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Challenged by demand for discount and other unconventional brokerage models, and potentially disintermediation, real estate broker/owners today are charged with embracing innovative practices while maintaining profitability. Many are succeeding—but not without burdens, concerns and pressures.

Several real estate industry leaders frankly shared their experiences and insights in a lively panel at RISMedia’s exclusive Real Estate CEO Exchange, which took place Sept. 12-13 at the Harvard Club of New York City. RISMedia CEO and President John Featherston began the session by asking, “What keeps you up at night?” The panel’s responses are below. [Additions for clarity.]


Intero Real Estate President and CEO Tom Tognoli discusses challenges during RISMedia’s 2017 CEO Exchange session “What Keeps You Up at Night? Overcoming Hurdles to Profitability.”

“One of my biggest concerns that keeps me up at night is lack of succession planning for our agents. Thirty percent of our agents are over the age of 60 years old—they grew up in the world of client lists, not databases. We have no ability to capture that client list of theirs and cultivate it long-term. I would challenge all of us to look at the percentage of company dollars that those people bring to our organizations today.

“I really believe that Zillow’s actions speak louder than words. They’re positioning themselves to be the conduit to the transaction for our agents. It bothers me. We have the ability to transact for our agents and generate leads. The only reason I think this is happening is because we’re not in touch with our agents.” – Candace Adams, CEO/President, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England, New York and Westchester Properties

“If 80 percent of your business comes from people you know, why are you spending 80 percent of your time or money trying to get people you don’t know to work with you? I can’t get [agents] to put [information] into their database. It’s frustrating.

“If you weren’t doing at least four sides of business, you were gone [referencing another broker’s policy in relation to standards in the industry]. Does that help solve the problem? It makes your own company feel a bit better, but you’re still dealing with someone [on the other end] who doesn’t know what they hell they’re doing.” – Tom Gallagher, Broker/Owner, CENTURY 21 American Homes

“[What keeps me up at night is] the risk for the brand in so many transactions. It doesn’t matter if the splits go up or down—the number of transactions and the exposure to risk is still out there. When our industry is under fire, it’s because we didn’t disclose something, we’re terrible, we make too much money and we don’t do enough work.

“I get really worried and really upset when I get emails form some of our agents with content I know they have purchased and it’s well beyond any expertise they have. They’re creating this false brand for themselves. We’ll give you all of these materials.” – Annie Hanna Engel, COO/President, Howard Hanna Insurance Services; Chief Legal Officer, Hanna Holdings, Inc.


Annie Hanna Engel, president and COO of Howard Hanna Insurance Services and chief legal officer for Hanna Holdings, Inc.

“The brokerage entity is the Rodney Dangerfield of our business—it gets no respect. It’s the glue that holds all of the agents together, and we don’t tell that story well. The same is true with selling back to our agents what we do for them. Brand does matter.

“We [also] have a management team that is aging in place to the point of not moving. How do we teach those coming up in the ranks the three pillars of leadership: building culture, developing people and financial growth?” – Pam O’Connor, CEO/President, Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®

“Our industry is cannibalizing itself—it’s gotten incredibly competitive. The thing I focus on every day is leadership, and getting them to break out of their traditional mindset of doing things the way they’ve always done them. That whole mentality needs to change. I focus on what do we need to do to break tradition and be able to capitalize on our radically changing market.

“The biggest tragedy [in our company] is less than 10 percent of the agents have some sort of an organized database. We get hung up on Zillow, when the reality is the golden nugget is sitting beneath our nose.” – Tom Tognoli, CEO/President, Intero Real Estate

What keeps you up at night? Sound off in the comments section.

Stay tuned to RISMedia for continuing coverage of this year’s CEO Exchange sessions:

Suzanne De Vita is RISMedia’s online news editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at

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