Keys to a strong company culture

Special report: the keys to a strong company culture

Creating an environment that promotes retention, productivity and happiness

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Key Takeaways

  • Nearly three-quarters of real estate pros believe culture is “very important” to a company’s financial success.
  • Close to 60 percent of real estate pros said they were “very happy” with the culture of their company, which they were likely to describe as “positive” and “agent-first.”
  • The freedom to work in different settings with flexible hours (without compromising regular communication with management) is shaping strong cultures today.
  • Brokerage leaders must work to attract agents to networking and training events to maintain a healthy culture.
  • Management must lead by example and suit their actions to their words and values.

Real estate firms large and small are presented with the unique challenge of creating a sense of unity and pride among their agents who aren’t even employees, but independent contractors with a lot more freedom.

Enter the idea of company culture, the focus of Inman’s latest Essential Guide, exploring what real estate professionals value most in their work environment and how leaders can foster a culture that promotes retention, productivity, happiness and a positive image.

Culture manifests in many different forms: flat or hierarchical, innovative or stodgy, collaborative or siloed. It’s created through a shared set of values, everyday interactions between coworkers and management, gestures both large and small, technological offerings and support, communication style, training opportunities and key decisions. A strong culture, which may be less obvious to the naked eye than a bad one, is something that an organization must continually work to shape, improve and live out.

There was no doubt among respondents to Inman’s survey about the significance of culture; nearly three-quarters said they believe culture is “very important” to a company’s financial success.

When asked if they thought their company had its own culture, an overwhelming number of respondents — 87 percent — said yes. The majority considered their culture to be strong already but said that an improved culture would further bolster their desire to stay where they are.

“Whether a person is defined by the IRS as a self-employed contractor or an employee, it is unimportant when it comes to culture,” said a Louisiana agent. “Culture is the glue that binds associated professionals together and helps maintain a sense of inclusion, support and camaraderie.”

Yet culture will be constantly challenged in a dynamic business environment. In the digital age, broker-owners and managers have to work harder to bring their agents together for opportunities to connect, such as networking events or social gatherings. Additionally, as many brokerages around the country experience fast and exciting growth, leadership must preserve a sense of culture amid the changes and momentum.

Red flags such as agents rarely coming into the office, poor communication in a remote setting, a few negative associates or teams in the mix or a managing broker who is never available may be signs of trouble that, left unaddressed, can have a profound effect on the health of your business. And while a national brand may have an admirable set of values and mission statement, if the local office isn’t “walking the walk,” its managers need to step up or risk creating a disjointed environment that leads to costly turnover.

“When people are happy, they are more productive, and there is less turnover,” said Anthony Hitt, CEO of Engel & Völkers Americas, the global luxury real estate franchise, in an interview with Inman. “Turnover costs money and takes away from efficiencies when you have to retrain and rebuild. With a strong culture of positive, productive individuals, you attract similar talent. If people aren’t happy, that not only affects them, but the people around them and can certainly impact the bottom line.”

Positive, agent-first, tech-focused: The picture of a modern brokerage

Real estate pros overwhelmingly expressed praise for their own company’s culture, with nearly 77 percent describing their workplace culture as “strong” or “very strong.” There was no clear consensus on who had the culture edge between franchisors or independent firms — 18 percent said indie and 6 said franchisor — but over half believe the strength of a culture is dependent on the specific company.

Respondents cited easy access to managers, a relaxed yet professional environment, a family feel and transparency as aspects that made their culture stronger. They appreciated their companies’ “forward-thinking” mindset, commitment to keeping up with the times and focus on technology training. Eighty percent said they were content with their current commission split, with the majority of agents at 70/30, or at an office where splits vary among agents.

Close to 60 percent said they were “very happy” at their company, with 24 percent describing themselves as “happy,” and 12 percent as “neutral.” Just a small sliver — 5 percent — reported feeling “unhappy” or “very unhappy” at their place of work. Nearly three-quarters said that culture contributed to their happiness at work “a lot.”

“People thrive within cultures in which they feel safe to express themselves, are encouraged to take the next steps in their careers and one that fosters collaboration,” said Hitt of Engel & Völkers Americas. “We are all in this together, and there’s a lot to learn from our peers.”

