#SP200 Leader Robert Reffkin, Compass CEO
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 3,000 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 wake of the release of the 2017 list, the fourth, on January 9, the Swanepoel T3 Group is profiling leaders and executives included on one of the 10 2017 SP200 lists.
Compass CEO Robert Reffkin, 37, embodies real estate's technology and venture capital revolution. While he had an impressive resume before co-founding Compass in 2012, including stints as chief of staff for the chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs and as a White House Fellow, Reffkin had not worked in organized real estate before.
Five years and $210 of venture funding later, New York City-based Compass has emerged as a national force with 30 offices in 10 markets, nearly 1,400 agents and a valuation, based on its October $75 million funding round, of more than $1 billion. Its in-house tech team includes software engineers who build proprietary technology for agents such as a full-service mobile app baked with a powerful CRM.
Reffkin and Compass have embarked on an aggressive march across the country, attracting top agents and teams with signing bonuses and streamlined tech and marketing services. The nation's biggest companies, including Realogy, are taking notice and taking steps to address the young fast-rising competition.
In recognition of Compass' sharp upward trajectory over the past year, Reffkin jumped 41 slots on the 2017 SP200 Power List and appeared on SP200's inaugural Emerging Leaders list, which recognizes 20 leaders 40-years-old and younger, as of Dec. 31, 2016, poised for long-standing, important roles in organized real estate.
Reffkin answered some questions from the Swanepoel T3 Group about his leadership and Compass' meteoric rise, presented below as a Q&A.
Briefly describe your career trajectory.
I started my career as a business analyst at McKinsey & Company, graduated from Columbia with an MBA, then became an associate at financial services firm Lazard. In 2005, I spent a year as a White House fellow and then became a vice president at Goldman Sachs in the private equity group until 2011 when I became chief of staff to the president and chief operating officer. In October 2012, I co-founded Compass with Ori Allon, who previously founded a company that sold to Google and another that sold to Twitter.
Any funny stories since your mom came to work with you?
She started at Compass in July 2016. When I checked in with her on how her first few days were going and asked what her favorite part of the company was, she said it was that our IT team -- most of whom formerly worked for Apple -- was able to help her fix her iPhone! I thought that was funny. If I asked her today, she’d say her favorite part of being a Compass agent is our Collections tool that makes the experience of collaborating with clients more streamlined and beautiful.
Do you still run marathons? What was the favorite of the 50 you ran in 2015, why?
Between being a father of two daughters and building Compass, it’s really hard to find the time for training runs these days. My favorite race was the New York City Marathon since it was one of the largest and most diverse marathons. It was an incredible experience to run with people from around the world.
Who have you learned the most about leadership from? What did you learn?
I have been fortunate to have worked alongside some great leaders in the business world and nonprofit space. However, the person I have learned the most about leadership from is my mother. Being raised by a single mother, I learned firsthand how love, positivity and compassion are values that will never lead you astray in life. She inspires me to find solutions in any situation, however impossible-seeming.
You were a first-time CEO when you co-founded Compass in 2012. Name the top three things you learned that made you a more effective leader.
- Listen and ask for feedback.
- Collaborate and over-communicate.
- When mistakes are made, own them, learn from them, and strive for better in the future.
Reffkin doesn't spend much time at his desk at Compass' New York City headquarters, instead he roams and catches up with staff and agents, according to Compass staff.
Five years in, Compass has grown and changed a lot. What have you learned about growing a brokerage?
More than anything, I have learned that any company needs to know exactly who its customer is in order to be successful. We have always believed the primary customer of the brokerage is the agent, and that has guided our growth over the last five years. We are fortunate to be building technology alongside our customers, the best real estate agents in the world. Focus groups and feedback loops happen in the elevators, over lunch, all the time!
What’s next for Compass?
Over the coming months, we’ll continue to hire great agents across the country. We also plan to roll out more innovative technology and marketing products to help our agents better serve their clients.
Favorite relaxing activity that’s not hanging with family?
TV and movies. Some TV favorites include “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad” and “Homeland.”
Favorite TV show currently watching?
Since I have two young daughters, I would have to say “Sid The Science Kid.”
What are the biggest trends you see in the industry right now?
The rise of agent teams.
And the brand of the agent is becoming more and more important than the brand of the brokerage. As agents continue to grow and look for entrepreneurial ways to to grow their business, they will cement themselves as brands that carry just as much weight as the brand of the brokerage.