Thoughts on Leadership: Altruism and Tragedy

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me first in San Diego for the 2017 AREAA National Convention. The conference focused on how real estate can better serve buyers and sellers of diverse backgrounds and I was honored to participate in a panel discussion about the Fair Housing Act, created to ensure homeownership for all. The onstage dialogue was detailed and thoughtful, meant to get to the core of the Fair Housing issue and figure out how we can create a better way to protect renters and buyers from unlawful discrimination.

Next, my itinerary would’ve taken me to Las Vegas for the Zillow Group Broker Forum. The event is invite-only and happens each year, bringing together the nation’s largest brokers to meet with Zillow Group executives and industry leaders to share ideas about trends in real estate. It would’ve been enlightening and informative, I’m sure, but Monday morning I received an email the event was cancelled, and the cancellation was of course the right thing to do.

As you know, Sunday night marked the largest mass shooting in our nation’s history and on behalf of our organization, my thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the awful tragedy in Las Vegas. This entire week has felt expectedly heavy on our hearts as the country mourns great losses, consoles and slowly, somehow attempts to heal.  

It’s incredible to me that while our world turns ever-tech—more connected, more digital—that when true darkness falls, we find bright spots not in the light from our cell phones but in the lights of those shining, valiant leaders who step up amid tragedy and show unyielding compassion, bravery and poise. We’re not defined by the technology we possess but by the character we display, and stories about the incredible heroes of the Las Vegas shooting prove that fact now more than ever before. I just read an article about the police officers who willingly put themselves in harm’s way by entering a hotel with reports of an active, heavily armed shooter inside. Now that’s leadership and heroism at its finest.

The idea of the unselfishness of people is actually one that is central to our industry. When you think about the essence of real estate, we are not really in the business of buying and selling homes, we are in the business of helping others. We assist buyers, we assist sellers; we help people and always will. Those interested can contribute to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund here.

So what’s the message? This week, I’ll keep it short because the focus must remain on the fallen and wounded in Las Vegas. But as I said, there is goodness that can be derived from such tragic horror and it’s found in the unwavering selflessness of people ready to help those in need.

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


Thoughts on Leadership: Real Estate and Legislation

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me in Washington, D.C. for the National Association of REALTORS® RES Advisory Group Meeting and next in San Diego to attend the 2017 AREAA National Convention (but more on that next week). I’ve long embraced the virtues of our industry’s leaders working closely alongside lawmakers to ensure not only the synergy of current legislation with our business practices but also to ensure our nation’s laws promote and encourage homeownership for all.

The meeting kicked off Wednesday at the Treasury Department with a presentation from Drew Maloney, Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, Treasury. We were also joined that evening by Senator Isakson (R-GA), Congressman Sherman (D-CA) and Congressman Rothfus (R-PA).

As pure coincidence, on the day RES began, the brand-new Tax Reform Framework was released, called “The American Model for Global Competitiveness.” The main purpose of the reform, as stated in the document is to put “America on a level international playing field and [put] an end to the incentives for shipping jobs overseas.”

Maloney fielded questions from our group about this new Framework and how it affects the real estate industry. NAR released the following about where the association stands on tax reform: “Our current tax system is too complex, and tax reform should simplify it. However, tax reform must not discard the features of the system that provide the bedrock for homeownership in America.”

After the Q&A, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Senator Isakson and was impressed, as always, by his strong and consistent advocacy of the real estate industry. If you didn’t know, he’s one of us. Isakson, along with being a prominent political figure, is also a successful businessman with more than 40 years of experience as a broker for family-owned Northside Realty. In addition, he holds the distinction of being the only Georgian ever to get elected to the state House, state Senate, U.S. House and U.S. Senate. Last year he broke yet another record as the first Georgian Republican to ever get elected for a third term to the U.S. Senate. Now that’s an impressive and well-respected leader!

This Thursday morning, Rei Mesa, 2017 RES Chair called the meeting to order and next we received an update from NAR CEO Bob Goldberg, who was grilled with some tough questions and handled them all with characteristic intelligence and poise. Kudos to Ron Peltier and Lennox Scott who were very direct with Bob on how NAR can improve its support of real estate professionals.

