Getting your license doesn’t mean you know real estate. Oftentimes, we’ll have a new licensee that passed their test, got their license, got their affiliations in place and, within a day, they get a million-dollar listing. That’s a recipe for disaster. Going through mentoring and really learning the business once you’re licensed is key to success and to limiting liability and lawsuits within the space.
As part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Bowers.
Ashley Bowers joined HomeSmart International as Chief Operating Officer in late 2013 and was promoted to president of the franchising company in early 2016. Her passion for diagnostics and leadership interaction to build engagement and alignment throughout organizations is what drives her to succeed. With more than 20 years of experience in the talent management and organizational growth industries, she thrives on empowering teams to achieve success and drive profits and brings a unique approach to organizational leadership at HomeSmart International. Under Bowers’ leadership, all departments at the HomeSmart franchising company and its enterprise departments operate in sync to meet growth, retention, and systematic goals. Bowers’ leadership is evident through her commitment to spark creativity, passion, and determination in each of her team members. She is dedicated to implementing systems and efficiencies that HomeSmart brokers and agents alike can leverage to grow their businesses. Prior to her role at HomeSmart, Bowers was president for the domestic division (U.S. and Canada) at Target Training International where she oversaw daily operations and led the company’s strategic management team to meet and exceed company objectives. Outside of her professional roles, Bowers is a wife and mother of two boys. Her weekends are dominated by family activities in the outdoors including boating, camping and football games.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
In 2013 I started a consulting company and was introduced to Matt Widdows, founder and CEO of HomeSmart International. He was looking for a Chief Operating Officer and I was helping with that selection process, looking at the development of the culture of the organization, and focusing on the hiring and development of people. One month later, the conversation turned to him asking me to be his COO. I was so excited by what I thought I could accomplish within the organization–in fact, if I wasn’t married with children, I probably wouldn’t have left that conversation without saying yes. But there were obviously more discussions to follow that eventually it led me to join the team.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
While this story is amusing now, it definitely wasn’t amusing at the time. I was in my mid-twenties, a VP, had spoken publicly multiple times at different events and was asked to speak at a franchise conference on assessments, hiring and developing people. When I arrived at the conference, they were shocked to see I was a young female. Immediately a group of four men were over in the corner, speaking to each other and pointing at me. They cut my speaking time from 90 minutes to 45 minutes and then proceeded to then give me a lesson on how to put on a microphone. I smiled gracefully, gave my presentation in 45 minutes, had standing room only for the presentation and people were lined up to talk to me afterward. After the event was over, they called to say how great of a job I did, how much more I could do for their company and wanted to take me to dinner. Needless to say, I politely declined the offer. I took two lessons away from the situation. First: never judge a book by its cover. And second: just because an individual or two in an organization may make a bad decision or treat someone unfairly, doesn’t mean you should change what you give of yourself to the rest of the organization each and every day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
From a business perspective, we’re working on continued growth through acquisitions and building the organization to achieve our goals. So with that comes a lot of people and projects; expanding the team and adding additional training and curriculum for professional development. We just launched a performance management module within our human capital management system to keep a better eye on employees from an engagement and feeling-valued perspective. This will help us make sure we’re doing the right things as they relate to employment.
From a technology perspective, we’re a tech company in the real estate space and everything we do is tech-enabled. At the moment, we’re working on building consumer portals to help buyers and sellers stay more connected to their transaction throughout the entire process. We’re also working on a lot of integrations as it relates to helping real estate agents close transactions on time and with less stress.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what makes our company stand out is how much everybody actually enjoys working hard. I know that sounds kind of silly, but we talk about how you need nitrice in your veins in order to be successful at HomeSmart. What I found during the pandemic specifically, is when we as a leadership team went into protection mode versus growth mode for the first time in any of our HomeSmart careers, it was a challenge. And as we have come out of that much faster than anticipated, and as we have even accelerated a lot of our growth plans, everyone has gotten re-energized. And so we really have a team of people and a culture all about thriving, not just surviving, being mediocre or meeting the status quo. When as a company we are striving for big things and can see ourselves making progress towards them, our culture is very much aligned. When we are protecting and making safe decisions, our culture is very misaligned. I think it’s unique because everyone on our team wants to drive toward that success all the time.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I think there are many people who help us along the way — people come into your life at different times for different reasons. When I think of who formed who I am as a business person, I think of my aunt and my cousin.
