Always give back and give forward. We have a phrase at RE/MAX called the “Liniger Legacy.” Dave and Gail are models of philanthropy in our community, country and our world. They give their wealth, their time — and most importantly — their encouragement. They build a better world every single day through their one-on-one mentoring sessions. How lucky am I to be able to work in their organization?
As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Zimmerman, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for RE/MAX, LLC.
Susan was born and raised in Blytheville, Arkansas, a rural town in the Mississippi Delta, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Arkansas. After moving to Colorado in 1984, she held various HR leadership positions in firms such as Oppenheimer Funds, American Residential Communities, Fiserv, Comcast and Citicorp. In 2009, she received her MBA from Colorado State University. Susan joined REMAX in 2014 as Vice President, Human Resources. She was promoted to Senior Vice President in January 2015.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
I’ve been in human resources my whole career — more than 30 years. I became involved in real estate when I joined RE/MAX and it has been my favorite industry so far. Human resources operates much the same at different companies, but where you really see a difference is the company’s culture. At RE/MAX the culture is really about building relationships within the network. When you’re a real estate franchisee or you work for RE/MAX HQ, it’s very likely that one day you’re going to be a consumer of a real estate product. Succeeding in the RE/MAX culture is about deeply understanding our customer, because you likely are one.
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?
When our co-founder Dave Liniger was looking at his succession plan, he wasn’t happy that he didn’t have women following in his footsteps. He said in 40 years of running the company, he’d always had a woman as president or at a C-level position. And for the first time, the outlook at that time was that women weren’t rising into those roles as quickly as he expected.
Dave wanted to be intentional about the development of women at RE/MAX. He started with 12 vice presidents and invested $150,000 in the development of those people. He wanted to do three things. One is he wanted to help them develop where they could benefit most personally. He also wanted to help them develop skills that data showed the company was missing. And third — he wanted the women leaders to have fun while doing it and develop strong relationships with one another. Because in doing so, they will build stronger relationships in the network and industry.
The powerful part of the story is that after the investment of those women, all of a sudden we now have a COO who is a woman, a CFO who is a woman, and now half of the executive leadership team are women. It really is a testament to a man who was intentional about the development of women leaders and the importance he placed on having a diverse and balanced leadership team.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
What we’re working on right now is a refresh of our World Headquarters in Denver. We want space to be a driver of culture. That includes designing around our value of collaboration and making the office more open with more spaces for teams to meet.
We also wanted to look at the generational makeup of our employees. Right now we have five different generations of employees working in RE/MAX headquarters. And they all work differently. I’ve heard assumptions made of how millennials like to work. But, some of the older generations like to work like we assume millennials like to, and some millennials are more like traditional workers. So we’re working to design a space that’s attractive to everybody and how they’re most productive. Finally, the most important thing is to organize our space in the best way to service our customers. So, when customers come from around the world to tour our office, they see the products and services we are creating just for them.
The future of work is important, and that’s what we’re focused on right now.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Ithink the legacy of our founders, Dave and Gail Liniger, is absolutely remarkable. They started this company 47 years ago, and it’s grown to over 110 countries and territories and 125,000 agents around the world. Dave and Gail Liniger have made an impact on lives across the globe, even those that maybe aren’t directly involved in real estate.
At RE/MAX, we have a flag raising ceremony in our lobby every time a new country joins the network. I remember during one flag raising the region owner spoke about what a difference RE/MAX has made in their country because prior to RE/MAX coming there, homeownership was nearly impossible for most residents, let alone owning your own business or having a job selling real estate. It’s an example of how Dave and Gail have really transformed the world.
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?
Actually, the first person I thought about is my husband, Brian. When we were raising our kids, we always shared responsibilities. Sometimes, when I was busy at work, he pitched in a little more — and vice versa. In other words, I never felt like my career was not progressing because I didn’t have help along the way — or I had to turn down assignments because I didn’t have resources at home. He was always there and very supportive. Brian is also an entrepreneur and owns a small engineering firm. He has a remarkable work ethic and is a very good leader for his team. He always put his employees first, meaning they got paid before he did. He was a wonderful example for me of thinking of others first and taking care of your 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?
You know, I can’t really identify with that, working for RE/MAX. Like I said earlier, more than 50% of our agents and brokers are women as well as 50% of our executive leadership team. Plus, two out of four of our C-suite positions are female, and our board is almost 50% women, too.
You know, when Dave Liniger started the company, the other real estate firms were only hiring men. But Dave recognized something: men sold houses and women sold homes. Many women had greater flexibility with their time, and he really tapped into their expertise in managing relationships. RE/MAX was really the first brand to endorse and advance women in real estate.
