Fiona Petrie: “When negotiating, always leave a crumb on the table”

This is not going to go on forever, but we will have to change how we do things — Make sure you intentionally schedule fun in your life. Whatever that looks like for you, plan something every single day so you have something to look forward to. Happy People have someone to love, something they’re passionate about, […]

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This is not going to go on forever, but we will have to change how we do things — Make sure you intentionally schedule fun in your life. Whatever that looks like for you, plan something every single day so you have something to look forward to. Happy People have someone to love, something they’re passionate about, and something to look forward to. That last piece is missing for many people right now. We must intentionally schedule it and put it on the calendar.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Fiona Petrie, EVP and Managing Director of RE/MAX INTEGRA U.S., the U.S. branch of the world’s largest real estate sub-franchisor. In her current role, Petrie oversees all operations — including regional growth and expansion initiatives — of RE/MAX INTEGRA in the Midwest and New England regions, which is comprised of 500 franchises and 7,000 agents. Proven by her 13-year tenure and award-winning results, Petrie has a deep understanding of the ever-changing real estate landscape with expertise in navigating complicated mergers, acquisitions and conversions.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

After starting my career as a top producing RE/MAX agent in the Greater Toronto, Ontario area, I relocated to the U.S. in 1993. From there my career path leads me into a bevy of corporate leadership positions, including an executive-level position at where I helped to restructure the company, pulling it out of bankruptcy within just six months. I then took on the role as COO at Beazley Company Realtors where I worked to put processes in place to integrate and improve both company and agent practices and productivity. This had a residual impact on improving agents’ results and customer satisfaction levels. In 2006, I joined RE/MAX INTEGRA and held a variety of positions where I lead the Franchise Sales Team and contributed to the business growth and expansion of its North American footprint.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

During one of my roles with RE/MAX INTEGRA, I was asked to travel to Israel to research their highly successful operational and growth strategies. Interestingly, when RE/MAX expanded into Israel, their biggest competition was not other realtors, like we experience here in the U.S., but rather consumers. At the time, it was customary for Israelis to conduct their own real estate transactions, similar to a For Sale By Owner here, with a mere 20 percent of consumers employing a real estate agent. RE/MAX Israel’s regional leadership team had done a tremendous job of turning things around, and when I visited they had more than 80 percent of consumers working with an agent. It was very interesting to me to talk to them about the journey they embarked on and how they facilitated that change.

During that same visit, I was invited to a Regional Retreat to Northern Galilee Heights; it was perhaps ten kilometers from the Syrian border and we woke up to an incredible ruckus. Initially, I thought it was a bus backfiring, but it was actually bombs going off. I was taken aback and yet they were nonplussed by it. They had learned to live through it and had for countless years. It showed me that there’s always a way to nest in any storm.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now, our main focus at RE/MAX INTEGRA is ensuring that our agents and brokers are receiving the best support possible through this challenging time. Since the start of the pandemic, we have worked tirelessly to provide them with resources and new tools to allow them to continue to transact and stay motivated. We have provided new tools like the RE/MAX 360 Tours for improved virtual tours, the RE/MAX Velocity Training program to keep agents active in their learning, and in April, during the height of the mask shortage, we were able to successfully source 20,000 masks for every RE/MAX INTEGRA agent in our network, to help them stay safe when they couldn’t conduct business virtually.

As we enter the next stage of the pandemic, our main objective is the continued momentum of our brokerages. We are trying to stay as proactive with our efforts as possible and are constantly ideating on new innovations to improve our business practices.

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 am fortunate to have worked for two family-owned companies. The benefit of this is that the founders are greatly vested in the company and its future and there is an absence of ivory towers and corporate red tape. Within my positions at these companies, I have had the opportunity to be mentored directly by the owners who were outstanding, big-picture thinkers and incomparable entrepreneurs.

When I was COO at Beazley Company Realtors, a 700-agent independent company in Connecticut, I had the pleasure of working with owner Greg Scott, who was highly influential in my career. He taught me lifelong lessons about business operations and negotiations, including the phrase, “When negotiating, always leave a crumb on the table.”

At RE/MAX INTEGRA, both co-founders, Frank Polzler and Walter Schneider, have directly mentored me. Mr. Polzler, a trailblazer to the industry instilled in me “a no is just a journey to a yes.” One must never let such a little word stand in our way of something we really want. We just have to look for other ways to get there.

The best lesson Walter taught me was, when socializing with colleagues and mingling at work events, to “always be interested, not interesting.” He also says “there is never a good time.” People are always waiting for their “perfect” time to do something, whether that be getting married, having children, buying a house, etc., but there is never a perfect time to do anything. Right now, we have to be open to doing whatever we have been planning, because there is so much uncertainty.

Owner and former CEO for North America, Pamela Alexander has also been a pivotal mentor in my business growth. She is an exemplary model of what a female leader should be and has taught me lessons that have vastly improved my leadership abilities, and perhaps most importantly the skill to delegate work. Like the saying goes “you can do anything, but not everything.”