From a very young age, I was in the family business with my aunt learning about work ethic, loyalty and how you need to behave as an employee of an organization. Moving forward in my teen years, I had a cousin who was a VP of a large organization and she would bring me into the office in the summer to work alongside her and help in any way I could. I loved working in the office till 10 o’clock at night with her and I always looked forward to the holidays when she’d come with her laptop and I could help her work.
I think both of them were very instrumental in forming who I am as an executive and what I expect from my executive team.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. The Real Estate industry, like the Veterinarian, Nursing and Public Relations fields, is a women dominated industry. Yet despite this, less than 20 percent of senior positions in Real Estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?
I don’t think the cause for this in the real estate industry is different from any other. There are varying reasons as to why women either do not get offered those executive positions or do not elect to take them.
I think it’s two-fold: I think you do still definitely have corporate bias–that’s undeniable. But I do also think that there are women who make choices to not take a senior executive position or to do it as a second career because they are prioritizing other things in their life.
It’s sometimes challenging to balance priorities as an individual and what they want for themselves, their families and their careers. That’s something that makes me proud to be at HomeSmart because we are heavily female in our executive positions and our management positions throughout the organization. We just really look for the best employee to fill each and every role.
There is the corporate side of real estate and there’s the act of being a real estate agent. The act of being a real estate agent is very predominantly female. It provides a lot of flexibility for those agents to be able to be able to balance everything in their life that they’re choosing to balance. The corporate side is really no different than any other industry.
What 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
Individually, I think that we have to decide what we want and go for it. I never made anything about my gender. In fact, I tried to do the opposite. I basically make everyone gender neutral and focus on the fact that we’re all just trying to accomplish the same thing. I think as an individual we need to stop making it about the fact that we are female, male or unidentified.
I think as companies we need to be very clear and specific about the qualities and attributes we want in an individual in order to fulfill different positions within the organization. We also need to be diligent and consistent about our ways of assessing those attributes and qualities in individuals for promotions. So regardless of gender in a certain position, everyone can look at it and understand why that individual was put into that role.
From a societal perspective, I think in an idealistic world we stop stereotyping. So whether that be gender, race, upbringing or any other classification, if we can simply look at each individual as a human and stop stereotyping, I think that that is a step to solving a lot of the challenges we see with any type of bias in society.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that are not typically faced by their male counterparts?
I think a lot of that has to do with the pressure we put on ourselves. As women we want equality. But at the same time, if we’ve chosen to have kids we want to be there for them, we want to be involved in their school, we feel the pressure of getting home and getting dinner on the table — all those tasks traditionally assigned to women. Whether we do them or not, I think there is definitely some subconscious pressure to be all things to all people all the time. I think we put more pressure on ourselves than our male counterparts, so we hold a lot more of that stress and we internalize it because we don’t want to be seen as emotional in the workplace. We want to be seen as though we have it all together because we fear that if we show some of that weakness, then maybe something will be taken away from us.
I know I am my own worst enemy when it comes to that. I have so many expectations of how I should be participating in different things outside of work. But at the end of the day, when you’re working 70–80 hours a week to build a company, there’s just not enough time left in the day to do all the things we feel we’re expected to do. I think that expectation is one we really put on ourselves.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?
We help people find their home. It’s the most important decision people make and oftentimes the largest investment people make in their lives so it’s really important work that we do.
I think the industry historically has been a bit behind as it relates to technology. That’s now changing which is really exciting. A lot of companies are disrupting in their own way and I feel HomeSmart has really led that from a technology perspective. We are enabling agents and consumers to be able to transact in an easier and less stressful way.