What 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
The first things is to be like Dave and be intentional about the development of women. That means give them highly visible projects and the development and resources to get them done. It’s also important to invest time and money in your female employees.
Number two, I think it’s important to tap into the creativity of women. You know, women have a perspective in so many other veins of live, from running a household, raising children, tending to aging parents, managing life in general! Many women are creative in using their time and their resources, and it’s important that businesses tap into that creativity.
The third would be to give women employees exposure to resources and people who can help their career. Introduce women to other successful women — and men — in the company and industry and let them learn from a diverse group of people. Then recognize their success!
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
There’s only one thing that a man can’t do that a woman can, and that is bare a child. That one event takes a woman out of the workplace for a period of time until she’s able to physically return to work. So, what we have to be mindful of is that women aren’t compromising opportunities in their career when they take time to have a child. It’s important to me that they’re also not compromised on pay, and that RE/MAX remains competitive in the benefits we offer our employees on maternity leave. We also recently began offering six weeks paid paternity leave, because we know this is an important time for fathers as well.
Employers who argue women shouldn’t be paid when they’re on maternity leave have an attendance mindset, not an engagement mindset! Those employers are thinking from an hourly standpoint, and a production and contribution standpoint. But what customers need is the engagement of your employees, so as women go off to have families, you need to be able to keep them engaged in their work and your company. That means investing in women and paying them. The return companies get from the work of their female employees and their loyalty will be multiples of whatever that investment in pay is.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry?
One is, the real estate industry overall is really about personal change. If you’re buying or selling a home, you’re making a change in your personal life. The other thing about the real estate industry, especially in the franchise space, is we help create jobs for people who either buy a RE/MAX franchise or become a RE/MAX agent.
It’s also cool that every single employee at RE/MAX headquarters can identify with the consumer because they themselves are homebuyers or sellers. It doesn’t matter if you’re an IT person, an HR person, a finance person or a marketing person, you are affected by the real estate industry in some way, shape or form.
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?
The one thing that I think about often is the affordability of housing to first-time homebuyers. I’m mindful that we continue to make sure our wages progress with the market.
The second thing I think about is the job-to-housing market universe. I’m a small-town girl, I was born and raised in a small town and I feel like our smaller towns are shrinking, and so is the real estate value in those markets. Small towns are much more affordable, but they’re not where the jobs are. Big companies are moving into larger markets and cities, yet some of those cities are not affordable from a housing perspective. I’m concerned about if there are opportunities for first-time homebuyers to be able to live in either of these markets and be able to thrive, not just survive.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Take your time to hire the very best and know exactly what you need in the role. The second thing would be to listen to employees, and be sure you’re able to answer the question of “Why should I invest my career in your company?”
And the third is that if someone is not a fit for a job, make sure they are treated well and placed somewhere that they can be successful. Because if someone is not successful in their job, their family, their friends, their spouse — everyone knows they’re not happy at their company. Treat them well, help them find a good opportunity, and it can win be a win-win for everyone.
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?
1. Listen for the unasked question. You can tell if someone needs more information and invite them to continue asking questions until they are fully knowledgeable and satisfied with what they know. Our marketing team listens with their eyes when they test commercials and products and literally sees responses.
2. Know not just the housing market you are in, but also the overall market setting and local economy as a whole, because those trends impact success in real estate transactions. Nick Bailey, our Chief Customer Officer, has a great story of how relevant the real estate agent is — and will always be — simply by knowing what is happening at City Council meetings and school board meetings. Those things are not in the MLS listings.
3. Be humble with unquestionable character and integrity. At RE/MAX, we have a saying: “The RIGHT thing and the EASY thing are not always the same thing.”
4. Know the competition. And know them personally. At RE/MAX, we actually spend time with our competition. We are on panels with them and sit together at conferences. We learn a lot about them from the way they participate and engage with the industry.
5. Always give back and give forward. We have a phrase at RE/MAX called the “Liniger Legacy.” Dave and Gail are models of philanthropy in our community, country and our world. They give their wealth, their time — and most importantly — their encouragement. They build a better world every single day through their one-on-one mentoring sessions. How lucky am I to be able to work in their organization?
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. 🙂
We’ve started a movement at RE/MAX and Motto Mortgage on being a leader in Corporate Social Responsibility, and we think about it from a global perspective. It ranges from organizing company volunteers, giving millions to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals through our network, providing food for families through the Motto Mortgage Mission Against Hunger in all of our markets. We respond to global catastrophes like tsunamis, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes. It’s also the way we use our building by increasing energy efficiency and reducing the carbon footprint of our office. I could go on and on. Being the №1 name in real estate* has great benefits to our communities, our industry, our country and the world and inspires others to follow suit.
* Source: MMR Strategy Group study of unaided awareness.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on LinkedIn here.
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights!