Female Founders: Pam O’Connor
For the second installment of the Female Founders series on the Union Street Media YouTube channel Rachel Allard, Senior VP of Strategy at Union Street Media spoke with Pam O’Connor, Former CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World. Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, or LeadingRE, is the largest network for independent brokerages, covering 70 countries.
Finding yourself in the real estate industry “accidentally” seems to be a common thread amongst many of the industry leaders we’ve spoken to and Pam O’Connor is no different. O’Connor says that she was getting out of college back when “women were either nurses or teachers or nuns or secretaries,” and she “wasn’t cut out to be a nun or a nurse or a teacher.” So, after completing her journalism degree she got a job working at an Atlanta television station as a secretary in the promotions department.
Once she left television O’Connor got a job at All Points Relocation where she worked as a marketing manager for about six years. While she wasn’t selling real estate at All Points, she was getting to know the industry and working with their network of real estate companies. She eventually left All Points after a few years but it wasn’t long before All Points was asking her to be their CEO – at just 35 years old. “I thought they were crazy thinking I could even do that job,” O’Connor says, adding “I took it and the rest is history.”
In her new role as CEO, O’Connor says she spent a lot of time rebuilding the network and regaining the ground that All Points had lost when she had left. Her hard work paid off and O’Connor notes of the early success she saw at All Points: “we didn’t have the largest companies but we had really good quality companies.” Eventually, All Points’ success was noticed by another company, Relo, who was interested in purchasing All Points. The All Points board came back and said, according to O’Connor, “yes we’ll consider that, but only if you make Pam the CEO,” to which Relo agreed.
O’Connor moved to Chicago where she began to grow Relo and acquire other relocation companies. Looking back, O’Connor says she “was very fortunate to be given that opportunity.” When asked about what she attributes her success to, she notes the importance of building relationships and backing those relationships up with performance. O’Connor says she believes in making your own luck, and that it hadn’t really dawned on her at the time that she was the only woman in that position.
“If you’re in a place that doesn’t appreciate you, that you are doing all the right things and you’re not getting anywhere then maybe you aren’t in the right place and maybe you need to go somewhere else.”
– Pam O’Connor
When reflecting on the success of LeadingRE, O’Connor says that while everyone in the 90s was saying that franchises were the future, O’Connor didn’t believe that was true. She believes that the piece that was missing for independent brokerages was something that tied them all together. “Over the years we become the un-franchise,” offering a lof what national brands were, but without the branding. Instead of going with the flow, O’Connor says she became the industry “contrarian”.” She goes on to note the importance of recognizing opportunities – especially during times where you may not immediately see them.
During the pandemic, O’Connor says that LeadingRE has seen a record recruiting year and has added around 30-40 new companies, a lot of which are international, and that they’ve branched into seven new countries. O’Connor goes on to say that she saw two major advantages during this time in the industry. The first advantage she touches on is that historically, “one of the biggest hurdles for brokers has always been the lack of technology adoption by their agents” but that she’s seen a big shift because they are being forced to adapt. The second advantage O’Connor touches on is the lull that was seen at the beginning. This lull gave brokers more time, with a lot of brokers using that time to get on the phone and reignite their relationships with their agents – and that their agents turned around and did the same things with their clients.
“Something independents have in a word is freedom. They have the freedom to operate their businesses as they want to,” says O’Connor. While independent brokerages definitely have freedom, something they may not have is the resources of a franchise, but O’Connor sees the “huge advantage of being part of something like LeadingRE” is “the resources you may otherwise get with a franchise” but thinks “more importantly the comradery, the being in a tribe so to speak, with like-minded brokers and agents who share a lot of the same values.”
O’Connor believes there are two important things every brokerage needs: great leadership and a focus on the long term. She says a lot of agents focus on the immediate success but the ones that see the most success are those who think about their pipeline and plan for the future; something she believes the industry as a whole could be working harder on.
She also goes on to speak about how successful brokerages also see the value of sharing ideas. At LeadingRE they have put a lot of energy into their conferences to give people the opportunity to share ideas and hear “the best of the best.” With that, O’Connor also notes that “the key is to not be part of some groupthink. I think we don’t have enough independent thought nowadays across the world.”
When asked about how she plans for her future, O’Connor touches on the value of going through a business planning process every year. She says to start with the end goal and then look at the strategies, programs, or policies that will make those goals possible. Once you have those outlined you can go through and identify the tasks that will get you there, which forms your todo list.
“It’s very easy to let yourself get pulled down by negativity out there.”
– Pam O’Connor
O’Connor says she used to call this the “chicken little business” because the sky was always falling and when she looks back at her career there have been a lot of things people have panicked over, such as it the advent of the internet, the rise of third-party relocation services, or Zillow “and the reality is that none of those are going to bring you down unless you allow them to.” O’Connor also notes that real estate isn’t an easy business and that a lot of people underestimate that.
In closing, O’Connor tells us that we should know what we’re good at and that if we focus on that, there will always be a space for us – that we should find the voids in the market and not be intimidated by the next big thing coming down the path.
You can learn more about Leading Real Estate Companies of the World on their website https://leadingre.com/.
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