According to the survey, the majority of brokerages seem to be on the right track, with 68 percent of respondents describing their company culture as “positive,” 57 percent as “agent-first,” 50 percent as “technology-focused” and 47 percent as “innovative.”

The “little things” at work played a big role in many respondents’ level of satisfaction. As one agent based in Georgia expressed: “From the random thank-you notes on your desk to the invites to out of work events, there is definitely a joy around my current office compared to the graveyard feelings in offices of yesteryear.”

Respondents also felt strongly about their companies giving back to the community. A number of Keller Williams agents highlighted their pride in the company’s KW Cares charity arm, for instance.

Diversity in age, gender and ethnic backgrounds was another important element of culture to a number of respondents, with 55 percent describing their workplace as “very diverse” (that dropped to 27 percent when it came to respondents describing the diversity of company leadership). Still 72 percent felt their company valued diversity and was striving for a diverse workforce.

“Our diverse age group ranging from 28 to 82 feels like a family with agents across the age gap,” said a broker-owner from Washington state. “We help each other and celebrate each other’s successes.”

What contributes to culture in a real estate office?

We asked respondents to share the tangible benefits their company provides that may contribute to culture. The most commonly cited were the option to work remotely (88 percent), a bricks-and-mortar office space (87 percent) and flexible hours (76 percent) — indicating that giving agents the freedom to work in different settings at varying hours is the norm in real estate.

At the same time respondents indicated that many real estate offices are highly social and collaborative, with all-hands meetings (63 percent), parties for staff unrelated to business (53 percent), a Facebook group for employees (53 percent) and team-building activities in the workplace (53 percent) cited as the top activities/offerings that influence their culture.

Moreover as more agents work remotely, we asked how companies were helping their agents continue to network and get to know each other. Respondents mentioned a wide range of events being run by their brokerages, inside and outside the office, including group coaching, weekly training sessions, continuing education classes, yoga and field trips, among others.

“Every brokerage can have technology, lead generation and education, but it is how they package all those things together in its mission that can make the difference between companies,” advised a Florida broker-owner.

Technology has made it possible to connect associates in a remote setting; as an example, cloud-based brokerage eXp Realty has an online campus for training and recently started leveraging Workplace by Facebook as a communication tool for its more than 6,500 agents across the country.

“We now have hundreds of (Workplace by Facebook) groups spontaneously built by agents and brokers from eXp on wellness, lead generation, working with buyers and sellers, corporate, watercooler,” said Glenn Sanford, founder of eXp Realty and CEO of eXp World Holdings. “That plus our virtual world, means it is a very palpable culture.”

Support and training on the job

In-office training and support are also critical to a company’s culture. The most popular types of support companies are providing to real estate pros include technology (87 percent), training in contracts (80 percent), transaction management support (72 percent) and training in procedures of your market (70 percent). A little over half said their office had safety training.

“We do training every two weeks where we also open up with questions that are outside of the work environment, such as: ‘What was your favorite date you ever went on? If you could own any building, which one would it be?’” shared a a Re/Max executive manager in Seattle. “It helps people learn stuff about each other and find commonalities.”

Safety training or support often comes in form of classes at the firm, self-defense training and a clear policy of best practices. Another popular effort being made by brokerages was bringing in law enforcement experts to talk to their office about safety on a regular basis and making a manager available to agents for any concerns or questions.

The survey indicated that the heightened awareness and conversation surrounding sexual assault and harassment in the workplace is leading a number of companies to take a closer look at their policies. While nearly 96 percent of respondents said they did not worry about sexual harassment in their workplace, 4 percent did. Over 37 percent of respondents said their company had a procedure in place for reporting instances of misconduct, while nearly 50 percent were not sure and 13 percent did not.

Company procedure often entails reporting the issue to a third party or talking to management, said those in the survey. A number of respondents — particularly those with women managers — said their office was one of “zero tolerance” in this area.

