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Jennifer Ames, founder of Ames Group Chicago, grew up immersed in real estate—her mother a career agent, her stepfather managing a family brokerage in Chicago. So naturally, after earning a degree in English at Yale, Ames went off to do her own thing, pursuing a career in investment banking.

“I enjoyed the challenge,” she said. “But by my early thirties, I was looking for more independence—and my mom helped me realize that my passion for excellence would translate perfectly to real estate.”

Already active in the local community—as president of the auxiliary board of the Chicago Art Institute, among other things—Ames plunged into real estate with a commitment to be the best, energized by a realization that her career in banking gave her a ready sphere of influence.

“By the time I had my license in hand,” she said, “I had 13 listings waiting.”

By her third year in the business, Ames was recognized by the Chicago Association of REALTORS® as No. 3 in sales city-wide. Off to a rousing start, it didn’t take long for Ames to realize she could be even more productive with a little support at her side.

“There was no real concept yet of teaming in the mid-nineties,” she said. “But I partnered with another agent who was really skilled in marketing, and we worked together very successfully for over two years.”

In 2008, Ames took the concept to the next level, founding Jennifer Ames Chicago, later renamed Ames Group Chicago, in an effort to leverage her time and skills by building a team committed to her standards.

In 2019, ready to partner her team with a leading service company known for premium properties, The Ames Group Chicago became an Engel and Völkers franchisee.

Barbara Pronin: Jennifer, how and why did the team concept occur to you?
Jennifer Ames:
Time is precious when you are very busy, and I realized I was losing valuable time being chief, cook and bottle washer. So, I brought in an admin assistant to handle all the paperwork. Over time, I hired a second person to handle contracts only—to stay on top of deadlines and all the checkpoints involved in every transaction—and then I brought in a really creative person to handle marketing, branding, communications. When we grew to a $60 million business, it was time to bring on more agents.

BP: How many are on your team now, and how do you manage your business?
Today, we are three full-time agents and two support staff. Some agents I know team with other successful agents, primarily for the time flexibility that it provides—and that’s a valid reason for teaming. But my model is based on developing new talent—bringing in, and mentoring, bright new agents who are totally committed to the high standards I set.

BP: So, training is important to you?
: Absolutely. After 25 successful years in real estate, I want team members who can see and understand my vision. My goal is to train them to be the best in the business and empower them to reach for the stars. I’ve had a few team members go out on their own, and I’m thrilled. That’s a win-win for everyone.

BP: You mentioned having uniquely high standards. What does that mean, exactly?
We don’t have agents. We have trusted advisors with a passion for exceeding expectations. We understand that every client is unique, and we strive to make their real estate experience rewarding and unforgettable. It’s why we aligned ourselves with Engel and Völkers, a global leader in this industry with a history of unparalleled service—and it’s what continues to make us one of Chicago’s top luxury sales teams with over $1.8 billion in sales.

BP: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your way of conducting business?
: In a way, it’s made us stronger because we’re making the best use of time, and it’s actually made us more focused. One of our team members, for example, has underlying health issues, so she is working strictly from home. But she’s taking on new duties that free time and energy for the others, and we’ve all learned that a Zoom meeting can be every bit as effective as a meeting around the conference table—sometimes even more because, again, it helps to keep us laser-focused.

BP: What’s on your agenda going forward?
Developing new and creative ways to serve our clients during this extraordinary time. And, at the moment, I’m centered on curating a new home office for our team and on bringing in a few more like-minded people to join us in our quest to be the best.

Barbara Pronin is a contributing editor to RISMedia.