Female Disruptors: “How Heidi R. Burkhart has shaken up the real estate industry”

An Interview with Chaya Weiner

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”Be pleasantly persistent” is a phrase I coined, as so many are either relentless, annoying or don’t follow up enough in the industry. In sales, in life, in business, you need to be on top of things, but if you are too pushy then you will annoy people and they will not want to work with you no matter whether you produce or not. If you don’t follow up enough, you will lose deals. If you are pleasantly persistent you will retain relationships and find a great tempo to getting deals done. I came up with this phrase when I was younger and managing people and trying to teach this lesson, and many have since caught on to it.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Heidi R. Burkhart, the President of Dane Professional Consulting Group. Formed in 2008, the company specializes in affordable housing brokerage and consulting. Burkhart is a seasoned professional in the real estate industry, and has facilitated the closing in excess of 11,000 affordable housing units totaling well over $1 billion in sales. Prior to forming Dane PCG, Burkhart was a senior director at Eastern Consolidated, New York, NY, where she headed the affordable housing brokerage and investment division. Burkhart was also a financial analyst at Owens Illinois, Toledo, OH. She is on the Board of Directors for Institute for Responsible Housing Preservation (IRHP), the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), and Kids Unlimited, Toledo, Ohio. Burkhart is the recipient of The Edward H. Schmidt Outstanding Young Alum Award 2013 from the University of Toledo in recognition of outstanding achievement in her field of endeavor, while providing leadership and noteworthy service to the Alumni Association, University and community. Burkhart has also been awarded the Affordable Housing 2013 Young Leaders Award as one of seven men and women under 40 years of age being recognized for building organizations and ushering in new ways of delivering affordable housing. The Young Leader award was created as a way to help celebrate and support the development of a new generation of leaders. Burkhart is active in her community volunteering with the NYC Rescue Mission, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Single Stop, the New York Ronald McDonald House, Food Bank NYC, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, University of North Carolina Pediatric division, Goodwill, and Habitat for Humanity. Burkhart holds a Bachelors of Business Administration Degree in finance and marketing from The University of Toledo and lives in New York City.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Preparation and luck coupled with my love for working and being productive brought me to where I am today. When I first moved to New York, my first job didn’t pay enough to afford the standard of living I wanted, so I got a second job — in retail. That retail job was the catalyst to meeting my future employer, a real estate broker. The rest was up to my work ethic. I was in that office for 12 to 15 hours a day canvassing — which is what we call cold-calling — for clients. I didn’t know much back then, as I was only 21, but I knew if I made enough calls, I would start getting yeses. Eventually, I met Brian Flaherty, who told me if I focused on affordable housing, he would give me a lot more properties to sell. I took that opportunity seriously and excelled. I owe a lot to him: the guy who took a chance on young Heidi at 21 years old. It informed the direction of my life.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

At the time when I started my company, there were no brokers in NYC focused on Affordable Housing. I was the sole one for a while — until others saw what I was doing and copied me. I am all for competition — it keeps me on my toes, and imitation is the best form of flattery as it shows I am doing something right.

I am also a woman in a man’s world, as female brokers are rare, especially in New York City. I am always looking to find new opportunities to break deeper into the industry and ways to reinvent the industry. For instance, we are working on confidential project now that is really revolutionary.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share how they made an impact?

Deborah VanAmerongen, Charlie Gendron, Adam Silfen, Dan Smith, Scott Jaffee, Brian Flaherty, Ken Pagano, Lew Henkind, and so many more. They all have taught me remain honest and compassionate regardless of the situation and to always find the win-win situation. In the truly “good deals,” everyone always finds their deal and is happy. In real estate, emotions run high and things can get volatile when putting deals together — particularly at closing time. Having mentors who teach you to stay focused on the business points and take emotions out of it has been truly life changing. Being able to build this skill set has helped me close so many deals. My clients look at me as the voice of reason or, at least, “the calm in the storm.” And to be honest, the whole industry of Affordable Housing as a whole attracts really good people.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

”Be pleasantly persistent” is a phrase I coined, as so many are either relentless, annoying or don’t follow up enough in the industry. In sales, in life, in business, you need to be on top of things, but if you are too pushy then you will annoy people and they will not want to work with you no matter whether you produce or not. If you don’t follow up enough, you will lose deals. If you are pleasantly persistent you will retain relationships and find a great tempo to getting deals done. I came up with this phrase when I was younger and managing people and trying to teach this lesson, and many have since caught on to it.