A constant work in progress

Generally, culture should be well-defined and clearly expressed by leadership both internally and to the outside world; it requires constant attention, with regular reviews and updates. Management must lead by example and suit their actions to their words and values. “We need caring, engaged leadership, not lip service,” commented a Montana broker.

Respondents were adverse to a culture that felt “overwhelming” or was tainted by drama, the prioritization of quantity over quality, elitism, a hierarchical structure or management that was viewed as secretive. While inaccessible managing brokers were reported as a problem, so were “helicopter brokers” who were overly involved.

Moreover, “culture needs to be explained at hiring, not after,” said a broker in Southern California. “I see that misstep as an issue more often than not. It ruins the atmosphere and attitude of all involved.”

Hitt of Engel & Völkers Americas understands the importance of this, and thinks it’s wise for leaders to slow down and spend time describing their culture to prospective agents and brokers to ensure they are a good fit early on.

Finally as businesses expand, merge, acquire and grow, blending different cultures can prove thorny but not impossible. “We recently combined four separate offices, that each had their own culture, into one,” shared a Nebraska broker. ”We are working to build an environment that fosters an attitude of helping one another, building each other up, focuses on life work balance and open communication.”

The survey was conducted between Jan. 5 and Jan. 10, 2018. Of the 950 respondents, 537 (56.52 percent) identified themselves as Realtors or real estate sales agents, 206 (21.69 percent) identified themselves as brokers or broker-owners, 106 (11.16 percent) identified themselves C-Level Executive Management, and the rest identified as a mix of technology management, brokerage marketing team members, franchise owners and more.

Email Gill South


“Real Estate Companies Will Die”?

Pete Flint: ‘The majority of traditional real estate companies will die’

Disruption already came to hospitality, media and retail — the home sale transaction is no exception, Trulia co-founder tells ICNY attendees

Faster. Better. Together.
Inman Connect San Francisco, Jul 16-20, 2018

NEW YORK — Real estate will face a reckoning over the next 10 years as technology finally disrupts the industry in a big way, Trulia co-founder Pete Flinttold attendees at Inman Connect New York on Friday during his Capital Connect keynote.

“There’s a technology tsunami coming in,” Flint said. “A lot of low-lying areas have been covered — media, communications, information. This nonstop technology tsunami is moving higher and higher and higher into operations, into brokerages, into franchises, into physical real estate, and it’s frankly unstoppable.”

Flint, now an investor with the venture firm NFX, spoke with Wired senior writer Erin Griffith about his experience building and exiting Trulia, his thoughts on real estate tech investing and how he expects the industry to transform drastically over the next decade.

“It’s a slow-moving industry. There’s a 10-year window here. But the majority of traditional real estate companies will die,” Flint said.

While the decade after Trulia’s founding in 2005 was about revolutionizing the search process, Flint said, technology is now targeting the real estate transaction.

Consumers are realizing that real estate is behind the curve compared to most other industries, and they’re not sure what value the big companies bring anymore, according to Flint.

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“Consumers have had enough,” Flint said. “They’ve seen transformation in hospitality, in retail, in all these other industries, and they’re saying, ‘Where’s the transformation in real estate?’”

Real estate has fallen behind on the technology front due to the industry’s structure, Flint said. The franchise model and agents’ employment as independent contractors makes it hard for big companies to evolve. At the same time, there hasn’t been one single leader in real estate to lead the charge on technological advancement.

Consumers can’t differentiate between Keller Williams and Re/Max, but they do know the difference between Compass and Opendoor. Only startups have been able to try new models, Flint said.

“The companies are realizing that it’s often easier to start a new company and change from a blank sheet of paper than it is to change an existing company,” Flint said.

Through NFX, Flint is now investing in tech and software companies that work in the real estate industry. Flint left Trulia’s board six months ago after staying on to help manage the transition when Trulia was acquired by Zillow in 2015.

The $150 million fund is pitching investors its thesis around network effects: the idea that a product gets better for all users the more users it gains.

And it’s not just real estate that’s facing the late-stage tech disruption Flint is predicting. “Early-stage venture capital will be transformed by technology in the same way Wall Street’s been transformed,” Flint said.