After, Lawrence Yun, NAR Senior Vice President of Research, provided a housing and market update, followed by Jennifer Barnard, FBI Headquarters, Supervisory Special Agent, who spoke about the perils of wire fraud and what we can do as an industry to prevent this persistent problem. Katie Johnson, NAR Senior Vice President and General Counsel, finished up the day with a legal presentation.

Some additional notable priorities for the RES Meeting included:

  • Educate the REALTOR® community about data security and cybercrimes related to real estate transactions
  • Protect the Mortgage Interest Deduction
  • Support Upstream implementation
  • Improve down payment savings options for first time home buyers

… And more.

So, what’s the message? The one, huge takeaway from my time spent in Washington, D.C. is the importance of staying informed, staying connected to our legislative leaders and staying educated on what’s happening in government and how these changes affect our industry. A good place to start would be here, researching NAR’s official stance on tax reform. Whether or not you agree with the position taken, it’s important as a leader to have an opinion that’s researched, strategic and informed. The best leaders are those ones who don’t just say what they want but also exactly why they want it. Take heed from this RES group, filled with busy and important leaders who no matter what give up their time to attend because they understand the significance of making their voice heard in such an impactful setting as our nation’s capital.

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


Thoughts on Leadership: Clear Your Mind

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels unexpectedly find me working from home, and not, as originally planned, meeting in Miami. My event was canceled due to Hurricane Irma and its impending destruction and my thoughts are with those in Florida currently dealing with the terrible aftermath of the storm. On behalf of our entire organization, our prayers go out to all of you.

The unanticipated change in schedule did afford me days to fall back into my usual routine, which starts with a 5 a.m. visit to Starbucks, my dog Kona by my feet, writing in my journal and doing my meditation and prayers.

I actually enjoy time off—the hours before the work day starts, the weekends—because they’re opportunities to examine yourself and create a better you with a clear head. As I say, do stuff for yourself in the morning and things for everyone else in the afternoon. Why? Because you have a much greater chance of getting them done in the morning and less of a chance in the afternoon when interruptions often come up. In the morning, you can really focus on what’s working and what’s not working without the whirlwind of your daily activities pulling your thoughts in other directions. On weekends, on late nights and during those early morning hours, you can sit somewhere quiet and THINK. (Did you know Apple CEO Tim Cook gets up every day at 3:45 a.m.? Or that Xerox CEO Ursula Burns wakes at 5:15 a.m. for a workout?  Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey wakes up before the sun rises for a 6-mile run. I’d argue there’s a direct correlation between utilizing downtime and the success of your leadership.)

Every Saturday I ask myself this question: What am I doing in the upcoming week to improve so that I’m better than I was the week before?

This past weekend I was talking with my friend, David Bergman, during our weekly book club meeting. David was coughing so I asked what was wrong. “Dave, are you still not over that cold?” I said, because the week before he had been sick. “I am,” he told me, “I just ordered a mocha and I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to dairy.”

Right then I resolved to eliminate dairy from my coffee. It was a small discipline, a small change as a result of speaking with Dave but it will allow me to be a better version of myself in the weeks and months ahead.

In fact, here’s a change-oriented practice I employ from Peter Bregman’s book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done: Set your alarm clock or phone to go off every hour during the day … that’s eight 1-minute check-ins. When the clock goes off, it’s your reminder to pause, reflect, recharge, recalibrate and refocus.

So, what’s the message? If you find yourself with a stretch of time where you can relax, make sure you use it as an opportunity to contemplate the current state of your mind and body. Make a small change to better your health, shift your mindset toward even greater positivity, think about ways you can be more productive in the week ahead. I promise you, when you next sit down to work, you’ll be glad you made good use of your time off.

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


Thoughts on Leadership: A Time for Change

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me in New York City, in particular at the prestigious Harvard Club for RISMedia’s Real Estate CEO Exchange, which brings together more than 225 powerhouse real estate leaders from all brands and all sectors of the industry to strategize on how best to meet the needs of today’s consumer.

I’ve been attending this event for more than 20 years and you might ask yourself why I go back to the same conference year after year … Well, here’s why …

First, John Featherston, founder, CEO and publisher of RISMedia and Daryl MacPherson, RISMedia’s executive vice president, do a consistently great job organizing and hosting the event. It’s so clear how much they love this industry and how much they want to have serious, progressive discussions about ways to make it better.

