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Following M. Ryan Gorman’s sudden departure from Coldwell Banker, many eyes are now turned to Kamini Lane who has stepped up from her prior role as president of Sotheby’s International Realty to take up a significant portion of Gorman’s previous responsibilities, in conjunction with Liz Gehringer who was recently promoted to CEO of Anywhere Franchise Brands.
Lane’s resume, which also includes management roles at Compass and key positions at a number of tech and luxury brands, seems to have come together to provide the perfect skill set to tackle her new role as president and CEO of a major real estate brand that boasted $295 billion in total sales volume in 2022 and includes more than 100,000 agents across 40 countries.
As Lane transitions into her new role, she told Inman she’s eager to learn from the experts at Coldwell who have spent decades with the brand. She is also energized by the idea of helping move the industry forward into a new era of diversity and inclusion.
In her first public interview since adopting her new role, here’s more of what Lane had to say, edited for brevity and clarity.
Inman: Your background features a number of roles that merge luxury, marketing and real estate. Are there any certain past roles or experiences over the course of your career that you feel have especially prepared you for your role as CEO and president of Coldwell Banker Realty?
Lane: I feel like when you look at my resume, it can feel like I’ve done a lot of really disparate things, but I think it all has built up to this place. So I have a pretty deep understanding of luxury markets and Coldwell Banker is a brand that spans markets, but we also have a really significant presence in luxury with the Coldwell Banker Global Luxury brand.
I also have a depth of experience in marketing and in brand. And Coldwell Banker, I think, is arguably the best-known brand in this industry. So I think there’s just so much richness and heritage to build on there.
Fundamentally, my career started off in the early 2000s working at eBay, and what I was focused on at eBay was essentially powering small business owners. So eBay, obviously being a marketplace, has people who sell one or two things a month or people who sell millions of things a month. So it is a technology platform that powers small business owners.
Now, being in the real estate industry and being at Coldwell Banker, I have the opportunity to help power literally tens of thousands of small, medium and large business owners. You have the real estate agents that are just trying to build their businesses and then you have teams like the Jills Zeder Group who sell billions of dollars of real estate a year. They’re massive in their own right. So I really do feel like it’s all sort of built up to this point.
I would say one of the things that I’ve realized throughout the different chapters of my career is that the relationship between brand and consumer is the most important thing. In our industry, that is at the core of the relationship between the real estate agent and their client. So, I just feel incredibly privileged to be in a position where we at Coldwell Banker Realty can help power those tens of thousands of relationships between real estate agent and client.
That’s great. You most recently served as president of Sotheby’s International Realty. Will there be a big difference in working with the Sotheby’s crew and their clients versus the Coldwell Banker crew and their clients? What will that transition be like for you?
Obviously, Sotheby’s International Realty is synonymous with luxury, right? It’s synonymous with luxury in a way that not very many brands in the entire world are. Like, [there’s] Hermès, Tiffany’s, Sotheby’s.
But I think that what I have learned by experience at SIR and other luxury brands is that, at the end of the day, luxury is an experience, it’s not a price point. So there’s obviously the experience of transacting a $50 million home, but a lot of the bedrock of that luxury experience is, again, that relationship. It is about deeply understanding what a client needs in their sales experience, in their future home experience, in what they need from their agent.
Because we joke real estate agents are a combination of financial adviser, tax adviser, marriage therapist, counselor, private school-finder, so the luxury in the experience is knowing what your clients want and knowing how to help them feel confident and comfortable — knowing how to help them navigate through the emotions and also just the stress and difficulty and complexity of that transaction, whether you’re on the buy side or the sell side.
So I think there’s a commonality there. Even though Sotheby’s International Realty is very much about luxury homes, that kind of luxury experience I think really does trickle down to every price point.
Right. So what do you see as some of the biggest challenges for you now in adopting this role?
Well, the scale is just incredible. There are hundreds of markets, hundreds of branches, 55,000 agents and so that is an incredible opportunity. I feel really fortunate in that it can feel daunting, but at the same time, there are so many incredibly experienced people at Coldwell Banker Realty on the agent side, the staff side and leadership side, and I’m really, really focused on listening and learning right now.
It’s so special to me to hear the stories of people who have built their decades-long careers at Coldwell Banker Realty. It’s like people have their own chapters of experience with this brand. So for me, it’s an incredible opportunity to learn from those folks and really spend time listening.
I had an opportunity last month, I went to our International Luxury Alliance Summit in Chicago and it’s about 40 or 50 of our top luxury agents and hearing these folks — you’ve got people who love the brand, who return to the brand, people who are somewhat new to the brand and came for really specific reasons. And then you’ve got folks who have literally built decades-long careers [here]. So being able to learn from them, and understand the breadth of the business and the depth of the business has been really incredible.
For sure — so much knowledge in one place! And I’m sure you have goals as you look ahead to the future with Coldwell Banker. Can you share any of them with us?
Honestly, as I said, my immediate goal is just to learn from the thousands of leaders in our network. I think it would be presumptuous of me to say I’ve got this whole list of revolutionary things to do because I don’t think it’s about that. I think it is really about listening and learning from the experience that we have in our network.