I’m also really proud of the industry over this past year and how it’s really come together as a community in order to help others succeed during these times. It’s really shown how resilient the entire industry is and how innovative it is from a technology perspective and on an individual basis. Everyone was thrown a big curve ball in March with this pandemic, and real estate has really come out shining. I think that has to do with the people who are in the industry.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
First, liability is a big concern. We’re continuing to see liability increase–Covid-19 has added to that. So much of what happens out in the field as it relates to real estate is so far removed from what happens in the corporate offices of real estate. Having some type of reform as to what agents can get sued for, what brokerages can get sued for and other things of that nature would be advantageous for the industry to pursue.
Second, more and more consumers are getting more of their information online and coming to the table with more of their decisions made. That can definitely be a challenge, because what is online is not necessarily the truth. If there was a way for brokerages and agents to control a little more of that information or have a higher degree of accuracy with information that’s out there, agents can better inform consumers versus constantly having to debunk what’s online.
Third, cyber fraud is a huge risk to the industry with people trying to gain access to wires of closing funds. Any additional protection we can lobby for and put in place would be incredibly useful. Yes, all of us have insurance but saying you have a good insurance policy to the retired teacher who just lost her life’s savings because a criminal hacked into her email account and was able to defraud her of her down payment doesn’t really solve anything. There should be a joint effort on how we could get on top of cyber fraud and the criminals behind it.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
One thing I always say, especially when I have newer leaders coming in or people who are maybe struggling with a new team they took over, is to focus on authenticity and transparency. I think that both of those go a very long way with people. You’re not going to make everyone happy–we all know that–but when you’re real and transparent about your feelings, at least you can start on a common ground of understanding. I think that helps people start to move forward and to solve conflicts or challenges that may be occuring.
I also tell them to be who they are as it relates to leadership. There are many models out there on how to lead and what you should or shouldn’t do as a leader. At the end of the day, I think each individual has to build their own leadership style and form a team that really works well with that style. That’s when you really see people start to storm and come together to achieve great things.
Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
- Getting your license doesn’t mean you know real estate. Oftentimes, we’ll have a new licensee that passed their test, got their license, got their affiliations in place and, within a day, they get a million-dollar listing. That’s a recipe for disaster. Going through mentoring and really learning the business once you’re licensed is key to success and to limiting liability and lawsuits within the space.
- I don’t think people understand how litigious the industry is. There are claims on a regular basis. We once had a situation where eight different parties were named in a claim. Buyers and sellers will go after inspectors, appraisers, the selling agent, the listing agent as well as the brokerages involved. Understanding that it is a litigious industry and making sure you have the proper insurance to protect yourself as you go through the process is important.
- I think there is a misconception about how hard REALTORS® work. It is a 24/7 business and they’re working all the time, whether searching for homes, negotiating deals behind the scenes, working on specifics of a contract or out showing properties. This year people are seeing a new appreciation for what REALTORS® do because they’ve been able to really demonstrate that throughout the pandemic. There have been a few years where the perception of the value of the agent was decreasing, so I’m happy to see that has come back quite a bit this year.
- People look at corporate positions within real estate and focus on the position type and what it would look like in other industries. No matter if it’s an HR position, accounting position or marketing position, because of the tendency of the industry to be 24/7, even your office positions tend to be more than your typical eight to five. That same work ethic has to transcend across to the corporate staff. So much of the transaction happens on the weekend and sometimes you need to pull in other individuals for that.
- There’s so much technology in the space and so little adoption of it. Making sure the technologies that are selected for an individual agent or for a brokerage are ones that will help them excel in their business is crucial. That’s why HomeSmart has proprietary technology tools that real estate professionals really need to run efficient businesses. This also allows them to be able to keep more of their commission in their pocket so they can invest in their own company, future and retirement.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think it goes back to taking away labels. I think 99% of people out there are good people and it’s the 1% that gets all the attention. If I could inspire a movement to stop listening and feeding into the 1% and focus on the good, I think that could bring about so much positive change and happiness in the world. This will in turn decrease a lot of fear and anger. I think if we took away some of the thunder that the 1% tends to have, we would see some great things happen.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!