Overall, I have been very blessed to have worked with so many great leaders that have contributed to my success today.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

COVID does not discriminate, so whether you’re a female or a male, we are all facing challenges, regardless of gender. For me, as a woman, I am not facing any different challenges than a man going through this. I think the biggest challenge, for any business leader, was there was no learned path to take, no best practices to use. We had to create them as we were working through them. I am fortunate in that our team modernized our business practice two years ago and have been working remotely since 2018. However, even our team who was well-versed in working remotely and who had embraced the culture faced several new elements to working from home. We suddenly had spouses at home, children in the next room trying to navigate school. It changed the norm. We have to be hyper-aware of everyone’s different situations and make allowances for that. Such as on Zoom calls, we need to be okay with a dog barking or a child talking, and we as leaders need to let our teams know it’s okay. We have learned a tremendous amount and will continue to learn, no doubt. But by far, the greatest challenge has been creating the new normal as we go, on the fly, and with little planning or preparation.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Because of the stressors of remote work, and new family dynamics layered in, it became more apparent than ever the need for vacation time and “me time.” It’s a difficult path to navigate as we’re told to shelter in place and it’s hard to get out and about, but we’ve encouraged our staff to take vacations, even if it’s a staycation. I think it’s extremely important for individuals to let their mind rest, put their worries aside, and have a little fun.

Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

Once again, this pandemic does not have a gender preference. The bottom line is, when people enter the workforce, becoming co-bread and sole-bread winners, they take on more family roles. The have added stress, men and women alike, to be good parents, good providers, good teachers, good employees, and that was all exacerbated during the pandemic. Our RE/MAX Broker/Owners and Agents faced that head-on. As their regional leader, I worked with my team to help our brokers and agents navigate new waters.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

As the saying goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Our team took swift action to ensure all RE/MAX INTEGRA brokers, agents and clients were well supported during these challenging and evolving times. We developed an online COVID-19 Resource Hub for Broker/Owners and Agents, which outlined all the need-to-know information for practicing real estate across the U.S., including topics on virtual business strategies, financial relief and guidance, and boosting productivity. We also scheduled weekly Zoom meetings for regional Broker/Owners and invited local politicians, real estate attorneys, industry experts and coaches, and financial experts, to help educate them on issues and opportunities as well as empower them to make informed decisions. Additionally, we launched the RE/MASKS safety initiative, which provided 20,000 complimentary branded facemasks for all RE/MAX associates in our U.S. footprint.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or of a family?

With balancing remote work, homeschooling, and the regular needs of a family, it can be an overwhelming time for most. As a mother of six, my advice to parents who may be struggling to keep up right now is to carve out a solid balance between work and family time, along with taking time for oneself.

Designate a work area and set boundaries with your spouse and children to ensure you have the proper environment to work distraction-free when you need to. When you’re “at work,” make sure you replicate your work routine as much as possible. That means even putting on work attire rather than staying in pajamas. Additionally, people tend to work more hours when they work from home — try to set a hard start and stop time for yourself, so you can more easily transition from work to home.

For home life, create a schedule with your partner to determine who is going to look after the children at what times. Make sure to schedule in time for yourself as well, even if that just means a regularly scheduled time to walk around your block.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

Every day, make a point to go outside and get some socially distanced exercise. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous, even a 15-minute walk around your block will do you some good. Exercise is critical for both your physical and mental health during these challenging times.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  • In every storm, there is a gift to be had — We’re all reeling from this crisis, but there are lessons learned and blessings received from it as well. For example, parents are getting the chance to observe many of their children’s milestones that they may have otherwise missed while working in an office.
  • Fear is a terrible way to carve out your future — For a lot of us, this IS a scary time. Even though you may be afraid of the unknown, don’t let it hold you back from living your life or planning your future.
  • Ten percent of life is what happens to you, ninety percent is how you react to it — It’s so easy to react negatively to everything that is happening. If you flip that on its head by reacting more optimistically, you’ll likely find yourself in a better place both mentally and physically.
  • If you fill yourself up with negative, you’ll be negative — Stop watching the news or limit how much you watch. Right now, when it seems like bad news or challenges keep appearing behind every door, make sure that you are maintaining a positive outlook. Even if you have to force it, a positive mindset will take you further in the long run.
  • This is not going to go on forever, but we will have to change how we do things — Make sure you intentionally schedule fun in your life. Whatever that looks like for you, plan something every single day so you have something to look forward to. Happy People have someone to love, something they’re passionate about, and something to look forward to. That last piece is missing for many people right now. We must intentionally schedule it and put it on the calendar.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

My best advice is to check in on overwhelmed friends and family members on a regular basis and encourage them to do activities to keep themselves well, both mentally and physically. We coach our RE/MAX Broker/Owners on this often. Now is the time to be proactive in outreach and communication, whether it’s with friends and family or past and potential clients. While we may not be able to easily interact in-person, Zoom is an incredibly powerful means of communication that allows us to talk face-to-face with others. For those who are really struggling, become an accountability partner for them to ensure that they are doing things to keep themselves happy and healthy. And once again, intentionally schedule something with them that you can both look forward to.

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

One lesson I taught my children when they were younger was “there is no such thing as ‘can’t’.” While this got some of my children in sticky situations and arguments with their elementary school teachers when they found out there is such a word and it was spelled *C A N Apostrophe T*, the lesson holds true, especially now. Even when you think you don’t have the ability to do something, like working remotely or homeschooling your children, you have the ability to persevere and give it your best shot.

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