Keller Williams’ Marc King on the future of real estate
Today’s HousingWire Daily features an interview with Marc King, the president of Keller Williams. In this episode, King discusses how companies can best lead their teams during challenging times, and the importance of introducing meaningful change into their processes.
Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
Alcynna Lloyd: As we talk about leadership, I’d like to discuss Keller Williams’ work environment. Due to impacts brought on by the pandemic, many companies in the real estate space, including Keller Williams, have transitioned to a hybrid work environment. Marc, what does this new environment entail for your company and the real estate market at large?
Marc King: Yeah, so a couple of things on this. Number one is real estate has always been a business where the majority of people work out of their house, right? I mean, when you look at our average office of 210, agents, there might be 30 that have office space and the rest have worked from their house. So, in the field, it’s not as much of a foreign concept as others might think. At Keller Williams International, which is the employer, we have 1200 employees across 46 of the 50 states. So, we had been working via Zoom before Zoom was cool. And so that won’t change, we have our own technology that we use as well. So, that part has been a little bit easier, because of the cadence of communication and the way we worked before the pandemic. The other neat thing about our culture and the way we operate is that we surveyed all of our employees, asking them how they see themselves best working in the future. And as you might suspect, the majority came back and said, you know what, we do want flexible working hours, we do want to choose whether or not we come to the office or not, we do want to do things that are different than the way we’ve ever done them before. And a testament to the leadership around this company is we leaned in and said absolutely; however, you feel you’ll be most productive, we will support you. And that’s how we’re operating today.
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Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:
Alcynna Lloyd: Hello HousingWire listeners. Today, I’m joined with Marc King, the president of Keller Williams. And today we’ll be discussing how companies can best lead their teams during challenging times, and the importance of introducing meaningful change into their processes. Thanks for joining us today, Marc.
Marc King: I appreciate being here.
Alcynna Lloyd: Of course. Before today’s discussion on leadership and innovation, can you let our audience know more about you?
Marc King: Yeah, I’m a real estate agent through and through. I grew up in this business, if you will, and found my way to Keller Williams as a real estate agent, kind of worked my way into getting some opportunities to lead. We like to joke around here, if you’re talented, we will find you and we’ll give you another job to do. We’re a giant, big, fun, loving family. And so I built a real estate business back in the early 2000s and actually had gotten it to the top 100 in the country and really was looking for more. I wanted more out of my career. And an opportunity came along to lead an office. And that led to 15 more offices over time, which led to various different roles and coaching and all kinds of fun things. Most recently, my partner, Matt Green, and I we’re directors of growth, and I did that. I’ll tell you a little bit more throughout today’s interview. But in that role, my partner and I really got to visit all of the different parts of our ecosystem. We got to see a much bigger picture, and that role led to this one now.
Alcynna Lloyd: That’s great. Your business is extremely successful. It’s one of the top real estate companies in the nation. So you’re really perfect for today’s conversation, which we’ll talk about workplace structure and workplace culture. So I’m excited to dive in on that. You’re here to discuss the importance of leadership and innovation during challenging times. So to start off today’s conversation, I’d like to focus on probably the most challenging time that we’ve all dealt with recently, which is the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s now been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And while its impacts in the housing sector have eased, the market still remains transformed. For my first question, I’d like to discuss how Keller Williams navigated the unique challenges brought on by the pandemic. What was your leadership focused on? And how were processes adjusted to address this and last year’s altered real estate market?
Marc King: Wow, there’s a lot to unpack there. Thank you for asking that. I would tell you that, yes, we are in the most challenging leadership times I think our industry and in a lot of ways our country’s ever seen. And it’s not just the pandemic, we’ve had social unrest. We’ve had…just the world has changed. And we’ve had to wake up to the fact that we’re probably not going back to what we thought of as normal before the pandemic, right? So to answer your question more specifically, to be the largest real estate company in the industry, right, you wouldn’t think we’re as nimble as we are, but we have some systems and processes in place that allowed us to move quickly when the pandemic hit and the shutdowns happened, etc. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Alcynna Lloyd: All right.
