Inman is exploring what the future of real estate leadership should look like through a series of articles, Q&As with industry pros, and an upcoming five-part series called Leadership Week. Please send your feedback to email@example.com. If you’re a leader who wants to join us for our exclusive Disconnect in The Desert event on March 26-28, or want to recommend a colleague, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org explaining why.
“You can fake a lot of things in this world, but you can’t fake culture,” said Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan, president of leading luxury New York City brokerage Stribling & Associates, in an interview with Inman.
Stribling-Kivlan was 10 months old when her mother, Elizabeth F. Stribling, launched Stribling & Associates 37 years ago. Now, as co-owner of the brokerage with her mother, Stribling-Kivlan has grown the company to include more than 300 agents in four offices across Manhattan and Brooklyn — and she’s done so on the pillars of inclusion, community and independence.
In practice that means fostering open-door, informal communication (Stribling-Kivlan often texts with her agents), and developing clear procedures for agents for what to do if they ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
“I know everyone who works for me,” she said. “If you are afraid to talk to me because I’m head of the firm, I’m doing something wrong. I sit with my agents, I’m always around.” Stribling-Kivlan also likes to give equal attention to all agents, rather than focusing on top producers.
According to Stribling-Kivlan, as much as she likes to make herself personally available, it makes sense to have a number of managers in your brokerage whom agents and staff know they can reach out to. With the dawn of the #MeToo movement and raised awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace, policies for reporting acts of misconduct are more important than ever, in real estate and across industries, Stribling-Kivlan said.
The company also has an annual management meeting in which the company discusses its position on codes of behavior, making sure they are creating a healthy culture and an inclusive environment. Agents and staff also go through diversity training.
“Do people enjoy it? No,” Stribling-Kivlan said. “But they learn and often say: ‘I didn’t know that was our response'” to this or that issue.
Stribling-Kivlan, who is openly gay and happily married, is very involved in several LGBTQ groups. She recently changed the wording in the company’s agent and employee handbook to become gender neutral, changing references from “he/she” to “they.” She made this decision because she didn’t want to make assumptions about anyone, including clients.
“Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist — I want them [everyone in the company] to feel like they have a safe space here which they may not have at home,” she said.
For her 330 agents, it’s about being “more enlightened,” Stribling-Kivlan said. “You are selling and leasing to an entire population, not just to a one-gendered person.”
Ken Scheff, manager of the brokerage’s Uptown office, sees commonalities between the modern Elizabeth Ann, known as “EA,” in the office and the more proper but also kind, Elizabeth, her mother.
“Neither are interested in a corporate environment, but rather a high ethos,” Scheff said. “I think the goal is not to be corporate. They both love food, the arts and theater as well as the city, architecture and design.”
Scheff said there is a “palpable feeling” at Stribling & Associates that there is no parent company hovering, no corporate pressure in the background.
As Stribling-Kivlan puts it: “There are not many of us left — there are very few independents and we truly are independent.”
Scheff added: “There is a very strong sense of trying to do the right thing. It’s very broker-centric. There is very little turnover.”
Stribling-Kivlan said she wants her agents to wake up and want to come to work. It’s about creating a community, and balancing work and life.
She likes to think the company still has a startup vibe, despite its size and nearly four-decades-long history. Stribling & Associates, which posted $1.6 billion in Manhattan sales volume last year, is third behind top dogs Douglas Elliman and Corcoran Group.
“It’s about having fun together, too, that’s really important,” Stribling-Kivlan said, mentioning an office bowling night coming up in the near future. “We don’t have a ping-pong table, but we have everything else I think.”