The overwhelming theme during this conference was change. John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

And the agenda for the New York event reflects this very sentiment. Click HERE to browse all the featured speakers.

Ron Peltier, chairman and CEO of HomeServices of America, Inc., kicked off CEO Exchange with a keynote, “State of the Real Estate Union” about the importance of our ability as real estate leaders to adapt to an industry in flux.

Other panel discussions for the day included: “What Keeps You Up at Night? Overcoming Hurdles to Profitability,” and “A Better Crystal Ball: How to Leverage Predictive Analytics.”

On day two, topics included: “Transforming the Real Estate Transaction in the On-Demand Economy,” “The Evolution of the Real Estate Mode: Are You Adapting Fast Enough?” “Agent Teams, How to Manage, Maximize and Mitigate Risk,” “Averting Disaster: The Top 3 Risks to Your Brokerage and How to Avoid Them” and “The Verdict is In: Agent Loyalty is Out – Now What?”

As you can see, the panels didn’t shy away from some very difficult and even uncomfortable issues. But in truth, there’s no way to create lasting change without digging deep into plaguing problems, focusing on the challenges, sharing potential solutions, determining a plan and of course, executing.

So, what’s the message? It’s undoubtedly about change but it’s also about John and Daryl’s ability to recognize that change needs to be made. They’re real estate leaders who genuinely have great relationships with so many brokers in our industry, across all brands, across companies large and small, and use those relationships to bring leaders together. They’re also constantly giving new real estate leaders a chance to share their ideas because they’re often the ones at the forefront of change and have the nimbleness to implement it quickly. Still, John and Daryl recognize the weight and worthiness of decades-experienced brokers. The answers to our most persistent problems, I believe, come from combining the ideas of both groups. As JFK said, “Hold fast to the best of the past and move fast to the best of the future.”

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


Thoughts on Leadership: Leading Through the Storm

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me in Northern California, where I’ve been keeping close tabs on the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. I’ve received numerous phone calls, made quite a few myself, emailed network members, and read your emails in return, which detail not only the destructive aftermath of the storm but also the inspiring courage of volunteers who are stepping up from all parts of the country to help where help is needed. Small boats, military Humvees … these heroes are deploying whatever it takes to bring those in harm’s way to safety.

It could be a whole post—or even a book—to explain why the worst situations bring out our very best but it’s certainly worthwhile to examine Hurricane Harvey through the lens of leadership. When disaster strikes, we look to leaders to provide strength, inspire hope, and guide us through hardship toward recovery and ultimately, some kind of resolution.

When I think of leaders who have battled resounding tragedy, I think of Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York City during the 9/11 attacks. His ability to be compassionate and calm yet realistic and candid imbued Manhattan—and the United States—with much-needed brightness during one of America’s darkest days.

I think also of Captain Edward John Smith, most famous for steering the RMS Titanic, who went down with the ship when it struck an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912. The British Merchant Navy officer is remembered fondly for his stoicism in the face of utter tragedy on the high seas. Crew members recalled his formidable figure standing tall on the ship’s bridge, megaphone in hand, assisting with the evacuation of passengers onto life boats, knowing not all would survive and knowing he would most likely die.

Another example of leadership amid crisis can be seen in Mary Barra, GM’s first female CEO. In 2014, Barra—who had been an electrical engineer at GM for more than 30 years—was only two months into her new role when news broke that GM put more than 1.7 million cars on the road that had an ignition-switch defect responsible for dozens of deaths. The development was an awful blow to one of the world’s largest automakers and Barra didn’t shy away from blame. Instead, she addressed the harrowing ordeal with a solemn and earnest video apology. “Something went very wrong,” she said, “And terrible things happened.”

A 2007 article that ran in The New York Times said this about leadership and disaster: “In times of consuming trauma, psychologists and historians say, a leader must speak with a trusted voice and sketch honestly the painful steps to safety. A leader must weave a narrative of shared loss while acknowledging consuming anger.”

It’s been estimated that more than 30,000 people have been displaced just in Texas alone, and hours ago Harvey threatened the region again with relentless new waves of rain. The images we see on the ground are a heartbreaking reminder that now more than ever leaders are needed to do what we do best … lead.

