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Vitals: Baird & Warner
Years in Business: 164
Size: 24 offices, 2,400 agents
2018 Sales Volume: $5.9 billion
2018 Transactions: 21,885

Laura Ellis became involved in real estate straight out of graduating from Illinois State University, drawn by an entrepreneurial spirit and an interest in being in business for herself. After eight years, she transitioned into management roles and started doing group training with a CENTURY 21 franchise.

Baird & Warner purchased that business in 1998, and Ellis continued in a management capacity, regularly helping the office break records in production, recruiting, mortgage and title. Her experience and work ethic helped her rise to her current position as president of Residential Sales and executive vice president of the firm, responsible for the day-to-day operations of residential sales. She also serves on the executive committee.

Looking back on 2018, how did the Chicago market fare?
Laura Ellis: The general Chicago market is probably a little bit behind 2017, though it’s still a terrific market. Baird & Warner is significantly outpacing the market, so we’ll post our fourth consecutive record year in both units and sales volume. We’re very proud of that gaining marketshare.

Has there been any recent growth, or planned growth initiatives for 2019?
LE: In the last 12 months or so, we did a couple of acquisitions that helped us grow. We did a significant acquisition in our Libertyville marketplace—a CENTURY 21 franchise agreement, which was one of the top competitors in that market. We acquired them last fall and they’ve become a powerhouse office for us. We also did several walkovers, as well. In fact, we had a small Weichert location in our Evanston market where the franchise agreement was up, and the owner really just wanted to sell. While we love big acquisitions, a lot of our growth in the last couple of years has actually come from smaller groups of agents coming over to work under our structure. For next year, we’re aggressively looking for acquisition opportunities, as well as those walkover opportunities.

What do you offer agents as far as training?
LE: We’ve intentionally set up a model here that’s very cost-effective to the agents. We’ve segmented our training programs because we have 2,500 agents in our company, and there’s no way we can do one training curriculum that’s going to meet the needs of each and every agent. We have some agents doing $30 million a year and some that have been in the business for just a little while. We call our training Achieve, Accelerate and Ascend. The Ascend group is our top 20 percent of agents. They get invitation-only training opportunities at least twice a year. Then we have Achieve, a two-week new agent program that then continues in the branch offices for a year so that they can work with their managers. Accelerate encompasses everything in the middle. We don’t charge our agents because we want to make sure there are no barriers.

What do you feel makes the firm unique?
LE: We’re all about empowering our people at every level, whether it be our broker associates, our staff or our mid- and senior managers. Everybody wants to be part of a winning team, and that embodies our culture.

Keith Loria is a contributing editor to RISMedia.