Cover story: How to succeed as a managing broker

by Joe Ward

Top agents, association executives and company owners might be the public faces of the real estate industry, but there’s someone else who is responsible for much of those people’s success and whose job is unique among real estate professionals: managing brokers.

While managing brokers may sometimes be less visible than others, their work keeps the industry churning. Just like agents, a managing broker’s responsibilities are myriad and ever-changing. But unlike agents, their failure to perform those duties doesn’t just doom one career — it could imperil a whole office or company. Managing brokers are bosses first and foremost, and their work can be misunderstood by some employees. But they are also mentors and teachers, and the most successful offices and brokers often have great relationships with their managers.

“When you’re an agent, you measure results based on your own performance,” says Renee Naffziger, managing broker of Baird & Warner’s Fox Valley office. “But in management, your results are based on the team’s performance and productivity. It’s a different mindset. And you’ve got to wear a ton of different hats. But that’s what makes the job exciting.”

How do managing brokers get their starts?

Chip Cornelius, Senior Vice President of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s city region and managing broker of the firm’s West Loop office, got his start in the industry in the competitive and chaotic world of 1980s New York City real estate. The experience boosted his sales skills and taught him a great deal about the industry, things that have come in handy while coaching his brokers.

“It was a very disorganized market,” Cornelius says of New York real estate. “I got a really good great start from just learning sales. It really trickled into my management style into how we get people to be productive, to make that extra sale this month or take on that extra listing.”

Others have gone straight into a managing broker position, although if you are successful in the job, your responsibilities will grow along with your business. T.J. Rubin, founder and managing broker of Fulton Grace Realty, has been his own boss since getting his start in real estate in 2009. He began his career as an attorney, and while he was looking for a new opportunity in the field, he decided to take the test to be a managing broker. “I just wanted to keep my mind busy,” Rubin says. “I never thought I was ever going to use it or be a real estate broker, but funny enough, after I left the practice, I started as a one-man shop. My goal as managing broker then was much different than it is now.”

Rubin entered real estate right in the aftermath of the housing market collapse,  so he got into business for himself dealing with rentals. He eventually grew the business into Fulton Grace Realty, which now has more than 100 agents and several support staff members.

In 2014, Rubin decided to focus exclusively on management and growing his company. He has had to change his own job description and management style many times to meet the demands of his agents and of the market. “In a big firm, recruiting and retention is key,” he says. “Growing the ecosystem without messing with it is always a challenge.”

Managing brokers have to rely on a wealth of skills and experiences in order to do their job successfully. That’s why so many of them come into the job after years in the profession or in another leadership position. Many managing brokers, like Naffziger, spent years as an agent before deciding she wanted to explore a different role.

“I was a real estate broker for about 15 years before going into management,” she says. “I loved selling, and I loved the clients. But I developed a passion for training. I liked being one of those people who agents went to with questions.”

Naffziger started off as an assistant manager for Baird & Warner, then became managing broker of one of the company’s small offices before finally assuming the role of managing broker of the Fox Valley office. She oversees 130 agents, and this summer, she will help the team move into a bigger, brand-new office.

“I’ve had to learn a lot. It’s a very different job from sales,” Naffziger says. “In management, you’re constantly involved. You learn a lot about multitasking.”

What does it take to support your agents?

A successful managing broker has to be a people person — someone who can offer constructive feedback or show empathy when needed. “People have ups and downs in this business,” Naffziger says. “Helping people to stay motivated, I enjoy doing that, but I never realized how much people would rely on you to do that, to lend an ear or be a voice. The agents want to feel like they’re supported.”

Much of an office’s success comes down to its interpersonal relationships, Cornelius says. It’s important to show that a managing broker is invested in their team’s success. They can do so by being available, helping with business plans and sharing their expertise.

“I want to see people make it and have a really great career in this business,” Cornelius says. “If there’s any magic in this, it’s that I spend a lot of time with people. The only time our company profits is when our agents profit. We have a complete desire to see that happen. If we keep our focus on that, then we can really succeed.”

