I learned that you can’t make everyone happy. Along the way, all you can do is make decisions that you feel are right for the company and in line with your personal morals and beliefs. That doesn’t always translate into pleasing everyone. I always try to do the right thing, even though sometimes it can feel wrong for some, and even myself. But it’s right for the situation.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Widdows the CEO and founder of HomeSmart International and HomeSmart Phoenix.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In the early 1990’s I created a technology company that focused primarily on accounts receivable systems for the medical industry. During that time, I was licensed as a real estate agent and after selling the tech company in 1994, I focused my efforts full time in real estate.
I believed the real estate industry was lagging in technology and systems to support real estate agents in their day-to-day business needs. There were better, more efficient ways to operate utilizing technology to automate, streamline and provide a higher level of service. I wanted to combine traditional real estate concepts with innovation and a technology approach. HomeSmart was born with the intent to provide a “low-fee, high-value” brokerage model.
My vision was to utilize technologies that supported systems and services to make both the agent and the brokerage successful. This approach would provide long-term growth and stability for the brokerage and ensure success for the agent.
Over the next 20 years, I grew the brokerage from just two agents to where it is today, a franchisor with more than 18,000 agents in 35 states. HomeSmart is now the seventh-largest real estate company in the nation and is the largest in Arizona and Colorado.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company?
When I founded HomeSmart in 2000, I had one receptionist and myself to service my first 100 or so agents. Back then, after reviewing a contract, brokerages would provide the agents a paper review of things to fix and that was it. The agent would have to call in to the brokerage each time to see if the broker had received additional paperwork, corrections, etc. These were 90% of my calls and it just didn’t make sense to work that way.
To overcome this, I created a very simple online database that provided a checklist of documents that I had received, as well as any corrections that were needed. Agents could log in real time to get a status update, eliminating all of those calls. This was the beginning of what would ultimately be our current end-to-end proprietary platform for HomeSmart agents, clients and franchisees.
Today, our system allows us to see data for our entire nationwide network, in real time. In a time like today, I can’t tell you how invaluable that information is.
What lesson did you learn from that?
Technology as a usable, efficient tool makes sense. Technology for the sake of technology actually increases workload. What I mean is that oftentimes cumbersome technology is implemented and just makes things more difficult. When I approach a technology solution, I try to keep it as simple as possible and emulate the “human”, analog process in an automated and digital way. I try not to recreate the process wheel, but rather automate and streamline that process in a digital environment.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Relentless drive, lots of hard work, never taking no for an answer. If you outwork and drive harder than your competition, you will win over time. It’s that simple.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
I don’t know that I have five specific things, but the biggest thing about running a company without partners is that it’s lonely at the top. I learned early on in my medical business that partnerships rarely work long term. There are just too many variables that put the odds against them working for one reason or another. I have no partners in any of my ventures, which has many advantages, however, it truly is lonely. You don’t have someone to vent to that is in the day to day. You are the “buck” and it’s not shared, and don’t ever kid yourself if you think you don’t work for anyone. You work for everyone! My employees are my bosses. My agents are my bosses. My customers are my bosses. I work for all of them even though I may make many of the decisions.
I also learned that you can’t make everyone happy. Along the way, all you can do is make decisions that you feel are right for the company and in line with your personal morals and beliefs. That doesn’t always translate into pleasing everyone. I always try to do the right thing, even though sometimes it can feel wrong for some, and even myself. But it’s right for the situation.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Work hard, especially if you are younger and in the beginning of starting up your business. If you don’t have a family yet, dive in all the way. That’s a time to work hard and move the ball without affecting others in your life that require your love and attention.
The flip side of that coin is don’t let it run your life. If you have family and kids, don’t put your business above them. Your time with kids and family is finite. Don’t blow that time because at the end of the day none of the success or money is worth missing out on time with family and friends.
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?
Entrepreneurs often have a touch of A.D.D.–I definitely do. I can easily be drawn to new ideas and new businesses, straying away from my core focus. In the early days it was even more of a problem until one day I was at lunch with a friend of mine. He told me that I needed to focus on a couple main things and drive those instead of trying to spread myself thin on new ideas and businesses. It was a reality check for me and it really sank in. From that day on, I always stop myself to think about how new ideas and businesses are going to affect my core and whether they are vital to the big picture or just a distraction.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I am continually working to improve the way we conduct our business and deliver our services to our stakeholders. Technology has always been where I provide the highest and great value and continues to be today. My goal is to continue to grow our integrated business platform that includes real estate, mortgage, title and escrow, and home warranty services. The more we can integrate these services and streamline their delivery, the better it is for the consumer.
Personally, first and foremost, I’ve got two teenagers that are getting older fast and their time with me is running out. They will soon be out of the house so I want to enjoy every last minute with them available to me before that day.
I also love to fly. I’m currently working on my commercial license and want to start flying helicopters!
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
To me, integrity is everything. I want to be known and remembered as someone who says what he thinks and does what he says. I rarely mince words and if I give my word, I follow through and expect others to do the same.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I have lots of ideas and we are doing many things currently. The latest thing I’ve noticed through my kids and watching my friends’ kids, is that I see a huge gap in the education system for general life skills. One of my goals for 2020 is to start a program for high school juniors and seniors to learn general life skills such as paying taxes, resume writing, interviewing techniques, building credit and other skills that they simply aren’t being exposed to. I want to work with school districts for the students to earn high school and even college credits for the course.
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