Female Founders: Michael Saunders
This installment of the Female Founders series on Union Street Media’s YouTube channel features Michael Saunders, Founder and CEO of Michael Saunders & Company on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Michael Saunders & Company was founded in 1976. Since then, it’s become one of the top real estate companies in Florida and has over 700 partners all over the world. Click the video above to view the full interview with this legendary leader.
Michael Saunders didn’t originally plan on working in real estate. “I didn’t start waking up one day and say, ‘oh, I want a real estate company,’” she recalls. Before starting Michael Saunders & Company, Saunders was working as a probation and parole officer. She believed that making a difference in people’s lives was her “life’s path” and “it didn’t necessarily have to be in the field of probation and parole, but it had to be somewhere in an industry where I could make a difference.”
Reflecting on her choice to start her own business, Saunders reveals that it wasn’t easy at the time. When Saunders graduated from college in the 70s, it was rare for a woman to have her own business. To this day, it’s the exception, and not the norm. “Women were teachers, nurses, secretaries, or mothers. I mean, really, beginning a business was not something that anyone talked about then,” Saunders says.
Saunders overcame several other obstacles to starting her own business, including getting access to credit, which women couldn’t do alone. When asked why she did it, she notes she couldn’t see herself working anywhere else. Seeing the absence of a company that shared her values, she was “driven by a vision” to start her own, even though “it wasn’t really prevalent that women started their own companies.”
“I had a vision to do it differently. I had a vision and I started the company on the West Coast of Florida where we are headquartered today.”
– Michael Saunders
Saunders is an innovator in more ways than one. She is a firm believer in setting goals and measuring what’s working. “We’re big on back end tools, looking at the consumer’s behavior, giving them more of what they want, serving it up to them in the bites and pieces that they can digest,” she states. Saunders describes her website as being “our storefront and window to the world” and stresses the importance of analytics to ensure it’s effective. That said, real estate is always about relationships and technology should enable those connections, not “override” them.
Along those lines, Michael Saunders & Company has always believed in making their agents “knowledge brokers” as that’s how they can best support their clients, and stand out. Saunders says that they “like to be on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge” and adopt the technology that works for them. Most importantly, she makes it a point to ensure the new tools fit into the company culture before adopting them fully.
“I think that connectivity of a knowledge broker, a curator, a relationship building agent, will never ever be replaced by no matter how smart technology becomes or AI becomes.”
– Michael Saunders
Putting the customer first and being transparent have always been key to building trust with clients, but the pandemic has underscored that even more. Even online, such as through their microsite, Nowherebuthere.com, Michael Saunders & Company wants their clients to get to know the agents and communities they serve on a more personal level.
“In times of uncertainty the most important thing is certainty, and the more certainty you can bring, the better able you are to support your agents, your staff, and the community.”
– Michael Saunders
When asked about how she does that as a leader, Saunders says that as a company, they’ve made it a rule to listen and respond to agents’ needs. She continues on to say that in order to succeed, “we believe in providing them the tools to do market research and provide hard data.” That combination of transparency and support, culture and technology, is essential.
Saunders considers having the means to give back to her community one of her biggest accomplishments and favorite parts of her role. Saunders and her team formed their own organization, the MSC (Michael Saunders & Company) Foundation, in 2011 when the market hadn’t recovered from the 2008 downturn. “We started, interestingly enough in the toughest part of the market,” Saunders says. She saw that other companies were in a greater need than they were and “we believed in helping those who needed help.”
Saunders reveals that she’s been concerned with the “lack of civility and lack of being able to have discussions” in the country. But for the real estate industry, she acknowledges that it’s different. “When you look at the real estate industry, there really is a high level of civility because if you don’t collaborate and work together, you’re not going to get a transaction together,” she states.
Saunders recalls calling international partners when the pandemic first started to see how they were managing and asking for advice. “We are a collaborative community of people in real estate and we depend on each other for our success,” she says. “Hopefully we can take a greater leadership role in bridging civil discourse and collaboration into the communities that we serve.”
“I’m very proud of the real estate industry. And I’m very proud of this collaborative world we have built.”
– Michael Saunders
“My wish is that relationships continue to be the core of what we do,” Saunders says, adding that the relationship is “the core of life and in this industry, it should be the core of transactions.”
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