For many managing brokers, that desire to coach and be a team leader is what led them to the role. But that’s only one facet of the job. Much of the job requires a keen business sense and administrative savvy.

While Fulton Grace grew from one office to three, Rubin said he has had to think a lot about strategic growth. He likened the challenge to a construction project: a sturdy and sound foundation is needed to build a large building. The same is true for the real estate business. Rubin said he makes sure to tell prospective brokers of his large investments in marketing and lead generation as well as his robust support staff and administrators.

“We have a VP of sales, a VP of management and a VP of rentals. None of them compete. It’s almost a militaristic layer of management and coaching,” Rubin says. “You have to be able to make sure that as your agency grows, so do your support systems. Without those systems, your agent pool will suffer and turn over.”

A managing broker has to constantly be reevaluating their business, not only to make sure the best internal practices are used, but to also survey the competition and forecast the market. “We constantly look at how we position our company with other companies so that we’re ever changing and ever-present,” Cornelius says. “It’s a dynamic, changing industry, and we have to stay on top of it. During the crash, brokerage companies didn’t survive real well. But those that did were able to turn their companies into short-sale specialists, foreclosure specialists and rental specialists.”


More from this issue:

Survey: What makes a great managing broker?

Will economic confidence translate to the housing market?

Are you in violation of the Realtor Code of Ethics on social media?


Why do agents stay with your brokerage?

While managing brokers have to think about strategic growth and long-term business plans, they are first and foremost managers of people. That requires not only encouraging and coaching their agents, but attracting talented agents and making sure they stick around.

That means brokers must have top-notch support for the agent and form interpersonal relationships. Naffziger says she makes an effort to organize cookouts, martini-making competitions and other social activities to foster a close-knit team.

“The agents getting to know respect and trust each other — that helps with the retention, knowing who you’re working with and if it’s a good environment,” she says. “The agents want to feel like they’re supported. It’s important to have team players.”

Time might be a managing broker’s most valuable commodity, but a lion’s share of it needs to go to helping their agents, Cornelius says.

“I think it’s spending quality time with your agents,” he says. “Companies that do that well retain their people more often.”

Cornelius says agents jumping to other brokerages has been common in the industry for quite some time. Most top brokerages have similar products to offer agents, he says, so the difference comes down to other factors — the strength of the agents’ confidence in their leadership chief among them.

“There’s this grass-is-greener thing in our industry,” he says. “I’m not sure why that’s the case. There aren’t better tools at other companies, so I know it can’t be that. I don’t believe the grass is greener unless there is another manager willing to spend more quality time on their career path than their current manager.”

How can agents spot a great managing broker?

After assessing a brokerage’s splits, marketing strategies, lead generation tools and administrative support, what should an agent look for in a good managing broker?

“There are too many times when agents don’t ask enough questions in their interview,” Rubin says. “Agents need to inspect the brokerage’s support systems, education systems and lead pipelines.”

A great managing broker will not only explain those things to you, but will let you know how those tools will specifically help the agent succeed, Naffziger says. “Most important is, how can the managing broker help me grow my business? How can the team support get me to where I want to be?”

Agents want to know not only how their business can grow, but how their managing broker will go about growing brokerage as well, Rubin says. “You want someone with a five-year specific growth plan. It’s about giving the agents a very tangible plan on how the company can provide them with growth strategies and how the company has a plan to achieve its growth goals.”

Agents, especially those new to the business, will be best served by knowing if their prospective managing broker is in the mentoring business. “The first thing I would ask a managing broker is about their experiences in mentoring and guiding salespeople,” Cornelius says. “How present is that managing broker? How much contact can I have with them?

“Most brokerages have similar products and services,” he adds. “It’s about the implementation of those products and services. The only way that success happens is if the managing broker and the office has systems in place and training in place and coaching in place to connect the person to all that so they can use it.”