Marc King: For the last eight or nine years, myself or others have led a national call, and we’ve talked to all of our offices every single week. So we have a very high level cadence communication. Last week, we had 1800 leaders on that call, it’s about what we average. And so the ability to communicate quickly was never an issue, the ability to lead in terms of transformation and the way you think about things and how you show a house and how you connect with agents and being more visible. One of the things we did is we led an effort to make 170,000 care calls to our agents to make sure they were okay, see what their needs were, talk about their businesses, what could we do? Now, I’d say the other thing about our culture is that we didn’t spend a lot of time saying, here’s all the challenges we face. We did spend a lot of time saying, how do we navigate the challenges that we face. Those are two different approaches. So we immediately jumped into action. We were more visible. We were pioneering ways to show houses without being close to another human or to do it digitally or through a computer, whatever the case was. And so I think from that perspective, we learned very quickly we share a lot. So the best way to handle a new situation is have 170,000 people out there trying it in the field. And I think that was our big piece.
I’m very proud, even beyond the pandemic, I’m very proud of this company and what we did around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And immediately we set up a task force. Immediately we pulled our people together. This is another very unique part of our culture is that every decision made here happens from the agent level or the office level. And so we set up a task force. We have amazing leaders around the country who jumped into action. Out of that task force, we hired the head of diversity, equity, and inclusion for Keller Williams International. That’s Julia LaShay Israel. And we’re super proud of the work she’s done. We’re proud that we just celebrated our second Juneteenth as a corporate holiday, and that has transformed the way we think about the future of our business as well. And so we’re tackling that on all fronts. And I’m just 100% this is not about me. The leadership of this company is world-class. And I’m just very happy to be a part of it.
Alcynna Lloyd: See, that’s great. And that brings me to my next question. So as we talk about leadership, I wanna discuss Keller Williams’ work environment. You mentioned some of the great things you do, but I’m really interested in learning about how your hybrid work environment is right now. Due to impacts brought on by the pandemic, many companies in the real estate space, including Keller Williams, have transitioned to a hybrid work environment. Marc, what does this environment entail for your company and the real estate market at large? You mentioned having national calls with your team and more about…I’m interested in seeing what that’s like.
Marc King: Yeah, so a couple of things on this. Number one is real estate has always been a business where the majority of people work out of their house, right?
Alcynna Lloyd: Right.
Marc King: When you look at our average office at 210 agents, there might be 30 that have office space in our office, the rest have worked from their house. So in the field, it’s not as foreign a concept as others might think. Coming to Keller Williams International, which is the employer, we have 1200 employees. And by the way, Keller Williams International has 1200 employees across 46 of the 50 states. So we had been working via Zoom before Zoom was cool kind of thing, right? And so that won’t change. We have our own technology that we use as well. But that part has been a little bit easier because the cadence of communication and where we worked before the pandemic. But to your point, the other neat thing about our culture and the way that we operate is that we surveyed all of our employees, and we asked them how they see themselves best utilize, best working in the future, and as you might suspect, the majority came back and said, “You know what, we do want flexible working hours. We do want to choose whether or not we come to the office or not. We do want to do things that are different than the way we’ve ever done them before.” And a testament to the leadership around this company is we leaned in and said, “Absolutely, however you feel you’ll be most productive, we will support you.” And that’s how we’re operating today.
Here’s the last little piece of that is we’ve brought on the CEO of KWx, who has a vast corporate background, right? And one of the benefits of knowing Carl Liebert, there’s many, but one of the neatest ones is he’s so connected with so many of the top CEOs in the country of all industries, that they’re having weekly calls on how to best handle all of these situations. So I get to tag along and sound really smart. It’s really Carl Liebert’s doing that’s helping us through this.
Alcynna Lloyd: See, that’s great. And as a follow-up, you mentioned that you allowed your employees to decide if they want to work from home or they want to come into office, a little more flexible plan. So how’s your team respond to the new work environment? Have dynamics changed in relation to culture?
