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For Surterre Properties’ co-founders Gary Legrand and Paula Ansara-Wilhelm, a successful real estate company is built on far more than sales and service excellence. It’s built on integrity, inspiration, and on caring not just for clients and agents, but for the planet that supports us all. “‘Surterre,’” points out Ansara-Wilhelm, “is French for ‘on Earth.’ Preserving it for the ages is a commitment we take seriously. ‘On Earth’ also represents the inter-connected global society we live in, and the international network we have built at Surterre.” With a footprint extending up and down the Southern California coastline, where the average sales price is in the multi-millions, the 10-year-old, Newport Beach-based company puts a heavy premium on teamwork. In this exclusive interview, Legrand and Ansara-Wilhelm discuss their well-matched philosophies, their shared growth strategies, and their hands-on leadership style.

Barbara Pronin: Why don’t we start with a little about your backgrounds, and how you came to co-found Surterre Properties.
Gary Legrand:
Paula and I both have extensive backgrounds in real estate. Before co-founding Surterre Properties, I led the team at several top-performing companies, most recently at Coldwell Banker Previews. I was also an investor and CFO for Coast Newport Properties.

Paula Ansara-Wilhelm: My background is primarily in real estate marketing and branding. Prior to co-founding Surterre Properties, I co-founded Strada Properties here in Southern California and headed the marketing efforts at several other industry-leading firms, including Coldwell Banker Previews, Coast Newport Properties, Century 21 and ERA.

GL: We’ve both sold real estate at some point back in our careers, and our experience in the field has helped us to understand the kind of support agents need from a brokerage. Plus, because neither the management team nor I compete for sales with our agents, it has helped to foster our company’s team-oriented, agent-centric environment, and attract experienced top-performers.

BP: How would you characterize your company’s positioning in your marketplace?
We are proud to say we are the market leader in Orange County, specializing in luxury properties and consistently achieving top marketshare. In addition to our Newport Beach headquarters, we have 430 agents in six offices in Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar, Monarch Beach, San Clemente and Irvine, and in 2015, we achieved $2.58 billion in sales. Most of all, we are proud to have built a brokerage based on integrity, teamwork and trust. That means making sure the things we say and the things we do are always in total alignment.

PA-W: We are sincerely honored that Surterre Properties has been nominated “Best Place to Work” by the Orange County Register for three years in a row. We take that as a tribute to our collaborative team atmosphere. It’s a family-like environment where everyone is personally invested in helping the team succeed, and we are most proud that this teamwork approach has driven real results, with approximately one out of three sales occurring internally amongst Surterre agents.

BP: How have you evolved and grown as a company over the past 10 years to adapt to changes in the marketplace?
As the world continues to shrink, it’s been incredibly rewarding to have developed a strong international presence. We serve clients from all over the world—from China, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Indonesia, Australia, Sweden, and more. In fact, we are one of the only brokerages in Orange County to have a Chinese language website, and we have built a vast network of over 130,000 sales associates in over 70 countries around the world.

BP: What would you point to as your competitive differentiation in the marketplace?
Our business model, for one thing. One of the things that sets us apart is the level of support we dedicate to our agents. We have more than 63 staff members supporting the activities of our 430 local agents. We also have a full-service, in-house advertising agency called The Studio, which, we are humbled to say, has won over 60 awards to date. The Studio has an on-site digital press and provides a full spectrum of advertising and marketing services. We do everything from creating custom marketing collateral to developing comprehensive online marketing plans, agent websites, media buying programs, and more. In essence, The Studio’s 15-member team of Web designers, graphic designers, artists, production managers and proofreaders is able to provide our agents with every aspect of marketing assistance.

BP: What is the company doing in terms of training to keep its salesforce equipped to succeed?
My philosophy is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to coaching, so I provide a hands-on coaching program tailored to the needs of each agent’s unique strengths, motivations and goals. I’m personally dedicated to giving our agents the tools, discipline, and inspiration they need to become their best personal and professional selves. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. We work on role-playing, lead generation and conversion techniques, business planning and networking, time management, and more. It’s an intense program.

BP: How are you retaining top-producing agents?
It really comes down to our culture of integrity and teamwork, and the respect that we have for one another. The real estate business never sleeps, and so we are here to help counsel our agents any time they need it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether it’s navigating the sales process, providing IT or administrative support, offering legal guidance or giving general advice, we are here when our agents need us. I never hesitate to take a phone call from our agents, even at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night.

BP: How has your technology evolved to meet the demands of agents and clients?
We are committed to staying at the forefront of technology in order to support our agents. We have a comprehensive website that lets clients search via neighborhoods and lifestyles, so they can specifically focus in on golf properties, equestrian estates, bayside or beachfront homes, and more. We also offer a mobile app so that our clients can search on their mobile devices as they wish. And The Studio, our in-house ad agency, leverages sophisticated technology to make our production process easy and efficient for our agents. With the click of a button, agents can order the marketing materials they need, have them printed in-house and delivered.

BP: How have you evolved your marketing and promotional strategy to better connect with today’s consumers?
In several ways. First, developing The Studio agency in-house has helped immeasurably to upgrade and streamline all of our marketing capabilities. In addition, we quickly recognized the powerful networking opportunities that social media opens up, so we’ve introduced comprehensive social media training for agents at all skill levels. The training is focused not just on how to be good at utilizing social media, but how to be better in the real estate business by making social media work for you. And third, we know that our clients value the fact that we give back to the communities we serve by supporting and actively participating in a variety of local projects and charities, including our donation matching program.

BP: What are your plans for continuing to grow the company?
We will continue to provide top-notch service to our discriminating clients, to recognize and act upon every new opportunity, and to focus our attention on the highly motivated and experienced agents who are drawn to our unique company culture.

PA-W: In addition, we actively engage our clients in our efforts to preserve the environment. We know we are lucky to live and work in one of the country’s most breathtaking environments. Gary and I are both outdoor enthusiasts, and we believe it’s our duty to do everything in our power to preserve the natural beauty of our surroundings for generations to come. Becoming a U.S. Green Building Council member and earning our Certified EcoBroker® designation are just a couple of examples of how we think and act green. We’ve also made every effort to create the most eco-friendly working environment imaginable, utilizing environmentally conscious materials in our day-to-day business and appointing our offices with furniture that’s made of reclaimed and recycled materials. What’s more, we’ve been able to partner with like-minded organizations to further this mission, and we involve the community by holding monthly eWaste drives in five locations, in addition to supporting a variety of local green projects and programs.

BP: In your opinion, what do today’s agents need to focus on to succeed?
Paula and I believe the key to success is consistency. We strive to consistently inspire our agents, and we believe it’s the day-in and day-out efforts of our agents that our clients observe and appreciate.

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