Nothing provides greater opportunity for contemplation than a week outside the office. While working in my garden in Connecticut this past week, I thought a lot about being a business owner. As many of you know, I never intended to be a businessman. Although I come from a long line of bankers and retailers, I thought my calling was pedagogy and the arts. So I got a liberal arts degree, a liberal arts masters and most of a doctorate, then made a 180 degree turn into the business world. No business school, no statistics, no advanced math, no nothing. I just had a quick head for calculating 6%!
I recount this because clearly my background shapes my perspective. I believe that owning a business, and making the best of it, depends on some key skills which, for a Type A personality like myself, are not always easy to master or exercise. Here are a few of them:
• Don’t be the smartest person in the room. This has been a tough one for me, since I am very competitive by nature. But my business has flourished to the degree that I have been able to listen to the ideas of others, more skilled and innovative in their various approaches than I may be. Part of this also depends on creating an environment in which open conversation is possible. If I make those around me scared to talk to me, I won’t learn anything.
• Figure out what you don’t do well. And don’t try to learn how to do it. Find people who are better at it than you and hire them. Then you can focus on what you ARE good at to move your business forward.
• Be open to innovation. Change is hard for many of us, and we tend, sometimes unconsciously, to hold onto the behaviors and reactions we are familiar with even if they no longer work (or never worked.) Technology has accelerated the pace of change in our world and there is a lot of feeling in the tech community that real estate brokerage is ripe for disruption. Our only defense is to adapt early to the tools which will improve the consumer experience.
• Leave yourself time to think. This is tough particularly in the early years. But taking a walk in the park, or working in the garden, or reading a book you love, allows your brain some time to work on the back-burner issues which otherwise can just get forgotten. It’s remarkable how productive “non-productive” time can be.
• Be nice! If I had to settle on one trait which, more than any other, has helped me build my business, this is it. I try to be sympathetic, engaged, and interested in everyone who works for me. No doubt I don’t always succeed. Still, the attempt, and my sincerity about it, have contributed substantially to the sense of mutual loyalty and valued relationship which have kept many of our agents working for Warburg for 20, 25, even 30 years.
Running Warburg Realty has been a wild ride, but most of the time it’s been challenging, engaging, and multi-faceted. It’s not the life I planned, but I am delighted that it’s the life I got!