So, what’s the message? Leadership exists on a continuum and its core tenets of resilience, determination and strategic planning then execution must be present as evidently in the lowest valleys of leadership as they are at the highest peaks. When catastrophe strikes like it did recently for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, a leader must balance sympathy with strength, feel the tense emotional pull of the situation and lead with rationality and clear-mindedness, just as the network professionals who shared their volunteer stories with me have done. It’s never an easy or simple thing to do but then again, what act of courage ever is?

If you’d like to contribute funds to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, the following organizations are currently collecting donations:

REALTOR® Relief Foundation

American Red Cross

I ask now that you keep those affected by the storm in your thoughts and prayers.

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


Thoughts on Leadership: Business Plan Now

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me in Northern California, taking meetings, organizing calls and just this morning, leading a teleconference with Debbie De Grote, founder/CEO of Excelleum Coaching & Consulting all about business planning. For all of us, a business plan is vital because even as an agent we must think of ourselves as a business, and all businesses must have a plan. Remember the wise words of Benjamin Franklin: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Some may think it’s strange though to have a business-planning call at the end of August but there’s a reason for this exact timing. During my 30+ years in the real estate business—as an agent, a manager and an owner of a company—I’ve always found that there’s a cash flow problem in the months of January and February. This applies to agents as much as it does to owners.

Why? Because real estate operates on a 90-day cycle, so what we do 90 days before gets paid out 90 days later. This means a lag in business during the fall months will show up in Q1 of the new year. The lag is understandable, though avoidable; it’s obvious to notice right after Halloween a great number of agents go into hibernation. There’s Thanksgiving, the holidays … life gets busy and business gets put on the back burner. (Extrapolate those 90 days during this lull and you’ll understand clearly why cash-flow problems plague us in January and February.)

To get you started, access our Business Planning Essentials by clicking HERE

Starting now, I want us to no longer think of Jan. 1 as the beginning of the new year. Our new start? Oct. 1. If we assume Oct. 1 is the “new” New Year, then we have to take the month of September to complete our business plan by that date.

As a small aside, it may seem early but now is a great time to organize the holiday cards you’ll send out, to arrange for a family photo shoot, to make sure you handwrite those messages (if possible) for your prospective and current clients. You want your holiday card to be in the mail on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving so when that Friday hits and everyone is shopping and home with family, yours is the first card they receive. (As a tip, make sure it has your photo and/or a family photo on it so they’ll be more likely to keep it.)

Another very important aspect of your business plan is to schedule your calendar for the entire year. The first thing to schedule is your vacation, days off—anything that will give you balance. This will ensure that it actually happens and you don’t schedule meetings or calls during the time when you’re supposed to be off.

So, what’s the message? First, if you haven’t already, click HERE to download the Business Planning Essentials document. Then make a promise to dedicate the entire month of September to complete your plan and have it polished, finished and ready to go on Oct. 1. But this timing shouldn’t just be applied now; you should for the rest of your career use this as a framework to build and grow your business. Each year, pledge to complete your business plan by Oct. 1 and then, when everyone else isn’t working or scrambling to business plan over the holidays, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


Thoughts on Leadership: 11 Days of Travel

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me on the final day of 11 days of straight travel, which is unusual for me because I’m typically home on the weekends. However, this week-and-a-half business adventure has certainly been worthwhile and I’d like to recap some of the highlights for you now …

I started out at the Housing Renaissance, held at the Grand Del Mar resort in San Diego. The mission of the event is to gather top housing industry thought leaders, high-level executives, policy makers and leading entrepreneurs in order to discuss how best to create sustainable homeownership in the housing industry and how we can better serve a diverse housing market.

Phil Bracken (chief policy offer of government and industry relations at Radian Guaranty), Gary Acosta, (co-founder and CEO of NAHREP), and Jim Park, (partner at The Mortgage Collaborative), at the awards ceremony during the Housing Renaissance event.

