A tennis partner set Jim Gillespie on the path to a successful real estate career 36 years ago.

Gillespie, a 35-year industry veteran who since 2004 has served as CEO for Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC, oversees a global franchise network with about 3,200 offices and 97,000 agents.

He will take the stage at the Real Estate Connect conference in New York City — which runs from Jan. 12-14, 2011, at the Marriott Marquis Times Square hotel — along with three other Realogy Corp. CEOs, to discuss their company and the industry.

Inman News posed a set of questions to Gillespie:

1. What is the most important business lesson you’ve learned in the past year?

I’ve learned that the owners and managers and sales associates in our great industry are survivors and continue to have a great, positive outlook on our business and the future of our business and of our country.

2. What inspired you to pursue your current career path?

My tennis partner 36 years ago who thought I would be good in the business so I went to work for him and things turned out pretty good.

3. Share a personal experience or anecdote about buying, selling, owning, or renting a home.

One of the first clients I had was the receptionist at the YMCA, where I had previously worked as the youth director. She received my mailing and called me saying she and her husband could not afford a home. I explained how FHA worked and convinced her it was worth exploring.

She never believed they would ever become homeowners, but eventually we found a starter home in Brookfield, Ill., that they liked. We ultimately wrote up an offer and went back to the home so I could present the offer while they waited in the backseat.

The seller accepted and I came back to the car and told them they were now homeowners. They both began crying like babies and then I started crying, too. I gave her my commission for their downpayment.

Almost four decades later, I tell that story often because it is a powerful reminder of what the "Dream of Homeownership" really means to so many.

4. What’s the coolest technology you’ve discovered this year, and how are you using it?

I recently bought an iPad and (our real estate company was among) the first to have apps available for the iPad, with a recruiting presentation and a listing presentation.

Even though I do not go after listings anymore, I just love the success stories around our technology, like the "72-year-young" salesperson of ours who was struggling, then bought an iPad, got the free listing presentation app, and promptly nailed his next seven listing appointments.

5. What is your advice for real estate industry professionals to thrive in this market?

Know your local market inside and out and make sure your customers and clients know that all real estate is local and what they see on the news about real estate sales and prices has nothing to do with the local market.

Get properties that have sold over the past 10-15 years that recently sold to show how long-term appreciation is in your local market, and lastly: stick to basics and work hard.

6. What is your favorite non-work-related hobby?

Following my Fighting Illini football and basketball teams — I graduated from the University of Illinois and grew up a big fan of their sports teams. Our women’s volleyball and women’s soccer teams are highly ranked this year.

7. Who is your hero, and why?

Tom Milliken, who was our high school basketball coach — he was just out of college and only a few years older than his students and was someone who I looked up to.

I was not quite good enough for the team so I was the manager and kept all the statistics and could beat most of the players in a game of horse but couldn’t run fast or jump high.

8. What do you view as the biggest problem facing the real estate industry today, and how would you fix it?

The biggest problem among many is the foreclosure issue. We need to let the free market take its course and flush the foreclosures through the system.

The loan modification program has failed miserably, with more dropping out than those who were modified. And, depending on the source, well over 50 percent of those loans being modified have failed.

10. Tell us something we don’t already know about you.

I love cats. My wife and I are on our third generation of cats. We have four this time and they are very fun creatures with great personalities. Anyone can train a dog, but you have to work hard to gain the trust of cats.

My wife introduced me to cats a long time ago when she came home from trying to get a for-sale-by-owner (listing) with two cats that they were giving away.

I was initially upset until the cats adopted me and I was hooked from that point on.

Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC Jim Gillespie; Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC CEO Sherry Chris; Century 21 CEO Rick Davidson; and ERA Franchise Systems LLC President and CEO Charlie Young will share the stage during a discussion of the state of the real estate industry at the Real Estate Connect NYC ’11 conference, which runs from Jan. 12-14, 2011.

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