Email Emma Hinchliffe

7 ways to get fired by your buyer clients

If you lose their trust, you’ve lost the transaction

Real estate is a business of relationships. Real estate relationships, as in life, can be good and bad.

The majority of homebuyers are satisfied with their homebuying experience; 89 percent would use their agent again or recommend him or her to others. Relationships that sour may be few and far between, but they do happen.

These seven mistakes will send your buyers heading for the hills.

Be unavailable

Buyers should expect to hear from their agents regularly throughout the course of their real estate transaction. Slow or near-extinct communication sends a message to your buyers that their transaction is not important to you.

As Cara Ameer writes in “What does a real estate agent do all day anyway?,” being available is a major part of a real estate agent’s job.

There are no official days off in real estate. You might have spans without any scheduled appointments, but there are always inquiries, emails and texts to respond to.

Agents are “on” no matter where they are. In our instant-response society, there really is no waiting until tomorrow.

Advocate for the wrong side

When buyers purchase a home, they put their financial livelihood in the hands of their agent. As that agent, you are expected to negotiate on their behalf and represent their interests throughout the transaction.

As Chris Dietz, global EVP of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World pointed out in an Inman Special report — “Do you have what it takes to be a top buyer’s agent?” — in the end, the buyer is the only one bringing money to the closing table. Their interests, which are innately at odds with those of the seller, matter too.

Many buyers probably appreciate that the U.S. real estate industry provides a space for them in the workforce — because many other countries don’t. Protecting the transaction from conflicts of interest is what buyers expect from their agent. Compromising your buyers’ financial livelihood for the sake of your own paycheck will get you fired — and possibly result in an ethics complaint.

Compromise their trust

Real estate is a business built on trust and relationships. Buyers want to work with an agent they trust. It doesn’t matter if you are a top producer or if you are endorsed by the town celebrity — if you aren’t trustworthy, your reputation is not worth the cost of the postcard boasting your accolades.

Ignore the relationship

As is the case with many business relationships, buyers want to do business with agents they have a connection with.

Not every buyer you come across during your real estate career is going to feel like you are a good fit to handle their business. There is plenty of business to go around. Dust yourself off, and move on.

Half listen

Inman’s report revealed that the ability to listen is the no. 1 skill most important to a buyer’s agent’s success. As one agent commented in the research:

“Listen and empathize with [clients]. Provide them helpful/beneficial information so they can make confident decisions. Anticipate questions they may have and seek to answer or direct them where they can get good answers. Treat them like you would want to be treated. Don’t ‘sell them” truly care about them and their needs.”

It sounds simple, but every buyer has different motivations and needs when purchasing a home. When buyers don’t feel heard, the agent loses their trust. When you lose your buyers’ trust, you have lost the transaction.

Crumble when obstacles arise

buyer’s agent needs to be able to solve problems that arise during the transaction. Some buyer transactions are harder than others.

Buying a home is like a puzzle. Every transaction is different, and each comes with its own unique set of pieces.

It’s the agent’s job to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and solve problems that come along.

Forget professionalism

Showing up late for appointments, speaking poorly of other parties in the transaction or not being prepared are a few examples of lacking professionalism.

A buyer may see an agent who demonstrates lack of professionalism as inexperienced or unprepared.

With emotions running high, real estate transactions are susceptible to unhappy endings. But avoid these behaviors during your buyer’s transaction and you can have clients singing your praises.

Kellie Tinnin is a training administrator with the Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors. Follow the GAAR on Twitter or Facebook.

Compass nabs $450 million

Compass nabs $450 million in largest real estate tech investment in U.S. history

Japanese firm SoftBank is betting big on the white hot real estate tech company

Future-Proof: Navigate Threats, Seize Opportunities at ICNY 2018 | Jan 22-26 at the Marriott Marquis, Times Square, New York

Humongous breaking news this morning for Compass, the white-hot real estate tech company: it just received a $450 million investment from SoftBank Vision Fund, the collaborative tech investment vehicle started by Japanese company Softbank and a host of big international players.

The $450 million investment in Compass marks the largest private real estate tech investment in U.S. history, according to Compass, and follows on the heels of a $100 million investment from other funders last month, which valued the company at $1.8 billion.