I have to say, the crowd at the Housing Renaissance was impressive; the room was filled with many well-credentialed people, including event organizers Gary Acosta (co-founder and CEO of NAHREP), Phil Bracken (chief policy officer of government and industry relations at Radian Guaranty) and Jim Park (partner at The Mortgage Collaborative and board member emeritus at AREAA). Other notable guests were Henry Cisneros, CEO of City Viery, Nicolas Retsinas, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, Brad Blackwell, EVP at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Barrett Burns, CEO at VantageScore Solutions LLC, David Kittle, CMB, vice chairman and president at The Mortgage Collaborative, Shawn Krause, EVP at Quicken Loans and Barry Zigas, director of housing policy at the Consumer Federation of America. All in all, conference attendees proved a thought-provoking mix of real estate leaders and Washington D.C. policymakers, which, when brought together, is a recipe for actionable change.

At the Buffini & Company MasterMind Summit with Brian Buffini, chairman and founder of Buffini & Company.

From San Diego I went to Brian Buffini’s MasterMind Summit, a conference that not only delivers with consistent information year after year but also features some of the most unbelievable speakers. This year, Mitch Albom, author of the beloved book, Tuesdays with Morrie, spoke to the crowd and shared his story of success, which began in New Jersey, where he grew up and taught himself to play piano. It would be years and years later that he became one of Detroit’s most well-known sports media figures and after that a best-selling author. And, as if the keynotes couldn’t get any better, Olympic Gold Medalist Scott Hamilton next took to the stage, and shared his life’s story, too.  The retired American figure skater (he won four consecutive U.S. Championships, four consecutive World Championships and a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics), told his tale about growing up as a small, sickly child and how he’s battled cancer over and over again and still came out skating. His resilience, mental and physical toughness and ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles moved the entire crowd and you couldn’t help but feel every emotion as he so candidly and bravely shared his tale with us.

From one great event to the next … after MasterMind Summit it was off to my good friend and real estate coach Tom Ferry’s Success Summit in Las Vegas. As it does each year, this conference also proved incredibly inspirational and covered topics as wide-ranging as Google consumer trends, Facebook marketing, business models of the future, off-market listings, mega open houses and behaviors to embrace for success and mental toughness. I sat with about 4,000 to 5,000 agents in the room and as I listened to the wealth of information being doled from the stage had one thought: I’ve known Tom Ferry since he was 19 years old and to see him evolve from a scrappy teenager to a successful, intuitive, bright business man is just an awesome thing. In fact that brings me to my main message …

 

So, what is the message? As I thought about the best way to wrap up this 11-day business trip in some kind of a blog-post bow, I was cruising down Interstate 280, going a comfortable 65 miles per hour when I noticed, despite the open roads, the off-ramp to De Anza Blvd., where the Apple Headquarters are located, was backed up for almost a mile. It makes sense, of course, that the exit to Apple HQ should be so crowded; it’s a huge, successful, growing company and one of the world’s most innovative tech brands. But really, the success comes from the people, those employees in the cars on their way to their Apple jobs, about to change the world with whatever it is they’re working on that day. And that idea of people, of the quality and ability of people to change lives, is really what I took away from my trip. Tom Ferry, Brian Buffini … I’ve known them both for decades and beyond being great in business, they’re terrific in life, the nicest and kindest fathers, husbands, friends and human beings. When I think about it, the highlight reel from my trip doesn’t really include the apps I learned about or the social media marketing trends I can take back to my teams but the people I met and the stories they shared. Those are the things that changed me and what made a week and a half of constant travel completely worth it.

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


Thoughts on Leadership: Getting Back to Basics

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me first in Irvine at the HSF Affiliates headquarters with a series of meetings and one very special meeting with Gary Vaynerchuk.

 

With @hsfchrisstuart and my new pal @garyvee in SoCal earlier this week. Pretty awesome day!

A post shared by Gino Blefari (@gino_blefari) on

Then it was on to Las Vegas for Mike Ferry’s 2017 Superstar Retreat, a four-day intensive from one of our industry’s finest leaders all about strengthening your mindset, building your skills, increasing your productivity and catapulting profits to the highest level possible—in other words, the basics.

This year marks my 27th appearance at the event and I’m honored to say Mike Ferry hasn’t only been a longtime inspiration in my career but also a cherished mentor for more than three decades. Mike has been in the real estate business—on both the sales and management side—for 40+ years. In this time, he’s earned himself an unparalleled reputation for outstanding professional accomplishment that derives from decades of hard work, dedication, passion and an unyielding commitment to achieving his goals and helping clients achieve theirs, too.

