My Path to Success: Drussy Hernandez; Ray Zabielski; Barbara O’Connor; Natasha O’Connor; Henry Sakowski

by Chicago Agent

Find out how five top managing brokers got to where they are today:

Drussy Hernandez


When I came back from New York 28 years ago, I became a receptionist for a real estate company that is no longer around. I went from being a personal assistant to an office manager, and then a managing broker. I first got licensed in ’88, and that’s when I became more involved in transactions. I had experience in management for 11 years before joining Conlon, and the transition from office manager to managing broker was an easy one.

The best advice I’ve heard had to do with agent relationships: ‘always keep in tune with agents and what they’re going through.’ Sometimes managing brokers can become detached. You can’t do that if you want customer service to continue within the organization – your agents need to see you engaging with agents and being a listening body, not just someone to go to when they have a problem, but when good things happen, too. Managing brokers should be a part of their
agents’ success.


Ray Zabielski


Real estate was something I always wanted to work in. Growing up, my grandfather owned apartment buildings, and when I was in the army, I realized I wanted to own properties and work in real estate. I graduated with a degree in finance and urban economics and started right out of school. I worked in commercial real estate until 2004, and then I founded Charles Rutenberg Realty.

The challenge was, and continues to be, informing agents of opportunities with Charles Rutenberg. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any company, and as managing broker, my job is to continue to present our message to agents and why we make sense over another company. Over the years, 1,800 agents have joined us, and more than 700 agents are actively with us. I am always sure to have our resources in place, and maintain our policy that we have the best agents and provide support for those agents to run their business.

We’ve been named to Chicago Tribune’s list of top 100 places to work two years in a row. That’s amazing, because it’s not something you can purchase; it’s a third-party survey. Last year, we were ranked fourth on the list; I was impressed and proud.


Barbara O'Connor


I was a mother of five who had been at home for 10 years going bonkers, and my husband suggested I take a real estate class because he loved houses. Since then, I’ve been in the industry for 20 years and a managing broker for a year and a half.

People in the industry have a better understanding of what agents go through than someone who hasn’t sold for over 20 years. When I made the move to managing broker, I was told I’d be babysitting agents. Not one day have I ever babysat an agent. There are new problems every day, and with my knowledge and experience, I can truly help agents.


Natasha O'Connor


I grew up in the real estate business. My mother began selling real estate in 1987 after we moved to New Jersey from living overseas. She was an instant success due to her work ethic, appreciation for her clients and her generosity. She is my inspiration to work hard each day to support my own agents. My first job was being Mom’s helper!

I assisted with marketing and other tasks for my mother until I was old enough to become licensed and expand my responsibilities. I worked my way up with the support of my mentor, Pat Mazzone, and the two owners of Prudential Rubloff, who believed I could be successful as a managing broker. I poured my heart and soul into my work, too.  I became an assistant manager in 2004 and immediately began learning all of the various responsibilities of a managing broker. The combination of my upbringing in the business, experience as an assistant manager, coaching from my mentor and the support of my superiors made for a smooth transition.

I never assume that I know what is going to happen in a given day. What I learned quickly in my career is that there are challenges no matter what the market conditions, company, location, etc. As long as you are prepared to be surprised, you should be just fine. I can’t think of a single piece of advice that shaped how I conduct myself as a managing broker. Instead, I was inspired to develop a set of values by which to work.


Henry Sakowski


I started in 1988 with no idea what real estate really meant. Just five years before that, I came to this country from Poland and therefore, I did not even know anybody who owned a home or understood the process of buying or selling houses.

In 1993, when I started my career as a broker/owner, I became one to have my private office to meet my clients. However, my business soon changed unintentionally – I was helping people find their dream house or find the right buyer for their existing house, but once I was a managing broker, I started to help my agents achieve their dreams. I did this by helping them to sell more properties, creating an environment to be more productive, providing the best tools in the industry, keeping pace with changing technology and helping agents with promotion and marketing.

Establishing brand recognition for this office in Chicago has been a great accomplishment. It wasn’t easy for a person with an accent, who for that reason, was very often challenged by cooperating brokers and attorneys, and who had to doubly prove his professionalism. Proving to my agents that I was better than my competitors was a big deal. In the early 2000s, I had managed four locations with over 350 agents. At that time, no offices had bilingual secretaries. It was standard for our locations. It reflected the composition of our city’s population and addressed our clients’ needs.

Setting high standards for conducting a business and leading by example helped me with recruiting. The foundation of my business is based on referrals from clients and good relationships with cooperating agents/brokers and the community. I am determined to keep developing my office for agents who have a passion to help people with their dreams.

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