Collectively, Compass has raised $775 million in capital, money that will assist in its bid to expand across 10 new metropolitan markets within the next two years.

The are eye-popping figures for a company that launched in New York in 2013 (under the name “Urban Compass”) and was initially focused on rental units in the city only, but has since expanded to a sales focus and into over 10 markets nationwide. Compass Chief Revenue Officer Robert Lehman told Inman in a phone interview that the company would potentially acquire small brokerages to bring in new talent, similar to Compass’s recent expansion to Chicago, where it hired 20 agents from the area away from established franchises Coldwell Banker and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

In an announcement last month, Compass CEO Robert Reffkin told brokers and other employees that the New York-based company aimed to grab 20 percent of the market share in the 20 largest U.S. cities by 2020 (a plan known internally as “2020 By 2020”), and would be developing its own Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software platform and high-tech, solar powered “For Sale” signage.

This morning on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Reffkin announced Compass’s expansion to San Diego and compared the company to Amazon and Tesla:

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Compass touts itself as “the first modern real estate platform, which reduces the friction and frustration associated with selling, buying, or renting a property by providing real estate agents with a set of powerful tools to increase efficiency and sales volume.” But industry sources say that the company’s success has lots to do with its image, culture, and marketing, which position the company as a young, vibrant, Google-like startup, in a sector filled with many longstanding and slower-moving giants.

“Real estate is a huge asset class, but the sector has been relatively untouched by technology and remains inefficient and fragmented,” said Justin Wilson, a senior investment professional at the SoftBank Vision Fund, in a prepared statement released Thursday. “Compass is building a differentiated, end-to-end platform that aggregates across diverse data streams to support agents and homebuyers through the entire process, well beyond the initial home search. With disruptive technology and unique data advantages, Compass is well-positioned for future growth in a sector that represents trillions in transaction volume.”


Tech Hill Commons

Hey Entrepreneurs: Tech Hill Commons Wants to Bring Your Ideas to Life

By Chris Blondell

Everything’s coming up Nashville. That would certainly seem to be the case if you talked to Brian Moyer of The Nashville Technology Council. Moyer is the President and CEO of the NTC and a serial entrepreneur and technologist.

“Technology has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Prior to taking the role as CEO, I was a founding member of the NTC and also served on the board of directors for two years. I still look to learn something new every day and enjoy helping others achieve their goals. I’m excited for this opportunity to represent Nashville’s technology industry.”

Brian Moyer.

The Nashville Technology Council is described on their site as a “catalyst for the growth and influence of Middle Tennessee’s technology industry.” By investing directly into Nashville’s vibrant community, the NTC is looking to become a national leader in technology-based innovation and development. So, if it’s stepping towards the future, Moyer and the NTC want to be a part of it.

We all know that Nashville is quickly becoming a beacon for anything technology related. In recent years it’s seen a boom in technological investment, and has had its own share of successes in the industry with a lot of promise for the future.

“It’s a very exciting time to live in Nashville. We have an enticing creative culture with a low cost of living, which has led to more people wanting to be here. Over the past ten years, on average Nashville has added 39 more jobs a day, ranking 16th of the top 20 US cities.

“We have a diverse economy made up of a number of industries including healthcare, entertainment, hospitality, manufacturing, and distribution. The demand for those in the field of technology is high. Not only is our tech industry growing, but the demand for “tech occupations” across all our industries is growing.”

Sounds like the place to be if you’re a tech entrepreneur, right? It only gets better.

In a major step forward, the NTC and Comcast have decided to partner on an innovative new facility called Tech Hill Commons, and it will be the tech council’s brand new home.

The innovation hub's floor plan. Image: Tech Hill Commons.

“We saw the need for a space that would not only house our corporate offices but also provide opportunities for connecting and supporting the Nashville tech community. Our board agreed. About that same time, Comcast approached us to say they had partnered on similar spaces in other key markets around the country. Planning and a search for space began.

