, we pride ourselves in maintaining our brand standards of high-quality and passionate work by our advisors while never losing sight of our unique Engel & Völkers culture.”

Hitt recapped the milestones accomplished by the North American team in 2015. Not only did the brand double its network to 84 shops and 1,518 advisors throughout the U.S. and Canada, the team also increased their total transaction volume by a stunning 119 percent. In a market still working to right itself, this increase is a true testament to the company’s unshakeable footing as an industry leader.

Before leaving the stage, Hitt announced some ambitious expansion plans for 2016: The company hopes to be in 125 locations by year’s end.

Innovation Takes Center Stage

The Exchange did much more than merely set future goals; the main focus was to bring the company’s North American community together for a major charge in innovation.

“Our industry is craving a redefinition,” says Exchange attendee Lindsay Bacigalupo of Engel & Völkers Minneapolis Downtown. “Unfortunately, there are so many companies in the real estate space who do not have the right core values or customer-driven mentality.” After serving 10 years in real estate under another brand, Bacigalupo partnered with Engel & Völkers in April 2015 to be the difference she hoped to see in the industry—a difference Bacigalupo believes was fully present at Exchange. “Every detail was touched and intentional, from the itineraries to the speakers and entertainment,” she says. “It offered a real place to learn, develop your real estate skills and be challenged.”

License Partner and Owner of Engel & Völkers Boston, Valerie Post chose to attend the event based on the knock-out agenda. Post, who has been in real estate for 35 years, didn’t realize just how knock-out the agenda would prove to be. “There was so much to learn, I couldn’t take notes fast enough.”

Keith Shirley, also of Engel & Völkers Boston, headed to Exchange with the hope of interacting with other top agents and making connections in offices across the country. He took seven of his top agents and describes his experience as “first class.”

“It was a meeting of the minds on what works, and what doesn’t,” says Shirley, who became part of the Engel & Völkers network in November 2015. He chose the rapidly-growing company because of its “unbeatable” international presence. The word “unbeatable” is no surprise: The company aims not to be the biggest player in the field, but to be the best. That mindset is far from the thinking of many competitors; their focus on quality over quanitity offers them a natural step-up above the rest.

So what sets the Engel & Völkers Exchange apart from other real estate conventions? When attendees were asked, the unanimous answer pointed to the infectious enthusiasm those present had for supporting one another.

“Brokers have to fill their energy cup somewhere, and going to Exchange gets you charged up like never before,” says Joe Epifanio, managing broker of Engel & Völkers Olde Naples in Naples, Fla., who headed to Exchange to show his team the importance of continuing education. “At Exchange, you’re not only in rooms with the best people in the industry, but they’re looking to help you,” says the long-time real estate practitioner.

Bringing so many innovative professionals together under one roof quickly became a breeding ground for best practices. Epifanio stresses how even the name of the event is in line with its excellence. “It’s truly an exchange—an exchange of ideas and of what is happening in the industry around the country. The people gathered are so willing to share with each other it’s amazing. No one is hiding their ideas. We’re all in it together to help each other grow. I’ve never experienced that before.”

Paul Benson, license partner of Engel & Völkers Park City, concurs. Although Benson has been part of many real estate conventions over his 14 years in real estate, never had he seen anything like the contagious support that spread throughout the network of agents assembled at Exchange. “I have never seen such true desire from the agents to work and help each other this way,” Benson says. “The energy was inspiring.”

“There is something special happening here,” echos Geoff Bray, broker/owner with Engel & Völkers Minneapolis Downtown. “We are not focusing on the amount of people we can help or how fast we can grow, but rather, how we can help each person we work with in a huge way.”

The Power of Networking

Epifanio notes that the event, which he describes as “epic,” was so stimulating, he didn’t want to go to sleep at night, but instead stayed up late talking to other top producers. Another boon of an event that pulls top producers from all across the country? Networking.

“Everyone was so open and eager to share not only their business ideas, but their clients,” comments Lisa Robinson, private office advisor at Engel & Völkers Buckhead Atlanta. “It was really refreshing and encouraging.”

Shirley, who initially headed to the event to learn from quality producers and advisors, was impressed with how easy it was to make a real connection with other attendees: “To see how serious everyone took their career, to see how they took care of their clients, it was unbelievable.” Shirley now feels confident his clients will be well represented if referred to outside markets. “We have affiliate offices located in places where our clients want to have second homes. It was great to see that we could rely on these agents as true partners.”

Networking opportunities were offered to Exchange attendees through a variety of events, from galas to a round of golf benefiting the Special Olympics and, of course, presentations from some of Engel & Völkers’ top leaders, including Hitt; North America Chief Operating Officer Jim Ramsay; North America Executive Vice President Tom Kunz; North America Senior Vice President of Brand Advancement Jill DeSilva; and Vice President of Talent Attraction Adam Lerman.

An award ceremony was held to celebrate the recipients of the company’s 2015 North America Awards, including the Engel & Völkers Community Service Shop Award, Engel & Völkers Spirit of Giving Award and Top Producing Advisor awards.

And although the conference attracted some of the most prolific industry experts in the country, it was more than just a gathering of real estate professionals: It was a carefully curated collection of innovators, many of whom have left larger brands to strike out on their own. This selection of forward-thinkers has looked at Engel & Völkers as more than a brand, opting to see them as a platform to launch an enhanced level of service to their customers—the cornerstone of any successful real estate practice.