 

I attended my first Superstar Retreat in 1986 and the entire experience had a profound impact on me. While the conference covers many of the same topics year after year, there’s a reason for this repetition. In an industry characterized, and in many ways propelled, by the technological winds of change, the core tenets of real estate will forever remain unchanged. It’s this “Back to Basics” philosophy I’m reminded of each time I watch Mike Ferry take to the stage, the very picture of motivation and success. It seems the theme of each retreat goes something like: In order to remain relevant, we must embrace the new but remember it’s imperative to retain the fixed fundamentals that are time-tested, industry truths. Here are some of those “basics” I jotted down as I sat in the Superstar Retreat sessions this week:

  1. Work ethic. Mike Ferry, at 72 years old, still works as hard as he did 30 years ago. It’s an inspiring thing to behold someone who has such a strong commitment to work, just like our own Warren Buffett. Mike said your competition may have more innate talent than you do but tell yourself they’ll never outwork you and keep on pushing!
  2. The benefits of challenge. As an agent, going to a Superstar Retreat wiped out any feelings I had that were close to complacency or any ideas I had that I’d done really well for myself in real estate that year. There were so many people sitting in the room who had done so many more transactions than me, whose business was even better than mine. This goes back to the idea of humility and a concept I feel is so important, it gets a permanent spot on my email signature: “Don’t join an easy crowd … where the expectations are low … or where they don’t care … the problem with that is you won’t grow … go where the expectations are high … go where you’re challenged to study, to read, to change, to develop, to learn the next skill. Because it’s the challenge that creates the muscle. The mental muscle, the vocal muscle, the actual physical muscle to become better, stronger, wiser, more unique!”
  3. The worth of reunions. It’s funny how we can be so connected to friends and colleagues in this digital, social age and yet, so very disconnected at the same time. It’s nice to catch up with old friends via Facebook status updates but it’s even better to have a person-to-person interaction with them. At this Superstar Retreat, I was able to reunite with so many longstanding friends, deepening our connection and sense of trust in each other in a way no text on a screen could ever create. Tim Rohan, it was great catching up with you on Wednesday night and congratulations on being an MFO coach!

SO, WHAT’S THE MESSAGE?

Just as we have spring training in baseball and training camp in football, we must prepare for a successful season ahead and to do that we must remember the basics, the elemental insights that have been proven over decades and centuries to create and foster success. They’re basic because they won’t fail you and they’re basic because the truth is, as Mike Ferry reminded me at this Superstar Retreat, they really work.

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


Thoughts On Leadership: Innovation in Austin

By Gino Blefari

This week’s travels found me in Austin, Texas … and what a place to be! Austin is a booming city overflowing with rich culture, a lively entertainment scene and incredible food. It’s no wonder it boasts one of the highest growth in the country in terms of population and jobs. In fact, according to the latest estimates, Austin adds 159 people per day to its metro-area population.

After spending several days in Austin, I can see why so many people are eager to move there. Fun fact: Whole Foods’ flagship location can be found in downtown Austin and it’s an 8,000-square-foot market unlike any other. The Whole Foods Market Inc. worldwide headquarters is also located in Austin, which practically ensures city dwellers there remain focused on healthy eating. As I always say, a large part of effective leadership is maintaining your energy, which comes from regular exercise and a mindful, nutritious diet. Relatedly, Austin was named by CNBC as a top city for launching a tech startup and has a thriving entrepreneurial community of small businesses and innovative leaders.

Speaking of innovative leaders, I was in town to meet with the Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR), an impressive organization led with distinctive forward-mindedness by CEO Paul Hilgers. He’s a great guy and he’s done a super job transforming the association into a modern example of what a real estate advocacy group should be. Even the office, with its sleek, mirrored windows and tall frame, looks the very progressive picture of the members contained inside. And the interior is just as striking with cutting-edge design and panoramic views of the city.

I was honored to deliver my seven principles for success to the team and even shot a few videos talking about real estate and leadership, which are coming out soon. Paul mentioned he was confident his board members and leadership would now be able to achieve their professional goals faster by following these principles, which is the ultimate goal!