“We were fortunate to find the perfect location in an area of Nashville that the Mayor has dubbed ‘Tech Hill.’ It’s easily accessible with plenty of parking and only minutes from downtown Nashville. We are taking over the entire lobby level floor, approximately 9,500 square feet. Tech Hill Commons will be leveraged to help in our mission and realization of our vision.”

In other words, if you’re a tech-minded entrepreneur, Tech Hill Commons is the place to be. While cities like San Francisco, Silicon Valley, even New York, have spaces where tech-minded folks can flock to in order to perfect their trade. When out-of-staters think of Nashville, what typically pops into their heads is country music and hot chicken. Moyer, the NTC, and Comcast are working very hard to change that with Tech Hill Commons.


Image: Tech Hill Commons

But how will this work? How and why should people use this space? Moyer says, “One of our key roles is to serve as collaborators. Bringing together like-minded groups and individuals to solve issues and strengthen our tech community. Having our own space to facilitate those discussions will be a great benefit.

“Through our learning center, we are also focused on training the next generation of technology workers. We envision Tech Hill Commons as a place where members of our tech community can gather to work, collaborate, and connect.”

Why go it alone when you can have direct access to all the people you need? Forget working from your basement, or renting office space. Tech Hill Commons is here to be taken advantage of. It would be the central hub for, say, launch events, hackathons, Mac-a-thons, you name it. If it’s related to technology and if you can collaborate on it, Tech Hill Commons is the space for you.

So, where does Comcast fit in? For one, Comcast has been on the front lines of innovation, investing in anything that has to do with stepping into the future. “Aside from financial support and in-kind technology services, Comcast has provided specialists to help with space planning and negotiating furnishing. I can say with certainty that we would not have been able to make this happen without the incredible support we have received from them. Everyone on their team has been outstanding to work with.”

If ever there was an example of what a good partnership can accomplish, NTC and Comcast’s collaboration on Tech Hill Commons is it.

Nashville has steadily been on the rise in the past few years. It’s been known as a home base for country music, and that will never change, but soon it will be known for more than just honky tonk. Nashville will be known for innovation, for technology, for the entrepreneurial spirit. Nashville won’t just be Music City, it’ll be a place where ideas are fostered.

Everything’s coming up Nashville, and Brian Moyer, the NTC, and Comcast are on the front lines.

Reimagining the historic Gray & Dudley Building

Reimagining the historic Gray & Dudley Building near Printer’s Alley in downtown Nashville


21c Museum Hotel Nashville
221 2nd Avenue North
Nashville, Tennessee 37201

Phone- 615.610.6400
Toll Free- 844.577.5542

Like all of our properties, 21c Nashville is woven into the fabric of downtown, welcoming both visitors and locals to enjoy the curated exhibitions, cultural programming and culinary offerings, led by executive chef Levon Wallace.

  • 124 Rooms, including 14 Suites
  • Over 10,500 square feet of exhibition and event space
  • Gray & Dudley restaurant + bar led by executive chef Levon Wallace
  • Rooftop Suites with outdoor terraces
  • 24-Hour Fitness center
  • Spa featuring couples treatments rooms with en-suite steam showers
  • Business center
  • Valet parking
  • Designed by Deborah Berke Partners
  • Free Wi-Fi

21c Museum Hotel Nashville brings more than 10,500 square feet of new contemporary art-filled exhibition, meeting and event space to downtown Nashville.

A multi-venue museum, each 21c property features exhibition space open free of charge to the public, combined with a boutique hotel and chef-driven restaurant. 21c presents a range of arts programming curated by Museum Director, Chief Curator Alice Gray Stites, including both solo and group exhibitions that reflect the global nature of art today, as well as site-specific, commissioned installations, and a variety of cultural events. Learn more about the Museum.


The Gray & Dudley Building was constructed in 1900, a time when the city of Nashville was booming – much like it is today.

The 124 guest rooms and suites at 21c Nashville will provide a welcomed sanctuary from the art and activity that fills the galleries and vibrant spaces in and surrounding our property in the heart of downtown Nashville. Designed by Deborah Berke Partners, the guest rooms have wood floors and high ceilings, contemporary furnishings, large windows and luxurious floor to ceiling drapery.  We hope the comfortable beds and thoughtful touches, such as plush robes and Malin + Goetz bath amenities, leave you feeling restored and ready to explore.

