By:Luke Wyckoff Issue: Collaborative Women Section:Jewel Of Collaboration
What is the earliest business transaction you can remember conducting?
From age 12 to 22 I worked for my father’s factory in Detroit. I worked cutting steel and making nuts and bolts at my father’s company. I hated it. The first thing I tried to negotiate was renting a machine from my father. I wanted to buy the steel, bid out the project, rent the machine from him, and keep all the profit. My father didn’t really go for it. I was his employee, after all. The second business transaction that I can remember is buying gold coins. I bought ten ounces of gold coins for $300 and then sold it for $8100. Believe it or not, that money paid for my college.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Oakland Community College in Michigan. I got a two year accounting degree. Then I went on to a four year college. I went to Welsh College in Michigan and got a BBA in finance and accounting.
How did you choose finance and accounting?
I took an accounting class in high school and I liked it. I wanted to get out of the dirty job. I didn’t want to be covered in machine oil for my entire life. I thought that I could be a bookkeeper so I decided to get an accounting degree and I thought that that would be it. Fortunately, I went on and got my four year degree. The funny thing is, my parents supported me but probably always wondered what I was going to do with that degree. I came back to Walsh college years later and was the commencement speaker. That was one of the high points in my life. Both my parents were gone by then, but I felt their presence and knew they were proud of me.
What was the first job you had out of college?
I worked at Metropolitan Hospital in Detroit. It was good. I was there for about a year. I had met my husband in college and we were dating at the time. He got a job offer out here so once we got married we moved to Denver. At the hospital, I was a financial analyst and I was working on budgets. When I moved to Denver, I took the same kind of job at Presbyterian St. Luke’s. I was a financial analyst and then got promoted to manager of the department. I had worked there five years, I was pregnant, and I decided to quit because the job was moving to Texas. I tried the stay-at-home mom thing for a while but always knew that I wanted to do something else. I wanted to go back to work. I was bored. I was pattern vacuuming the carpet! There was a tiny little ad in the paper for a financial analyst at RE/MAX. That was in 1987 and my son was 11 months old. He just turned 24.
I just took advantage of opportunities that came my way and had to guts to pursue them even though I was scared to death.
What are some of the major decisions that you’ve made that have helped you get where you are today?
I’m the youngest of six kids; I have one brother and four sisters. We all worked at the factory for about ten years because my father needed workers. My sisters and I were not encouraged to go to college. I was always expected to just get married and have kids. I knew that I was meant to do more than that so they finally let me go to college. I had to trust and follow my gut. I have always worked really hard at every job I’ve had but I didn’t have goals of being CEO. I didn’t have any high expectations. I just took advantage of opportunities that came my way and had the guts to pursue them even though I was scared to death.
Who were some of the major influences in your life?
My parents. My father took me to the factory even though my friends were out - I was working. I worked every holiday and every summer. I hated it at the time but it taught me an important work ethic. My father and mother both taught me many important lessons.
Professionally, my mentor has been David Liniger who is the founder of the company. As I grew in the company, and got to know him, I watched him and I learned. He has been a tremendous mentor. I didn’t know it at the time but he wanted to promote me from a management consultant to the head of the Colorado region. He came in and sat down and offered me the position of regional manager of Colorado. I said “No. I’m not ready.” He turned beet red and he said to me, “If I think you’re ready, why don’t you think you’re ready?” Then he walked out of the room and didn’t talk to me for about a week. I thought that’s it - I’m done. I blew it. Then, about a week later he came back and said to me, “I usually don’t offer again, but would you like to be the regional director of Colorado?” This time I replied with, “Yes absolutely. I would love to.”
I realized that my self-doubt shouldn’t hold me back when there were others who believed in me enough to promote me to such a great position and see the potential in me. So that was a huge lesson. I learned to believe in my own potential rather than my self-doubts. Years later he offered me the president position. I had been dealing with health issues – I had just overcome cancer so I told him I had to think about it. I realized that being president was the role I wanted and that it was an amazing opportunity for me. I took the job the next day. I became president in 2002 and CEO in 2005.
What motivates you?
Absolute love of the job, love of the people I work with, and love of the membership. I am so excited to get out in the field. After 23 years here, I know so many of the brokers and agents by name and it’s like family. I’m on different boards. Those types of things excite me. I like challenges. I like to push myself, but at the same time, after all these years, I truly love what I do. It is a joy every day. I love to get up and say, “Let’s go.”
