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Natural Born Leaders: The Women in Charge at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach

While statistics from the National Association of REALTORS® show that 62 percent of REALTORS® are women, the broker and executive level of the real estate business is still predominantly occupied by men. Fortunately, the tides are turning and more women are taking their place among the industry’s upper echelon. At Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS® and Trident Group, this is nothing new, however, as four women head up key divisions of the organization: Joan Docktor, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS®; Barbara Griest, president of Trident Land Transfer Company; Marie Gayo, president of Trident Mortgage Company; and Kassie Erb, president of Fox & Roach Charities.

Make no mistake—hard work and superior skills earned these women their spots, not their gender. Recognized for their talents early on by senior leadership at the organization—including Chairman and CEO Larry Flick IV and Vice Chairman Gerry Griesser—Docktor, Griest, Gayo and Erb benefitted by being in an environment that nurtured their growth and shattered glass ceilings.

“We are fortunate at Fox & Roach and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices as a whole because there are so many women who lead here,” says Docktor. “For any company, diversity in leadership is important. People from different backgrounds will increase any organization’s creativity and ability to grow, and women in leadership are part of that diversity.”

Nurturing Growth Regardless of Gender
A 30-year veteran of the firm, Griest was the first of the four women to receive the title of president in 2006, after starting in the policy department, becoming a settlement officer, and then segueing into management in 2000.

“The organization has a lot of women and a lot of respect for women,” she explains. “Women bring a different perspective than men, and this form of diversity is important for any organization to have.”

According to Griest, her mentors were mostly men, including Griesser, Flick and Jim Waters. “It was good to have male mentors because in many ways, it’s still a man’s world,” says Griest. “It’s necessary for women to be open to how men think and go about doing things, just as it is for men to understand how women may go about things differently.”

While early in her career a woman in charge of operations took Gayo under her wing, it was Flick, Griesser and Larry Flick V who became her greatest supporters. “They gave me positive reinforcement and I felt no barriers to my professional development.”

For Docktor, her first mentor was another powerful woman: her sales manager when she first joined Fox & Roach as a sales associate in 1986.

“My sales office leader was smart, beautiful, and carried herself well—I wanted to mirror that,” recalls Docktor. “She believed in me and supported my desire to move into management. She introduced me to Larry Flick and showed me something that I believe is true for everyone—if you just venture outside your comfort zone, you will grow.”

Flick recognized Docktor’s potential and soon stepped into the role of her mentor. Docktor notes, “Larry always challenged me to grow and do more. He taught me that the difference between a good leader and a great leader was the execution of my goals. I learned under his guidance to strive for excellence in everything I do.”

As these women executives grew through the ranks, the support from Fox & Roach was ongoing, which was not the usual course of action at many firms.

According to Gayo, for instance, the mortgage banking industry had long been dominated by males at the top. “There are more females in mortgage operations, but more men in mortgage sales,” she explains. “When I first joined the company, I was interviewed by only men—I was the only woman at the table. I thought, ‘this is no different from any other organization;’ but now I see that differently. The ability for women to rise through the ranks says a lot about this company. That has not been the case at other companies I’ve worked for. Larry and Gerry always defer to my opinion and treat me no differently from other people.”

Erb also flourished under the mentorship and support of Fox & Roach’s male leadership, specifically Griesser and Avie Wheeler, the director of Fox & Roach Charities who showed Erb “the ropes” when she came on board in 2005.

“Avie treated me as an equal asset to Fox & Roach Charities, and introduced me to others that way,” recalls Erb. “We were a great team and he allowed me to grow into the professional person I am today. He had vast knowledge of the philanthropic nature of Fox & Roach and the foresight to start a charitable arm within a real estate company.”

Erb stepped into a leadership role in 2008 when Wheeler stepped aside, and then became president of Fox & Roach Charities when Griesser retired from the position in 2011. “The company trusted me to lead and grow their legacy of giving,” she explains. “They asked me to guide the Board of Trustees and do what was needed in the many communities we serve. They respected my leadership, opinions and ability.”

A Challenging Path for Women
For women, the path to leadership in the real estate business can be a tough one to forge.

While women in sales positions were the norm throughout the early years of Docktor’s career, that quickly changed as she moved up the ranks. “When I first started in upper management, there were no other women at the time,” she recalls. “The men around me who were my peers had a really hard time accepting it. I had to prove that I could add value and that I cared about them as people. I came from a position of servant leadership and made sure that everyone had what they needed to grow their careers.”

Griest agrees that it was initially an adjustment for men to work with a woman in a leadership rank. “Men and women have different perspectives. Each has to understand the others’ perspective.”

While it may have taken time for the masses to get on board, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach is committed to its support of women.

“The fact that this article is being written and published speaks to how our company values women and what women can bring to a company,” says Erb. “Women are well represented in leadership roles throughout the company. We are people who know our culture, care about others, respect others and treat others the way we would want to be treated.”

Inspiring the Industry
The female leadership at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS® and Trident Group serve as an inspiration for other women seeking to rise in real estate or in any business—and they offer some good advice, as well.

According to Griest, one of the most important things a woman looking to rise through the ranks should do is keep an open mind and listen. “Don’t overreact to situations and be willing to listen to other perspectives,” she advises. “This does not mean to never disagree, but to understand while being able to state your own opinion without backing down.”

For Docktor, finding the right mentor is essential for any woman seeking to rise into leadership. “Find a mentor who cares about you and can help you understand a lot more than just the technical aspects of your job,” she advises. “Find them within your business, but also outside of your business—there are so many life lessons you can learn.”

Erb’s advice boils down to one thing: passion. “Once you find a job you love and are good at, it is no longer a job—it’s your passion,” she explains. “Stay focused, determined and do your job to the best of your ability. It will not go unnoticed or under appreciated.”

Docktor also stresses the importance of giving back—as early as possible—to those coming up behind you. “Show them you care not just about what they do at work, but about them as people. It’s not the dollars they bring in, but the person they are. Business is relational, and the more relationships you can build, the better the outcome will be.”

For more information, please visit www.foxroach.com.

Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at maria@rismedia.com.

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