[photopress:bob.jpg,thumb,alignright]Many, many years ago, my friend Bob was spilling his guts to me in a long conversation about him and “The Firm”. He was at the crossroads of life that many businesses face. Bob joined Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel, a major lawfirm in the City of Philadelphia, in 1970, just two years before I was hired at Girard Bank, another Philadelphia mainstay.
I don’t know why I remember this conversation as vividly as if it were yesterday. Bob said, Ardell, we’re at that place. We have a great team of attorneys who all know each other and mesh well. We have a huge base of repeat clients that feel like old friends and who trust and respect us, and whom we enjoy serving. Now we have to decide whether to GET BIG or stay small.
Every time I am on the other side of a transaction with a “Top Agent”, I think of Bob and that conversation we had some 25 years ago. When I see an agent’s name on the bottom of a Purchase and Sale Agreement, when an offer comes in, but never meet that agent. All communications come through a licensed real estate assistant who just faxes papers back and forth and never meets either the buyer or the seller. The agent, who has the authority and responsibility to assist the clients in some major decisions, delegates everything to an assistant who makes “weekly calls to the client” in some pretense of “keeping in touch” on some designated every other day schedule. “Hi, just calling to let you know we are alive and well even though you never see us.”
Today, Bob is the Managing Partner of the Philadelphia office, and Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell and Hippel has offices in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Cherry Hill and Wilmington…three states. Bob’s still Bob, Robert I. Whitelaw, the managing partner. When I last saw him he had fallen off his bike and was nursing a sore arm. We’re both a little older and wiser, and I often wonder if he had a chance to go back to that day, when we were laying back shooting the breeze, if he would make the same choice to go big, or would opt to stay small.
Every agent faces that crossroads sometime in their career. Do they hire two assistants and a marketing manager and five “Showing Agents” and a Transaction Coordinator? Do they go to that point where when one of their clients comes in the door, and “the agent” passes them in the hall without noticing, because they’ve hardly ever interacted with them after the first day when they met and were passed off to the “showing agent” and then the “transaction coordinator”. Do they go to that point where they don’t remember more than half of the homes they have sold or any of the people who hired them to sell it?
Bob, or course, opted for big. But I knew when we were talking that he really didn’t want to do that, and felt he had to for the sake of “The Firm”. Aside from hiring a “free lance” assistant during heavy times, and occasionally pulling in a “showing agent” when circumstances put me in a position of having too much to do on a given day, I’ve pretty much put a cap on how many people I will “take on” all at once.
I know I can do a bang up job if I handle 24-36 clients in a year’s time. I will remember their faces, and their spouses and their children and their home that I helped them to acquire. When Travis called me “back” when I was in L.A. to sell the place I had sold to him, I remembered every single aspect of the time we had spent together over two years before. Travis didn’t hesitate to wait for me to return to Seattle from L.A. He didn’t call any other agents, just me. We spent hours together getting the place ready and reconnected. We hugged, we strategized, we painted and primped. We reviewed offers and talked and kicked back and had a glass of wine.
And so today I think of Bob, and his reluctant choice to get big and not stay small. I’m very, very happy today that I chose to know all of my clients, and be with them through every tiny aspect of the process. But “What About, Bob?” and his choice…I’ll have to give him a call…I still miss him after all these years.