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The up-and-comer: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices


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“Real estate isn’t for the weak willed. We feel nauseous if we’re not in the top 10 percent.” —Gino Blefari, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices

What does it take to run a company for Warren Buffett? Ask Gino Blefari, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, one of the few Buffett acquisitions that have been allowed to use the hallowed Berkshire Hathaway name.

Blefari is the real estate agent’s real estate agent: He is confidence wrapped in a great suit, a consummate dealmaker, a beam of energy and he’s seen and done just about everything one can do in the real estate business. His story even sounds a little like Buffett’s—he started a company to do odd jobs for neighbors at 15 and has been pushing toward the next thing ever since.

He’s still pushing, as real estate agents do, to be the very best.

Gino Blefari

Gino Blefari, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, goes through one of several piles of franchisee fan mail. Franchisees adore the real estate agent turned CEO.

“Real estate isn’t for the weak-willed. We feel nauseous if we’re not in the top 10 percent,” said Blefari.

Since taking over the CEO role at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in 2015, he’s been reinvigorating the culture and getting buy-in from the more than 44,000 real estate agents across more than 1,260 franchises. To get all those largely self-made entrepreneurial minds to work together is no small feat. To do so he brought some of his favorite business culture systems into play.

Blefari has always had an affinity for cultural systems. He’s an encyclopedia of confidence-boosting methods, business systems and culture-building. Even at 23, while managing a golf course in his pre real-estate days, he put the principles in Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to work. It clicked and the course grew and grew. At Intero, the company he founded that grew to a real estate juggernaut, his blueprint was “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.

When he starts talking about the laundry list of systems, cultural tools and confidence tactics he uses at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices (BHHS), Blefari may sound like the colleague  who just came back from a business retreat ready to take on the world. The difference between that colleague—who will be back in the same rut by noon on Tuesday—is that Blefari lives and breathes his various systems.

The chief system at BHHS is the Four Disciplines of Execution or 4DX.  The four disciplines, for the uninitiated, are focusing on the wildly important, acting on lead measures, keeping a compelling scoreboard and creating a cadence of accountability. Blefari said his first WIG (wildly important goal) was getting everyone to buy in. He was able to build Intero from the ground up, but BHHS already had its own culture.

“Everybody else was already here and I had to coach them up or coach them out. When I talked to them about WIG they though I had flipped my wig,” said Blefari.

Gino Blefari's notebooks

 One of Gino Blefari’s many notebooks of confidence-inspiring affirmations.

But when franchisees and agents saw the results, they became emphatic fans of Blifari’s systems. In fact, a quirky morning routine of filling a page with written affirmations has become commonplace. Now a group of his top salespeople text him their own pages every morning.

“When they can see it working, and they see it working somewhere else—for example, Georgia Properties buys in and starts doing really well, then the next group jumps in, then the next,” said Blefari.

He said it served as a great test for the operators as well. Those who put in the work demonstrated that they would continue to thrive within the system.

“We want our franchisees to be No. 1, 2 or 3 in every market, and we want them to grow. If they don’t want to grow, we’re not a good fit for them,” said Blefari.

An international push

But even with a strong, competitive culture, Blefari needed to deliver on some big promises made to agents who converted to the BHHS system from the various brands rolled into the Berkshire Hathaway halo. For one, the Prudential Real Estate franchisees who made up a bulk of those conversions were promised a truly global brand built on cutting-edge technology.

“To be a global real estate brand we needed to be international, for a couple reasons, for one to expose our listings to all the buyers in the world. That’s our fiduciary duty to our seller, to get the best price,” said Blefari. “So you hire the right guy, Peter.”

Clocks

 A global reach means a lot of clocks. 

He’s talking about Peter Turtzo, the BHHS secret weapon for international; he’s been the driving force behind the company’s international prowess. And like a good real estate agent, he makes the huge undertaking of translating U.S. real estate for a global audience sound easy. “The short answer is we hired quality people to do it,” said Turtzo.

His team includes many of the who’s who in international real estate from Latin America, Asia and Europe. He’s also helped shape what the underlying technology should be able to do with some staggering stats as guidelines. In 2015, Turtzo said, China was the No. 1 foreign buyer of U.S. real estate. To capitalize on that, it means translating listings, opening up search to foreign partner sites and companies and funneling those leads to U.S. franchisees.

“It is a big boon for them. We want our agents to put their arms around this global opportunity,” said Turtzo. “It’s the largest group and the average sales price is over $900,000 and over half of those transactions are all cash. Anybody who doesn’t recognize that this is here is not paying attention.”

The technology supporting that international scope created somewhat of a sea change for broker software. It’s been translated into 10 languages and counting, and unlike many platforms, it shows all the listings in an area instead of limiting it to only the broker’s listings. That means it’s becoming the place for international buyers to search U.S. real estate.

And in all of those efforts lies the answer to the question most people ask. How did Warren Buffett allow this company that he “barely noticed” was part of an acquisition, according to Blefari, to use the hallowed Berkshire Hathaway name? Well, it’s just good business.  “The largest contingent of the last Berkshire Hathaway conference were in China. Warren Buffett is a hero over there—he’s a hero everywhere—but particularly over there. Everybody in a financial market, they all understand Berkshire Hathaway and make the connection to the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand as one of stability, integrity and trust.”

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