These innovators helped set the quality of Exchange’s speaking sessions far above your typical hum-drum motivational variety.

“Anthony Hitt knows how to gather the troops,” says Greg Carros, managing director and license partner of Engel & Völkers Vancouver.

“It’s rare to have a CEO as connected to what we do and what we need, with the ability to communicate these needs and wants,” echoes Benson. “We are lucky.”

Real-World Inspiration

The event’s special guests and featured keynote speakers included NFL player Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys; Irish tenor, champion disabled athlete and motivational speaker, Ronan Tynan; and philosophical writer, Matthew Ferrara.

What do a football star, an Irish tenor and a philosopher have in common? All three have overcome great odds to become forward-thinkers excelling in their fields.

Born with a lower limb disability, Tynan lost his legs at age 20. Within a year, the singer was competing in the Paralympic Games in track and field and as an equestrian. He has since gone on to win 18 gold medals and set 14 world records. His Exchange presentation, “Living Life to the Fullest,” discussed how he overcame all odds to achieve his dreams. The champion moved the room to tears with both his amazing story and his stunning vocal performance.

Ferrara inspired attendees with his discussion, “Yellow Pants and Pirates,” which focused on connecting creativity to productivity, driving success by maximizing your strongest inner beliefs and understanding the “Social Renaissance”: how successful people combine their personal and professional networks to create unparalleled growth.

“He told us how to stand out from the crowd,” says Epifanio of Ferrara’s moving presentation. “Not everything has to be about the market. Be you. It’s so important.”

Carros found these speakers particularly motivational because they weren’t real estate-related. “They truly showed there’s no obstacle you can’t overcome, which of course I can relate directly to my sales career,” Carros notes. In his 40-plus years in real estate, Carros has sat through a multitude of real estate presentations and feels that Witten, Tynan and Ferrara stood out in a big way. “They reminded me to push ahead, focus on the positive. You can’t be a defeatist in real estate.”

Serving the Global Community

There’s nothing defeatist about Engel & Völkers. In addition to constantly innovating to better equip its fast-growing team, the company focuses on giving back to the local and national communities it serves. In March 2015, Engel & Völkers announced a three-year sponsorship of the Special Olympics #PlayUnified campaign, which works to inspire youth across the country and around the world to connect with peers with intellectual disabilities and create more inclusive communities. The partnership was a perfect fit for both the company and the organization, as the goals of the Special Olympics are in a cohesive alignment with Engel & Völkers’ values of passion and competence.

“[We’re] proud to be a part of developing the first Unified Generation that will fight inactivity, intolerance and injustice for people with intellectual disabilities,” said Hitt in regard to the sponsorship. Since the company’s announcement at their 2015 Exchange, they have raised over $125,000 for the organization.

The Special Olympics isn’t the only foundation supported by the global real estate brand. At Exchange’s Diamonds and Denim reception, Witten accepted a $10,000 donation from Engel & Völkers for his SCORE Foundation, which focuses on domestic violence prevention and outreach programs, and has completed several building projects in Texas and Tennessee. The check was presented by Hitt and Roxann Taylor, owner of Engel & Völkers Dallas Southlake, who sits on the foundation’s advisory board.

An induction of 20 Private Office Advisors also took place at Exchange. The new members of the ultra-exclusive Private Office network were carefully chosen based on consistent high-production numbers, individual expertise and an overall passion for the job they do daily. These wealth specialists now have access to additional opportunities for working with Engel & Völkers’ high net-worth international clients looking to be referred to a real estate specialist in North America.

Better than Yesterday

“We are a reflection of who we surround ourselves with,” says Bacigalupo, an Engel & Völkers Private Office Advisor herself. “I had not been to an Exchange event before, but one thing is for certain: I like being around those people. The caliber is different than anywhere else I have seen. The bar has been raised. I wouldn’t even call this a conference. It was in a league of its own.”

Just as all good things must eventually come to an end, Exchange closed with a meet-and-greet with Tynan. But for attendees, the innovation did not cease on March 9. Each attendee walked away with a bevy of best practices they can now implement.

Benson says he pulled many new ideas for marketing, team structure and increased participation in the network, which he calls “invaluable.”

Exchange inspired Post to strive to be better than yesterday, and Bray says his company will now shift their focus to how many ways they take care of their clients, rather than how many clients they take care of.

The event reminded Robinson to focus on remaining relevant as the market conditions continue to change. “I was reminded to be flexible enough to change,” the 21-year real estate veteran said. “What made you successful may not be what you need to keep you on top.”

Loving what you do daily was an important takeaway for attendees, as was embracing your own personal authenticity and uniqueness.

“One of the underlying concepts I took from the event was to be your unique you,” says Bacigalupo. “Stop comparing your business and trying to beat the competition. Find your strengths and focus on them.”

“Exchange was not your usual corporate event,” says Epifanio. “It’s about changing ideas. It’s about collaborating as one unit to further expand as the fastest-growing brand in North America. That’s what Engel & Völkers does phenomenally: It allows us to brainstorm together. We get to grow individually as we grow together. Exchange was the perfect platform for implementing that growth.”

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