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.
Wes Foster, founder, chairman and CEO of large Mid-Atlantic real estate firm Long & Foster Real Estate, embodies the best the industry has to offer — an enduring leader who built his real estate firm from the ground up into one of the nation’s largest brokerages.
Foster, 83, co-founded Long & Foster in 1968 and became sole owner in 1978. The Chantilly, Virginia-based firm’s over 11,000 agents do over $29 billion in annual sales.
With this legacy as a backdrop, Foster keeps an eye on the future. His firm became part owner in innovative customer relationship management platform Moxi Works in 2015 and revamped its website in 2016, which dramatically boosted visits and company-generated leads.
As one of real estate’s elder mavericks, Foster, like NAR CEO Dale Stinton, epitomizes the smarts and savvy that made the industry what it is today and prepared a strong foundation for the next generation of leaders. We profile this generational transition and how to best prepare for it in this year’s Swanepoel Trends Report.
Foster provided insights on leadership and his journey in a Q&A with the Swanepoel T3 Group presented below.
Briefly describe your career trajectory.
I served as an Army artillery officer in Germany and as a special weapons liaison officer to the German III Corps. After my service, I joined Kaiser Aluminum, where I ran a national program promoting aluminum-building products to homebuilders. In 1963, I officially entered the real estate industry, working as a sales manager at a homebuilder in Annandale, Virginia. A few years later, I became vice president of sales at a local brokerage, where I worked for two years before opening Long & Foster Real Estate in May 1968.
My partner at the time, Henry Long, and I began the company in a small office in Fairfax, Virginia. He led our commercial division while I oversaw residential sales. Our company grew significantly in the years that followed, and we became one of the first in the business to start our own insurance, mortgage and settlement services — pioneering the idea of a one-stop shop.
In 1978, Merrill Lynch, in an effort to break into the Washington, D.C., real estate market, offered to buy our company. Henry wanted to sell, but I didn’t agree. So I bought out Henry’s half of the business and became the sole owner. It was a strategic decision that allowed me to maintain the commitment to honesty, integrity, innovation and service upon which I built the company.
What key leadership advice do you have for up-and-coming real estate leaders?
Whether you’re just starting out in the industry or you’re a long-time pro, it’s critical that your people have both great empathy and tremendous drive. If you can find those traits in employees and agents, you’ll have a winning team.
What was your biggest professional challenge? What did you learn?
We’re always faced with competition from other brokerages, and that’s especially true when the real estate market’s healthy. Over the years, I’ve seen new competitors emerge when the market’s up and that continues to occur today. These companies will often generate a splash when they first open — sometimes recruiting away leading agents from other brokerages, but these firms don’t last long.
Watching and competing against these other businesses has shown over and over again the importance of staying true to our values. At Long & Foster, we’ll always put our agents first, and I encourage every Realtor to consider whether their brokerage does the same.
Routines you practice to stay on point as a leader?
I work every day — while I don’t put in as many hours as I did in the past, I’m at our Chantilly, Virginia, headquarters most days of the week. I also often visit our real estate branch offices, stopping by to meet new agents, catch up with long-time colleagues and chat about the business. Real estate is a people business, so I’m continually connecting with our agents and teams in the field to learn how to help them grow their businesses and our own.
Additionally, I love to read — whether it’s the daily newspaper or an historical biography. Doing so allows me to stay up to date on what’s happening in the world, from an economic, business and real estate standpoint and to learn great lessons from great leaders.
What drives the focus Long & Foster has for agent training and professional development.
We recognize that when our agents succeed, everyone succeeds — our company, our clients and our employees. I founded our company as an agent-centric brokerage, and that passion for our agents and their success is why we invest so heavily in our agents and their businesses.
How have you prepped your nephew, Boomer, for leadership at the firm?
Boomer is exceptionally smart, and he brings a strong and diverse background to our business, having a law degree and previously served as a trial attorney. As a kid, Boomer always said he either wanted to work at his dad’s law firm or with me in the real estate business. So when he made the switch to real estate, I made sure he took a similar approach to the business as I had — beginning as an associate and going from there.
Since Boomer joined Long & Foster in 2006, he’s worked his way up in the company. He started as an active selling agent, and then earned a position as a manager at one of our offices. He ran a successful branch before being promoted to a regional leadership position and most recently, named as president of Long & Foster Real Estate. Along the way, he also received guidance and direction from our executive team, including our Chief Operating Officer and President Jeff Detwiler.
Boomer (left) and Wes Foster.
What’s at the top of your to-do list this quarter?
The same things that are on top of my to-do list every quarter — helping our agents to succeed and recruiting new and established agents to our Long & Foster family. I’m also highly focused on ensuring the ongoing success of our employees and attracting new and noteworthy individuals to our real estate, mortgage, insurance, settlement, property management, vacation rentals and corporate relocation teams.
Favorite relaxing activity that’s not hanging with family?
Reading, especially historical biographies. I’m currently reading a book about Alexander Hamilton, and I enjoy watching television programs about our history and key figures in it.
Favorite city in the world to visit that’s not your hometown, why?
With its rich history and delicious food, Paris, is one of my favorite places to visit.
What are the biggest trends you see in the industry right now?
Technology has changed the role of the real estate agent in some ways, and I expect that will continue in the years to come. Recognizing the effect technology has on business and real estate, in particular, is part of what drove us to invest in Moxi Works (Long & Foster took an equity stake in the customer relationship management platform Moxi Works in 2015).
While technology has forever changed us, real estate will always remain a relationship business, and that’s been the trend for decades.