What are some of the challenges that you have had to overcome?
There have been many challenges but the biggest one was between 1999 and 2001. Over a 24 month time period, I had breast cancer and I ended up with cervical cancer. So I had a hysterectomy and mastectomy, and I lost my father. After all the surgeries for the cancer I then blew out a disk in my back. I was numb up to both hips, couldn't use one of my legs, and had to get emergency back surgery. I sat back and said, “Okay. God what are you trying to tell me here?”
I decided to take a six month leave of absence. I needed time to heal physically and mentally wrap my head around it and figure out what I wanted to do. At that time I realized that I truly wanted to come back and I wanted to work. So, I came back. The Komen organization came to us at RE/MAX and asked us to be a national sponsor. I got to be a speaker as a survivor and a sponsor. If I hadn’t come back I wouldn’t have had that opportunity. I was also offered the presidency at that time. I really had to think about it and do some soul searching. I didn’t know if I wanted the stress of being a president. I thought about it overnight. I realized that it was an amazing opportunity. How many women get this kind of opportunity? I thought that I could have the opportunity to be an example for women. Here is a woman from Detroit who worked in a factory, and now I get to be president and ultimately the CEO of the largest real estate company in the world. That is a dream come true! I wasn’t going to let my self-doubt hold me back from taking that job. I took the job and I’ve never regretted it. I love it.
You don't have to sacrifice everything in one area to be able to succeed in another. You really can do it all. You just have to know what's important and what's not and how to schedule properly.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The people. We are in a relationship business. Buying and selling a home is all about relationships. The internet is out there and it’s great but it’s still really about buying and selling, meeting with an agent face-to-face, forming a relationship, and ultimately helping people. This business is all about relationships and that has to start from the top.
What accomplishment are you the most proud of?
Take everything I just said and wrap it up with a big bow. I’ve been married to my husband for 28 years and we have two sons. Being a working mom and having a great relationship with my family is something I am very proud of. You don’t have to sacrifice everything in one area to be able to succeed in another. You really can do it all. You just have to know what’s important and what’s not and how to schedule properly. I learned early on that somebody else can clean the house, someone else can help me buy the groceries, and maybe I can spend more time with the kids. It’s all about learning to balance and prioritize. I’m very proud that I can do all that I do and still have a strong family life.
How do you balance it all?
It was hard at first. It was tough on the boys when I would travel. We would get college kids to come and live with us; kind of like a nanny. My husband and I would get out of the house early but we were there every single night for dinner unless we were traveling. I would also get the kid’s school calendar and book around it. If I had a conflict I would sit down with the boys and explain it to them. They were very understanding. You need to balance it all out. My husband is wonderful. We are a team, and I couldn't do it without him. He is very supportive. A lot of guys would be intimidated having a wife as a CEO but he is behind me every step of the way saying, “Go for it. I’m proud of you.”
How would you define your leadership style?
I have no way to define it. I think leadership style needs to be defined by the people that you lead. I believe in team. I love to get input from people. I love for them to disagree with me. I want honesty. The problem is that most compliments and feedback go downhill - they don't go uphill. Employees don't tell their boss they want to change something because they are afraid. I try to encourage feedback as much as possible. I try to instill in the team that they need to take risks or we’re never going to grow as a company. I’m very inclusive but I’m also the one who has the responsibility of making the ultimate decision.
I think leadership style needs to be defined by the people that you lead. Women have a lot of self-doubt and put other people first. I think women hold themselves back more than men do. They need to know that it's okay to take a risk and make mistakes.
What are your words of advice to young women in the work place?
There are a lot of things that women do that men don’t. Women are not better than men in the work place and vice-versa. Women bring the skill of team and are more inclusive. Men charge forward and are better about complimenting each other. Women have a lot of self-doubt and put other people first. I think women hold themselves back more than men do. They need to know that it’s okay to take a risk and make mistakes. Women think they can do it all. They need to realize that they aren’t going to be perfect and that’s okay. If you are a working mom and you go home you are going to have guilt that you’re not working. If you go to work, you’re going to have guilt that you’re not home with the kids. Either way, you are going to have guilt so you need to figure out which one is best for you. Nothing is ever guilt-free. Women just need to prioritize and give themselves a break once in a while. That’s it.
Luke Wyckoff is the Chief Visionary Officer for Social Media Energy. He can be reached at Luke@SocialMediaEnergy.com.