Deluxe Double Queen

Deluxe King

Deluxe Suite

Luxury Double Queen

Luxury King

Luxury Suite

Terrace King

Terrace Suite

21c Suite

Private Events

21c Museum Hotel Nashville brings over 10,500 square feet of art-filled exhibition and event space to downtown Nashville.

21c Nashville features a wide range of gallery spaces – all featuring the work of today’s artists and many with cutting edge audiovisual technology – making it a unique venue for board retreats, executive meetings, cocktail gatherings, reception dinners, charitable events, weddings and many other special occasions. The restaurant at 21c Nashville, Gray & Dudley led by executive chef Levon Wallace, will provide catering and beverage service for events at 21c Nashville.

Here’s Sen. Corker’s advice for businesses that want to be heard in Washington

With the arrival of President Donald Trump’s administration, the nation’s political pendulum has swung, and for Tennessee businesses, that means navigating the nation’s capital could be a bit different.

Accordingly, I asked U.S. Senator Bob Corker what advice he had for businesses looking to make their voices heard more loudly in Washington, D.C. Here’s what he said:

We’ve got the [National Federation of Independent Business] and Business Roundtable for the big businesses. They’re pretty well represented, and they’re up seeing us constantly. When I was in business, I was a member of the Associated General Contractors, so I would just say be a participant in the organization that represents you and make sure that it’s vibrant. That’s the best way you can make sure people understand what’s happening, but look, I see so many Tennesseans and people know I have a business background, so I hear from people at the grocery store, dry cleaners and restaurants, so I feel like I’ve got plenty of input.

The senator was in Nashville Monday to give a wide-ranging presentation to employees and clients of the city’s largest homegrown lender, Pinnacle Financial Partners. During his 45-minute presentation, Corker covered everything from his time being vetted to potentially become Trump’s secretary of state to what he knows of the president’s highly-anticipated corporate tax reform policy, which is slated to be unveiled Wednesday. (Spoiler: He knows nothing, but is having a one-on-one dinner with the president on Tuesday.)

Overall, Corker said the most common concerns he hears from Tennessee business leaders can be boiled down to one thing: regulation.

“[Business owners] feel like it’s been very burdensome, and whether it’s in the financial industry with Dodd-Frank or just the standard things that businesses deal with on a daily basis, I do think we’re going to go through a period of deregulation that’s going to be good for our economy, and I think that’s exciting to most businesses,” he said in an interview with the Nashville Business Journal.

And as far as keeping Tennessee competitive on a national level, Corker pointed to the state’s low tax rate as well as Gov. Haslam’s recently passed Tennessee Reconnect, which provides two years of community college or a college of applied technology free of tuition and fees for adults — essentially an expansion of 2014’s Tennessee Promise, which offered the same benefits to graduating high school students.

“Many [businesses] have difficulties finding the appropriately trained person for the appropriate job. That’s a difficult thing, and our state is taking a lot of steps to overcome that with some of the educational programs we’re doing here. … Those things all bode well for our recruiting,” he said.

Meg Garner covers banking, government and law.

2017 Largest Nashville Residential Firms

What are the largest residential real estate firms in Nashville?

We ranked Nashville’s residential real estate firms by number of company sides on a transaction in 2016. To view the top five and see which one tops the list, check out the slideshow with this story.

For the rest of Nashville’s top residential real estate firms, take a look at this week’s print edition of the Nashville Business Journal. The full list is available in print and includes information about 2016 gross sales, average sales price, number of agents and offices and top local executive.

An interactive and expanded digital version of The List is on our website here, and includes extra content, including the year founded.

For a piece of our residential real estate package that accompanied The List in print, check out the infographic at the bottom of the article.

Want more research like this? Check out the Book of Lists in print or in data download.

Information was obtained from firm representatives. Information on The List was supplied by individual companies through questionnaires and could not be independently verified by the Nashville Business Journal. Only those that responded to our inquiries were listed. In case of ties, companies are listed alphabetically. The Nashville area is defined as: Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Montgomery, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties.