And I think longer term, there’s also a ton of opportunity. I think our industry is at a really interesting inflection point. Our brand is naturally at an inflection point because of the ups and downs the industry has experienced. I always joke that the word ‘unprecedented’ has never been more overused than in the last few years. It was like ‘the pandemic was unprecedented,’ and then ‘the real estate boom was unprecedented,’ and then ‘the change in interest rates was unprecedented,’ and it was like, oh my god, can someone look up a different synonym for unprecedented?
So I think we’ve got to figure out what the future of this business looks like.
And there are so many tools and technology and resources to leverage within Coldwell Banker Realty, within Anywhere, and so one of the things that I really want to make sure of is that we are using that tech stack to the fullest of its capability. Because the real estate experience is complicated. It’s complicated for agents, it’s complicated for consumers, and there’s so much opportunity to use that, to use technology and to use even our existing tech stack, to integrate it tightly to create a simplified experience for everybody involved in that transaction.
It’s funny — my husband and I purchased a house last year. We both have MBAs, we both have complicated jobs, and there were points in the transaction when we were like, we have no idea what’s going on. We’re so stressed out, and so it’s like, if it was complicated for two really type-A people, that says a lot about the opportunity to simplify for agents and consumers.
That is something that I personally feel really passionate about from my experience in the industry, from my experience in how powerful technology can be in simplifying consumer experiences and also from my personal experience. And it’s also really aligned with what Anywhere has focused on, utilizing our scale, the number of brands we have, the established hub of transaction services businesses, whether it’s mortgage or title or escrow, connecting those in a way that streamlines the process. I think whether it’s in a real estate transaction or whether it’s in buying clothes, consumers are looking for simplicity.
Absolutely — and I’m sure they’ll continue to look for that in the future as well. I also wanted to ask you a bit about M. Ryan Gorman’s departure from Coldwell Banker, which was a bit abrupt and unexpected to many in the industry. How does it feel to you now to be taking up many of his previous duties?
Ryan is an amazing leader and somebody who I find to be incredibly awesome and great, and I actually just caught up with him last week. I think he’s a phenomenal human being, frankly, and one of the things I love about him is that he has so many deep passion points. And I love the idea of bringing that into the role.
For me, I mentioned this a little bit, but one of my passion points is this idea of empowering small business owners and taking that through to the breadth of business owners that we have in this industry, because real estate is kind of like that, being the ultimate entrepreneur. So for me to be in the driver’s seat to empowering those tens of thousands of business owners has sort of been like … the baby steps were when I was right out of college working at eBay, and now it’s kind of like the ultimate fulfillment of that goal.
Another thing I’m very passionate about is diversity and inclusion. I am very cognizant of the fact that I am a woman of color and a working mom. There aren’t that many people that look like me and that have had experiences like me that are in leadership in real estate, and I think there’s an enormous opportunity to push that forward. Over two-thirds of real estate agents are female and when you look at the top tier, that drops off precipitously. But single women are the second largest group of homebuyers.
So when you think about that opportunity to align the people that are bringing wealth and that are actually conducting transactions with the opportunity to elevate females in this profession, that’s something that I feel really strongly about.
Diversity from an ethnicity standpoint and LGBTQ standpoint is also incredibly important, because I think about 20 percent of Realtors come from diverse backgrounds. [According to NAR’s 2022 Member Profile, 24 percent of Realtors reported a minority ethnicity.] But when you look at economic trends, people of color, people from diverse backgrounds are going to be the biggest influx of money into our market and transactions.
And this industry is one where our clients, our customers are all of the people in the United States — it is the most diverse customer set, by definition, of almost any industry. And because the relationship aspect is such an important linchpin to success in this industry, I think it’s really important that we make moves to make sure our industry mirrors our customer base more closely.
I’m glad you brought that topic up, because there is a high proportion of female leadership at Coldwell Banker, which isn’t true at a lot of other major real estate brands. How do you foresee yourself or other leaders in the industry making that kind of female leadership, and ethnically diverse leadership, expand into other real estate companies or even just at Anywhere?
I think Anywhere is already leading in this space. [Out of the eight Anywhere brand presidents and their immediate executive leadership, six are women.] That to me is the first step of something that I think is really, really critical in advancing diversity and inclusion, which is role modeling. When you are a person of color, a person from a diverse background, you know what’s possible because you see it in other people, and that’s a huge part of the gap.
For me, I remember being a teenager and seeing Indra Nooyi who was CEO of PepsiCo for more than 10 years. She’s also South Indian, and she was born and raised in Chennai, which is where my dad’s family was from — my parents moved to the U.S. from India. And to me that was the first thing that clicked of having a role model — it was that first moment of, ‘I can do this too.’
We’ve already as a company taken that first step because we have so many incredible female role models, and then I think you kind of go step-by-step from there in terms of creating mentorship programs and layer deeper for mentorship programs or sponsorship programs and making sure that diversity and inclusion is actually a corporate priority.
And — this is something I feel incredibly passionate about — making sure that people understand that diversity and inclusion are not [necessarily] about ‘the right thing to do.’ There is an economic imperative for diversity and inclusion. There is a social good, but it is the right thing to do from a business standpoint.
Having a diverse executive team, having a diverse leadership team, promoting inclusion makes money, and that is just as important for people to realize as the social aspect.