While at ABoR, I was joined by my friend, Johnnie Johnson, former All Pro for the Los Angeles Rams and CEO of World Class Coaches, who spoke to a crowd eager to hear from the legendary Texas Longhorn. Johnnie’s company, World Class Coaches, facilitates the Moving Families Initiative, which is fitting to discuss in a place experiencing such rapid growth.

Like the city of Austin itself and the contemporary leadership style of ABoR, Moving Families Initiative is a pioneering program. It’s an international plan focused on serving, protecting, and meeting the needs of parents moving or relocating with children, ages 19 and younger, including the teachers and coaches who work with their children.

So, what’s the message? During my trip to Austin, innovation was all around. From the towering Whole Foods to the incredible ABoR board and staff leadership to the ideas Johnnie detailed about how Moving Families Initiative can help Austin real estate professionals better assistant buyers and sellers. As a leader, it’s important to surround yourself with inspiring people, places and things. Because while it’s true you can always find inspiration within yourself, it’s your surroundings and who you surround yourself with that might just provide the extra motivation, creativity and encouragement you need to achieve your goals.

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


Thoughts on Leadership: Facebook and a Reminder for the Future

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me back at my Los Altos, CA home office following a restful family vacation in Hawaii. On Wednesday, I made a short drive to Menlo Park for a visit to Facebook and its sprawling, world headquarters.

I admire Facebook, its philosophy and corporate culture. From CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Sinmi Tinubu, an intern who helped greet my small group, everyone is encouraged to “be bold” and “focus on impact” – constantly collaborating and innovating to solve the most important challenges.

In fact, Facebook embraces a mindset that helps keep the company fresh and progressive in a tech world that quickly casts out those who don’t. Its phrase “this journey is 1% finished” reminds all involved that Facebook has only started to fulfill its mission: “To make the world more open and connected.”

The company’s iconic sign board outside its headquarters, at 1 Hacker Way, carries the mindset one step farther. On the reverse side remains the sign of Sun Microsystems, a pioneering computer and systems firm that used to occupy the premises before it collapsed and was acquired. The old sign reminds employees and others what can happen when you grow complacent and do not innovate.

As I toured the Disney-inspired facility – one of the coolest places in corporate America with colorful buildings, a Main Street with shops and cafes, wide-open work spaces, fun amenities and even a huge park atop the warehouse headquarters – I thought about how quickly Facebook arrived on the scene, how much it has grown and how disruptive it’s become.

“Attention is the No. 1 currency in our society before you tell me how great you are at what you do, or how great your service is, or what you do, or how nice you are dressed.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk, bestselling author, speaker and internet personality, said that the world trades on people’s attention and companies like Facebook have removed the middle man. It enables practically anyone with a laptop or hand-held device to reach any combination of people with low or no cost. “Attention is the No. 1 currency in our society before you tell me how great you are at what you do, or how great your service is, or what you do, or how nice you are dressed,” said Vaynerchuk in June at the Relentless conference, held in Southern California. “Before you do that, you need my attention to even tell me that.”

And Facebook is one of the primary conduits. It has changed the way many communicate, market and advertise. That’s why Vaynerchuk advises, “You are a media company first and then whatever else you do for a living because the cost of being in the media business is now zero in distribution opportunity and low in production.”

Vaynerchuk, like Facebook, has a watchful eye on the future. “Your entire life regardless of industry over the next decade will be eaten up by technology and either you’re on the eating side or you’re on the other side, and I don’t think that most people want [to be on that side],” he said.

I want to thank Facebook for an enlightening tour. We met with Client Partner Scott Shapiro, Industry Manager Keith Watts, and Client Solutions Manager Lindsay Mitchell, and each was incredibly welcoming and provided a wealth of information.

So, what’s the message? Facebook’s vision and its ongoing promise to innovate should provide inspiration for any business. Avoid complacency while embracing change, constantly questioning and testing the boundaries of your operation. Be on the “eating side” as Vaynerchuk urged, and thrive.

GINO BLEFARI is CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. You can follow Gino on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

[Pictured in feature photo above: Gino Blefari (second from right) joins Facebook staff members (from left) Scott Shapiro, Sinmi Tinubu, Lindsay Mitchell and Keith Watts during his tour of Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters.]