Germantown Nashville New Restaurants

Near the corner of Jefferson Street and Fourth Avenue North, amid Nashville’s booming Germantown and just a block from First Tennessee Park, sit two soon-to-open restaurants whose journey underscores the occasionally herculean effort required to bring restaurants from concept to reality in Music City’s white-hot food scene.

They are Lulu and Geist, the latest restaurants from Miranda Whitcomb Pontes, a restaurateur who made her name founding Frothy Monkey and Burger Up, among other Nashville hotspots. With Lulu set to open this month and Geist “probably three months out,” Pontes is emerging from the lengthy permitting process, construction delays and other bumps in the road that restaurateurs throughout Nashville encounter amid the city’s boom.

It’s just “the nature of Nashville,” right now, Pontes said. In addition to the standard challenges (like the time it takes to schedule inspections), the historic building housing Geist brought with it additional requirements of preservation, she said, which helps explain the multi-year lag between the lease getting signed and its eventual opening.

As for Lulu, on top of the traditional delays, Pontes has made several changes to the concept since she confirmed plans for the spot in September 2015. Initially envisioned as a full-service restaurant, Lulu will instead embrace a fast-casual model. Pontes just recently decided to change things up in yet another way, moving food preparation from the back of the house to the area behind the bar, in full view of patrons.

“I was uncomfortable for a while because I get really emotionally attached to the concept … which is a terrible thing to be in business,” Pontes said of the decision to rearrange things. “Now I see, even though [the layout change] probably put us more weeks behind and more over budget, it’s really healthy for the long-term, for success.”

Both the rejiggered restaurant design — something the restaurateur hopes will embody “the energy” she wants the fresh-focused eatery to have — and the shift from full-service to fast-casual came at the advice of peers and mentors whose opinion she trusts, Pontes said.

Dropping the full-service model was a hard choice, she said, because she wanted to ensure the restaurant offered a spirit of hospitality that doesn’t end once the customer swipes a credit card. At the same time, she knows people want to have the speed and convenience that format can provide. Her goal? Be sure to marry the two.

“I’m willing to entertain the fast casual, if you can guarantee that we’re going to have enhanced hospitality until they walk out the door,” Pontes said. “It’s going to feel like a full-service restaurant after you swipe your card, or I’m not interested.”

Eleanor Kennedy covers Music City’s tourism, hospitality and music business industries.

Lessons from Successful Retailers

Wharton’s Marshall Fisher discusses why retailers must break their ‘addiction’ to top-line growth.

Successful retailers can grow quickly in their early years simply by opening new stores. But eventually they run out of real estate, and then they need the discipline to stop opening new stores and focus instead on driving more sales through their existing stores. They can boost sales and profits dramatically by making changes in the way they run their existing stores, such as with help from analytics and the use of technology.

In fact, several such small changes brought in profits that helped 17 retailers outperform the stock performance of the S&P 500 index, according to a new study titled “Curing the Addiction to Growth” published in the Harvard Business Review by Marshall Fisher, Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions, along with his co-authors, Vishal Gaur (who has a PhD from the Wharton School and now is a professor at Cornell’s Johnson School) and Herb Kleinberger (who has an MBA from Wharton and for many years led PWC’s retail practice).

The study covered a 22-year period, ending in 2015, at 37 companies. This group began the 22-year period with double digit top-line growth, which inevitably slowed to the low single digits during 2011-2015 as the retailers reached the maturity stage of their life cycle. Some winners, such as footwear retailer Foot Locker, saw their stock market returns grow 33% a year over this period, or nearly triple the S&P 500 average. Others that witnessed handsome stock market gains include Home Depot and McDonald’s.

The lesson for the laggards is to pause, acknowledge the slowing growth, and look for solutions other than opening new stores. Fisher says retailers, as they mature, must break their “addiction” to top-line growth and adjust their strategies to the changed realities. He sees that maxim play out also with companies outside the retail industry. That approach could apply even to countries as they shift gears, he says, citing China’s efforts to move away from low-end contract manufacturing for the rest of the world to building its own brands for its domestic market.

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