Perfect Like Apple, Innovate Like Tesla

Learn how a forward-thinking, problem-solving mindset with an eye on current trends will help solidify future success for your brokerage.

One day in the near future, you may be able to open a lock box or the front door of a listing with a wave of your Apple Watch. Technology is evolving quickly, causing disruptions not only in the real estate industry but in how we interact with people and the world around us.

George Blankenship, former executive at Tesla Motors, Apple, and Gap Inc., who spent 30 years honing the most successful international marketing strategies and retail experiences, spoke during the 2017 REALTOR® Broker Summit in San Diego about the mindset and business strategy behind making the seemingly impossible a reality.

After 20 years at Gap—where he started out as a manager-in-training in 1980 and worked his way up to be a corporate vice president—Blankenship’s reputation caught the attention of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. “I learned early on if you take care of customers, they’ll take care of you,” Blankenship says. He went to work for Apple from 2000 to 2006 and was responsible for the growth strategy of Apple stores across the world. He took part in three-hour strategy meetings with Jobs every Tuesday morning.

Jobs wanted to sell computers the way Banana Republic sells fashion, Blankenship says. So Apple rented a large warehouse where, inside, they built full-sized models of stores in a quest for perfection. “We failed three times—completely failed,” he says. “Nothing that was in store one was in store four.” But they finally got it right, opened the first store in 2001, and the rest is history.

Blankenship says it’s all about “staying true to the vision of doing the best for your customers every day.” For instance, Jobs and the executives at Apple were always looking to solve problems. Back in 1999, Napster was the biggest file-sharing program on the internet. Users were also distributing copyrighted material illegally. But there was no going back. Consumers got a taste of digital file-sharing, and they wanted more.

On Jan. 9, 2001, Apple launched the iTunes store. The appeal of the $0.99 music files downloaded legally won over consumers. As of 2014, according to Apple, there have been 35 billion downloads from the iTunes store.

Blankenship’s advice is to think about popular products today, such as drones, live streaming video, and personal activity devices. How can you put those technology trends to work in your business to engage with as many people as possible?

A short time after Blankenship retired from Apple, electric car manufacturer Tesla recruited him to launch its stores. “Almost everything we did at Tesla was deemed impossible,” he says. But they got a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy to deliver the car and built them in factories that General Motors and Toyota had closed. Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota’s founder, drove the Tesla Roadster in front of press, and Tesla became the first successful U.S. car company since the 1950s.

“Innovate and find new ways to do things,” Blankenship says. “It’s not impossible; it just hasn’t been done yet.” Find new ways to make your clients’ lives easier. Figure out ways to deliver more efficient service that leaves each and every customer smiling. “Someone is going to redefine your world,” he says. “The only question is, will it be you?”


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