Editor’s note: Published by the residential real estate strategic consulting and information firm Swanepoel T3 Group each January, the Swanepoel Power 200 (SP200) ranks the real estate industry’s most powerful, influential leaders. It also recognizes leaders in several subcategories, from technology execs to social influencers.
The SP200 rankings reflect a rigorous, careful evaluation process supported by data and a detailed methodology. To help make its selections, the Swanepoel T3 Group maintains a robust database, with stats and information on more than 1,000 real estate executives and leaders. It spends hundreds of hours poring over data, debating internally and verifying all candidates before settling on its list each year.
In the runup to the 2017 list, the fourth, Swanepoel T3 Group is profiling leaders and executives included on one of the nine 2016 SP200 lists published earlier this year.
Sales-agent-turned-broker Thad Wong, 46, has catapulted his fast-growing Chicago-based brokerage, @properties, to remarkable heights. He founded the firm in 2000, with his business partner Michael Golden, and has grown it to over 2,000 agents in 23 offices across Chicago and parts of Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.
Wong and Golden placed No. 63 on the 2016 SP200 Powerlist, which ranks real estate’s 200 most powerful leaders.
@properties’ $5.8 billion sales volume in 2015 made it the nation’s 12th largest brokerage that year, according to Real Trends. In January, Inman News named @properties its most innovative brokerage of 2016.
One of the secrets to @properties’ success involves baking innovation and technology into its business. It actively looks to invest in Chicago startups and accelerate their growth through in-house adoption and distribution to its industry network.
A reflection of this mindset, @properties has invested in six startups as an angel investor:
- Agent-communication platform Yapmo.
- Content-tracking softwarePointDrive, which LinkedIn acquired in July.
- Meeting-prep software Charlie App.
- Homeowner property-tax appeal tool TurboAppeal.
- Flower arrangement and delivery service Flowers for Dreams.
- Lead-tracking software Kahoots.
Wong answered a few questions from SP200 about leadership and his views on the industry.
Briefly describe your career trajectory
I started selling in 1996. Sales/relationships had always come naturally for me. I spent a lot of time and energy educating myself on the industry, development trends and neighborhood gentrification.
Two attributes helped me excel:
- I was extremely tenacious
- I love improving details and solving problems
My agent colleague, Michael Golden, and I opened @properties in 2000 with a focus on large-scale residential development and a platform that provided agents high-quality marketing material consistently to their spheres. The latter helped them develop more referrals; we saw the growth of our individual agents’ businesses as the key to our firm’s growth.
In the downturn in 2008, we saw an opportunity to capture market share and began expanding and competing with growth and marketing, training and coaching investments. We opened offices in the suburbs, added new locations in the city and began investing heavily in technology.
Thad Wong’s desk at @properties’ Chicago headquarters.
What is your leadership secret sauce?
Staying in the moment, hyper-aware. Remaining open in this way helps me solve problems faster, recognize opportunities the moment they arise and execute quickly. It also fosters innovation and creativity.
Sometimes our minds jump to the next thing and avoid what’s in front of us. Narrowing my focus to immediately what’s at hand has facilitated many solutions and improvements.
From the beginning, we focused on cultivating a vibrant culture at @properties. Culture is obviously the word du jour, but it’s so critical to growth and prosperity. Relationships were our core value proposition in the beginning, and it’s still number one. Building a firm full of camaraderie that radiates kindness, tolerance, patience, and perseverance has been one of my greatest enjoyments in life.
Innovation is something else I embrace. We partner with companies who have strong creative leaders with tireless work ethic. We operate divisions within our firm as mini-companies to foster nimbleness, new ideas and execution. This energy bleeds throughout the firm; it’s been remarkable for agent retention and recruiting as our focus is always improving, even when what we have is already the best.
Favorite leadership resources
Tullman explains complicated topics clearly and simply. It’s great to read insights from a proven leader who shares openly and always hits the nail on the head.
“Building a firm full of camaraderie that radiates kindness, tolerance, patience, and perseverance has been one of my greatest enjoyments in life.”
What’s at the top of your to-do list right now?
I’m working on a few things, including
- development of a new digital interactive presentation and market analysis.
- a new technology to improve the timeliness of lead follow-up.
- a new digital, print, and billboard marketing campaign we’re launching in 2017, “#notjustahouse,” that looks back to the 1970s and highlights the memories a home fosters.
- opening two to three new Chicagoland office locations.
- taking video production in house and focusing on its distribution.
Favorite relaxing activity that’s not hanging with family?
Running in the summer and snowboarding in the winter.
What are the biggest trends you see in the industry right now?
The level of competition is increasing in urban markets, which will spur greater innovation around marketing and selling of homes and raise consumer expectations higher. The cream will rise to the top.