Through her experiences turning real estate branch offices around, keeping a business afloat during the Great Recession to see the other side, navigating an acquisition when she saw her own company’s tech weak spot, and now steering a ship of 1,200 agents — she has a lot to offer in guidance on how to be a successful manager through thick and thin.

  • Others may see leadership qualities in you, even when you can't see them yourself.
  • The real estate market is always fluctuating. Be prepared for a downturn by diversifying your revenue sources and keeping operations lean.
  • At larger brokerages, it's easy for agents to get lost in the crowd. As a leader, reach out to them in both professional and personal capacities to build trust and increase productivity.

Twice a week, Long Realty CEO and president Rosey Koberlein treats herself to an individual Pilates session. She jokes it is the only time when someone is telling her what to do.

Rosey Koberlein

Rosey Koberlein

The longstanding leader of the Tucson, Arizona-based real estate firm oversees all of the Long branches, which includes title, mortgage and insurance divisions on top of the larger brokerage.

In an industry where women CEOs are still sparse, Koberlein, with a high-level public sector background, started getting approached about management roles after she had been a real estate agent for a few years.

She’s earned a spot on the Swanepoel Power 200 (Most Powerful People in Real Estate) and was ranked in the Top 10 Most Powerful Women in Residential Real Estate business in the country.

Through her experiences turning real estate branch offices around, keeping a business afloat during the Great Recession to see the other side, navigating an acquisition when she saw her own company’s tech weak spot, and now steering a ship of 1,200 agents — she has a lot to offer in guidance on how to be a successful manager through thick and thin.

Are you talking to me?

Koberlein wasn’t expecting to be hired, let alone recruited, to a management position when it happened the first time.

She remembers her initial offer to be a branch manager in the late 1980s. She was working as an agent — and struggling because the market was tough for a California agency.

The regional manager called her in for a chat, and she thought: “This is it; he wants me to go.”

Ready for the conversation in her usual organized fashion, she drew up her resignation letter and prepared for rejection.

“As an agent, you have peaks and valleys. I was in a valley; I had nothing in escrow,” she said.

She told the manager: “Let me make this easy for you. I am in a slump — here is my resignation.”

He responded: “No one resigns from real estate. I want you to be a branch manager.”

Recognition for management skills

After running an entire office successfully and turning it around in two years, Koberlein moved to Arizona a couple of years later in the early 1990s.

At Long Realty, she went back to being an agent for awhile. After grinding it out in another tough market, she had her shoulder tapped once more, this time by the company owner and CEO, Steve Quinlan.

“Steve Quinlan came to me, and said: ‘I heard of your background in management — do want to be a branch manager?’”

Her initial response was: “Not on your life; I know you make more money as an agent.”

But again the boss twisted her arm. She became a branch manger for the next six years and was promoted to general manager in 1998.

How to get from point A to (far beyond) point B

Koberlein knows that her ascent in the real estate industry is unusual.

Women represent around 60 percent of the workforce in real estate, yet they sparsely populate the industry’s upper management, from boards to brokerages to associations such as the National Association of Realtors.

“There was a period of time where I was one or two of the only women in the room,” she said.

Koberlein, who was a director of employment and training programs at the City of Cleveland prior to entering real estate, has some words of advice for women who are climbing the ladder — whether in real estate or another field — which have stood her in good stead.

“You have to act and behave and conduct yourself as if you are in the role that you want, not in the role that you are in.”

This way, you prove that you are capable of bigger things, she says.

As women executives often do, Koberlein is bringing other high-achieving women with her, if worth their salt.

“My senior management team — there are six of us — is made up of four women and two men.”

She takes care to do the same mentoring that she has benefited from.

When tech poses to disrupt, don’t jump ship — join ships

In 1999, Koberlein and Quinlan had another big conversation.

The era of tech began to unfold, and every day a new gadget was introduced claiming to be the next big thing.

They thought that the agency stood at the top of the market, but they also realized they had to start putting some money back into the company.

Still, Koberlein was wary of acting on impulse: “You were so concerned you were buying the wrong mousetrap and the next day a better one would be coming out,” she said.

They decided the best route was to look for a buyer and settled on HomeServices of America (HSofA), now a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

A number of factors made working with HSofA a sound strategic play, Koberlein says.

First, it was a strong brand, but the company would also allow Long Realty to operate under their own brand in Arizona. Moreover, the agency wouldn’t have to charge franchise fees to agents with the new partnership.

“It was … probably one of the smartest things we did,” Koberlein said.

In 2000, Koberlein and Quinlan expanded the agency’s core services by developing the Long Mortgage Company, Long Title Insurance, Long Insurance Group and the Long Advantage program, giving the company other revenue sources.

Koberlein became CEO and president in 2004, and Quinlan, who had to stay on for five years as CEO after the sale to HSofA, moved to be chair of the company.

What to do as a leader in a time of recession

And then, in 2006, the recession hit — a true test of leadership skills and business acumen.

“The first two years of being in the role as CEO, it looked like I could do no wrong. I was a brilliant CEO,” said Koberlein with typical wry humor.

The effects of the bubble hit Arizona a year earlier than most other markets, she added.

They thanked their lucky stars for having set up their own ancillary companies in mortgage and insurance for the same reason investors rejoice in their diverse portfolios when the stock market suffers — their eggs were not all in one basket.

These other revenue sources allowed Long Realty to make it through the Great Recession. But the brokerage branch, which had been transacting 15,500 units with an average home price or $275,000, had no choice but to downsize.

In the heart of the housing bust aftermath, those numbers dropped to 6,200 units and an average price of $145,000.

“It was a very long recession,” Koberlein said. “It felt like trying to grab a hot knife that was falling.”

Koberlein made the hard decisions — closing some offices, merging others, reducing employees by 60 percent — and by doing so, she managed to stay in the black.

She added: “During that time we reduced our expenses significantly but never cut services to the buyer or seller.”

Don’t add fat in the good times

The recovery hasn’t led the CEO to build up her staff numbers again. In fact, she’s added back “maybe three” new employee positions, she said, adding “we are operating a very efficient, lean machine.”

The firm is stronger for it: Long Realty currently has a 30-percent market share of the southern Arizona market, while the next closest competitor has 14 or 15 percent, said Koberlein.

Furthermore, the company has over 1,200 licensed real estate sales associates in more than 38 offices, including 23 affiliate realty and property management companies in Arizona and into Mexico.

Long Realty Company ranks in the top 30 independent real estate companies in the nation based on the Real Trends 500 Survey.

A strategy for agent productivity and well-being

Koberlein aims to grow the company geographically but also organically by increasing current agents’ productivity.

At a time when her agents’ median income was around $44,000, three or four years ago, she took a stand.

“I made an announcement at a company meeting that I wanted to see the day when our lowest income Realtor in our company, after being with us for one year, is $60,000,” she said.

“That’s a way that I know that this company can really positively impact the lives of someone here in Tucson.”

This year, she expects her agents to do 9,500 units, at an average sale of $230,000, compared to 9,200 in 2015.

To help agents meet the goals she sets, she relies on a couple levers: technology and regular communication.

Tech-wise, a big focus at the company is staying in touch with your database of leads, so there’s a big focus on CRMs. Long Realty also has a mobile app and provides agents with market reports. The firm has about 40 reports for different subdivisions of the city, which are four pages long and help agents “look like statisticians.”

At the same time, she maintains contact with everyone under the firm’s roof — both professionally and on a personal level.

Every Sunday, Koberlein sends out a chatty email to everyone in the firm. The topics vary widely.

One week, the note might be inspirational, the next, a market report. Others touch on a holiday, something going on in the community or a good new restaurant.

“I started it because I wanted to create a level of intimacy in the company. Being a large company can be used [against you] by the competition — you are going to be a number; you are going to be lost.”

So when an agent comes to her and says, “I’m taking my whole family on vacation and paying cash, no worries,” — that’s when Koberlein knows she’s doing something right.

Email Gill South.

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