Marc King: Yeah, I think it would be silly to say dynamics haven’t changed. But I’m really…this has been a great test of our culture. And I’m proud of what the results are showing, I think everything rises and falls on leadership. You’ve heard that, that’s a…it’s an old John Maxwell quote, right? And the way that we look at our team is everyone’s a leader. We’re more of a bottoms-up type of organization, meaning that we serve 180,000 families across the United States and Canada, right, and almost 200,000 worldwide, so our jobs are to listen to the people that we work for and to help them have the career worth having, and a business worth owning, and a life worth living, and a legacy worth leaving, an experience worth giving. That’s just what we believe. So when you come from that angle, all the challenges that we’ve faced, they’ve been lessened in many ways because of the way we’ve already operated.
Alcynna Lloyd: And my biggest question… We discussed the new opportunities the pandemic presented, whether that be processes or work from home flexibility, in terms of leadership and like the implementation of new processes. But for my next question, I’d love to know where Keller Williams is going next. It sounds like you guys have amazing things going on. So what moves are you planning related to the process of growth?
Marc King: Oh, my gosh, I would say it this way. We have more cool innovation happening right now than I’m gonna argue we’ve had in 38 years. And I’ll tell you what I can tell you. And we’ll have a lot of fun with this, but here’s how I think of this, and here’s how we think of this around here, is that we knew and had already seen and kind of understood that our industry has always been very physically-based. And we’ve been enhancing that physical reality with some technology. We’ve called it MLS. We’ve called it email. We’ve called it whatever the technology we added on top to make the real estate transaction easier and more efficient. That was technology-enhanced. We’ve always been physically-based and the majority of the industry is physically-based. We see a couple of our really cool competitors that start out completely digital with no physical locations, right? Here’s what I believe. I believe that we knew…we were on probably an 8 to 10-year journey to flip from physically-based, digitally enhanced to digitally-based, physically enhanced, meaning smaller office square footage, smaller footprint, more usage of technology, and more innovative ways and that sort of thing. But what I believe you saw as COVID accelerated that 8 to 10-year arc. And I also believe in if you believe, like we do, that the real estate agent is the fiduciary at the center of the transaction, and that our job as a company is to protect that real estate agent, then you believe that we’re all gonna kind of end up in the middle of somewhere where you’re gonna have whether it’s one of our competitors that started out completely digital, now they’re starting to open up office spaces. We started out physically-based and we’re moving digital. I think we’re all gonna meet at the middle somewhere because I believe the consumer demands it. The consumer wants their…they wanna pay less. They want to have their services bundled. They wanna have trustworthy, hopefully fiduciaries involved in the process.
And I have to tell you a really quick story, Alcynna, because this is so relevant right now. I just moved to Austin, Texas with this new role probably about five months ago. And I think every realtor should move every two years because what it will do is remind you how important a human being is to the process. And I will tell you my agent, Clay, and I…I had a wonderful experience, not just because I’m the president of the company, but because he’s a great agent. And I mean, down to the different property tax amount, street by street, to the type of stone in the backyard, to the type of floors, to understanding the humidity in Texas, all of those things, the school districts, etc., all of those things were so valuable in the moment when selecting a house in a frothy environment where it’s multiple offers and that sort of thing that I could never get from an iPad. So I don’t believe the future of real estate transactions is you’re just gonna go to the computer and order up what you want. It just doesn’t work that way. And I would tell you that that personal experience just further reminded me and engraved me in this idea. Look, there is a definite moment in time right now we’re being tested as real estate agents. And you either believe that real estate agents are like travel agents of the ’80s and ’90s and Expedia is gonna come along and turn that functionary…that fiduciary into a functionary, or you believe the real estate agent’s like an attorney of the ’80s and the ’90s, where LegalZoom came along and didn’t disrupt them and actually made them more valuable. And I believe the latter. So that’s the kind of the environment that we live in today.
