Leading Through Change

Coldwell Banker turns 110 this year with a new president at the helm. Find out how the enduring brand is positioning itself for the future.

Back in 2006, Charlie Young had the opportunity to attend a private dinner with all living past presidents of Coldwell Banker. The event was part of the company’s centennial celebration, and Young was able to rub elbows with Alex Perillo, Jim Gillepse, Budge Huskey, and others. Never in his dreams did Young, who was Coldwell Banker’s senior vice president of marketing at the time, imagine he’d be standing in their shoes.

But now, just a decade later, that’s exactly where Young is. As Coldwell Banker celebrates 110 years in business, the company also has a fresh set of eyes at the helm: Young assumed the position of president and CEO at the beginning of September.

“I take on the role with a great deal of respect for Coldwell Banker and what the brand has accomplished over the years,” says Young. “It has been and will continue to be recognized as a leader, and we take seriously the responsibility to lead change.”

The story of Coldwell Banker begins in 1906, in the aftermath of the Great San Francisco earthquake. A young entrepreneur named Colbert Coldwell established the company in response to unscrupulous salespeople who were taking advantage of property owners who had lost everything in the disaster. Coldwell partnered with Benjamin Banker in 1913, thus forming the brand known worldwide today.

For Young, the rich history of the brand provides a platform for moving forward through uncertain times in the industry. “Coldwell founded the company for ethical reasons, and that’s always been the core base of the company,” Young says, pointing out that they were the first real estate company to provide seller disclosures. “They changed the way people bought and sold homes across America.”

Since then, members of the Coldwell Banker franchise network have weathered markets good and bad, advances in technology, and evolving buying and selling trends. Young says he and the rest of the leadership team like to think of the company as the original Silicon Valley real estate startup.

Young started as the head of Coldwell Banker’s marketing department 12 years ago, moved into the role of chief operating officer in 2007, and was tapped in 2009 to be CEO of ERA Franchise Systems. Both ERA and Coldwell Banker are owned by parent company Realogy. But despite being under the same ownership umbrella, Young was able to roll up his sleeves at ERA and learn how to expand a growing brand into new markets.

“What I was able do at ERA was really hone my skills and gain new perspectives I wouldn’t have gained if I just stayed at Coldwell Banker. You have to be sharper when you’re in a challenger position,” says Young, who put in place a plan that helped ERA grow 21 percent in agent count last year.

Now Young is reacquainting himself with Coldwell Banker’s brokers and office mangers around the country and in 47 countries throughout the world. Today, the brand has more than 84,000 affiliated sales agents working in about 3,000 independently owned and operated franchised offices. “There are very few companies in real estate or in the United States today that have a pedigree that goes back 110 years,” says Young. “We use the founding and longevity as the springboard for leading our network.”

Step one for the new president is a listening tour to help him understand how agents and brokers feel about the brand. The market is competitive for buyers, sellers, and agents alike, so the brand has been concentrating on consumer outreach through advertising and research to identify behavioral tends. They’re using social media to engage one-on-one with consumers, which helped them claim the highest-ranking Klout score among all major real estate brands. “We’re in tune and listening to what consumers want and need and what they’re doing,” Young says.

But it’s not just agents and consumers that real estate franchises have to reach out to. Coldwell Banker brokers are aggressively recruiting agents, Young says, so the brand wants to help them stay competitive in its offering of support services. “Our job is to bring as much value to the table as we can and help drive growth for agents so they can compete in the marketplace today,” he says. They’ve equipped agents with a tech platform that includes data analysis, CRM, and marketing components, delivered through an iPad app.

The company has also taken special advantage of the recent surge in the luxury market. Coldwell Banker sells more properties priced at $1 million and up than any other brand — 25,000 in total last year. Serving the high-end market also requires thinking about the homes of the future. Last year, Coldwell Banker revamped its training platform to include a training system that covers smart home technology at all price points. This includes Nest systems, lighting, security, and other tech features that make homes more efficient. “We’re doing more with continuing education as technology progresses in the industry,” says Mike Fischer, chief operating officer.

Looking to the next 110 years, Young has no doubt that Coldwell Banker will still be making waves. “I absolutely see the brand being here because it’s committed to change,” he says. “It has been and will continue to be recognized as a leader.”

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