“Everyone has ideas, not many execute…” I love this advice and it has been so helpful to me. I used to be always concerned about sharing ideas with people and kept everything too close to my chest. Then, I learned that most people won’t steal your ideas — and even if they do, the chances of them executing them are slim. Now, I convene with many people to vet out concepts and ideas and can develop things so much more fully. It is very hard to trust this advice, but once you do, you are able to form stronger ideas.

“Scale Back to Scale Up.” We all put too much on our plate when we develop our companies, our days, our lives. It is best to keep your focus on your main source of income. I tried to launch a cause marketing company, Saxon/Hart, while keeping things going full speed at Dane RE. Though this company did a lot of good for many people, it drained me financially and emotionally, and took time and resources away from Dane RE. Eventually I realized that although it was a wonderful thing to be doing, but it was not a viable business idea. Knowing this, it was still hard for me to let go, as I was so committed to the altruism of it. Yet taking Saxon/Hart off my plate allowed me to refocus on Dane RE and to grow it exponentially to where we are today. Since then, Dane RE has had back to back years of over $2,000,000 of gross income and we hope to keep that going.

How are you going to shake things up next?

Well, I have an idea that is in the trial stages right now, but I need to stay quiet about it a bit longer. I’m going against my own advice here, I know!

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Charles Koch’s book “The Science of Success: How Market Based Management Built the World’s Largest Private Company.” I heard he gives it to all his employees to read, and after reading the book I get why. It’s a very easy read from a well-educated man who has built a private company that produces in the billions. The aspect of creating a more entrepreneurial spirit within your company really resonated with me and should with others as well, especially in this day and age. As a result, I implemented a more entrepreneurial reward system within Dane RE, which as he wrote, encourages ‘them to discover new ways to create value.’ My team started to have a huge interest and incentive to not only create results, but to produce them as well. This coupled with me constantly ‘scaling back to scale up’ I discussed earlier are huge reasons why Dane RE has exceeded my expectations the last few years.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I found that me being a woman and kicking ass in what I do is more than enough, and likely more inspiring than anything else I’ve tried to force on others. I feel strongly about working hard and showing that a woman can succeed on her own, in an industry that has been male dominated for generations. I truly believe actions speak louder than words, so my success is what I would like to show other women. I mentor many younger women; on my team and students and colleagues. I tell them that what I do every day is to keep my head down, produce good work and continue learning and growing.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I would like to give you an experience rather than a quote.

I just got back from Africa and to say it was life changing is an understatement. To see the animals and realize we took so much of their land away from them really hit me. Their land is their home. Yet at the same time, it was also incredibly inspiring to see how simple life is in the areas of Africa we visited, with so many of the people being so truly happy. Kids running around, no technology, and interacting with their environment and nature. We consume so, so much. We want so, so much here in the US. It is ridiculous. We need to redefine what the American Dream is, as owning a home is not always the way to build wealth as many to think it to be.

Travel always changes my viewpoint and this trip to Africa was no exception. It really solidified my resolve to always to strive to be content, happy, and fulfilled with what I have. No matter how little or how much it is, I am focused on staying in the moment and appreciating it. Being content, happy and fulfilled is what I strive to achieve every day.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@MsHeidiBurkhart on Instagram and Facebook, and I am also on LinkedIn. If you do follow me on those, I hope I inspire you all to put your devices down and focus on producing instead of building a perception of producing.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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