Alcynna Lloyd: I agree. We often get a lot of surveys and reports from the industry coming to HousingWire, and something that we’ve seen consistently is that although people do like a digital approach, they do very much so value that human touch or that human element. So it sounds like your team was already ahead of the curve when it came to that. And you guys are still carrying some of those practices into a post-COVID world, which is great.
Marc King: The caveat to that is the agent has to be well versed. They have to be trained. They have to see the value of education. One of the challenges we face, Alcynna, is that in most states, it’s a couple of weeks and $500 to get your real estate license. Compare that to 13 years of school and residency to become a doctor. There’s not many doctors after six months of starting their practice that say, “You know what, this isn’t for me, I’m gonna try something different.” But the reality is the more we lean into education…that’s why I’m so proud of Keller Williams being a training and consulting company for so long. So it’s such a long part of our history. The value to the consumer in the future comes from well-versed agents, not just an agent. And that’s a really important delineation there.
Alcynna Lloyd: That is really true. So I’m gonna move on to our last topic today, and it’s probably the most interesting question to me. To continue on that topic, there’s long been speculation on whether or not Keller Williams would eventually file for IPO. And I wanna hear straight from the source’s mouth, does Keller Williams then eventually become a publicly-traded company?
Marc King: Here’s what I can tell you.
Alcynna Lloyd: All right. All right.
Marc King: We are keeping all of our options open.
Alcynna Lloyd: All right.
Marc King: We have brought an amazing group of talent from outside the industry, quite frankly and in most regards…I mentioned Carl earlier, that’s the tip of the iceberg. We have brought in, don’t quote me on this, but I’m gonna say 13 or 14 of the highest level executives from all industries around the country. It is a super exciting time at Keller Williams. We are exploring every different option. And we’re looking at what does the future look like? Right? I mean, how do we create more scale, more alignment, and all with one thought in mind, we are gonna protect the real estate agent, we’re gonna keep them at the center of the transaction, and everything we do is gonna be with that mission in mind. And what’s really cool about these particular individuals is they’re all on board with that thinking. And they’re all super nice human beings in addition to that, so yeah, it’s really fun. So to answer your question, I know it sounds like I may be dodging it, to answer your question, we’ll have more information on which options we decide to take down the road.
Alcynna Lloyd: All right.
Marc King: Right now, all of our options are open.
Alcynna Lloyd: All right, so I’m gonna have to bring you back on the show whenever we do figure out exactly what you’re doing. I know our audience is so curious and I’m curious myself personally. So I’m very excited to see where you guys go.
Marc King: Love it.
Alcynna Lloyd: All right. So before we wrap up today, is there anything else you think our audience needs to know about Keller Williams or the real estate industry at large right now?
Marc King: Yeah, I think…I might catch a little flack for this, so I’m just gonna share it this way, there has never been a time in our industry where what I’m gonna call the traditional real estate companies need to be more in alignment. And I believe there’s a battle going on, we talked a little bit about it, I think there’s a battle going on in the industry. Now, what we know is the consumer will win. They’re gonna get more convenience. Every disruption, every disintermediation, whether it’s Amazon Prime, whether it’s Tesla, name the industry, it always comes back to the consumer getting a better experience at a lower cost. So when you think about the housing industry in general, what does that mean? That’s what we’re all navigating through. So you either believe one or two things, you believe the real estate agent is the fiduciary, is the most important person involved in the homeownership transaction, or you believe that they’re a functionary, and they’re…an Uber driver can show a house tomorrow. I don’t believe that. And so what we need to do is the industry needs to be coming together and leading that charge. And yeah, and I would say we’re very excited about that. And I think we’re winning that battle. And we’ve always stood behind the agent, never more than right now.
Alcynna Lloyd: All right. Well, Marc, I’d like to say thank you so much for joining us on “HousingWire Daily.”
Marc King: Thank you so much.
Alcynna Lloyd: Of course. Well, listeners, thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you back here on Monday. Thank you.