What I would consider a great American success story, Keller Williams Realty, based in Austin, Texas, rose to prominence due to innovation. Not necessarily the standard type of innovation that creates products, but procedural innovation that has allowed the company to build a worldwide staff of professional real estate agents that currently ranks them as the largest real estate franchise in the world.
The Early Years
After graduating from Baylor University in 1979 with a degree in Marketing and Real Estate, Gary Keller moved to Austin and set about gaining experience in the real estate industry. After a successful stint with a top local real estate brokerage firm, Keller found his vision for running a successful company to be at odds with the way most companies operated. He recognized that the best way to put his vision in motion was by starting his own firm. In 1983, Keller joined forces with another local agent name Joe Williams. Together, they founded Keller Williams Realty.
The company grew quickly, and by the end of its second year, it ranked as the top single-office residential real estate company in the area. In an industry where timing is everything, the company encountered the effects of the vicious real estate bubble of 1986. While few agencies were able to survive the carnage, Keller Williams Realty downsized to forty agents and took a hard look at how they were doing business. For principals Keller and Williams, the housing bubble became a learning opportunity and a chance to build the kind of staff they needed in order for the company to bounce back in a big way.
The Keller Williams Methodology
It was at this time that Keller decided to practice what he preached. He had always felt that the key to success in the residential real estate industry was empowering agents to make decisions. After all, they were the revenue generators – on the front line, so to speak. By setting up the “Agency Leadership Council” and treating agents like business partners instead of employees, the company was able to recruit some of the top agents in the region. This new approach of shared decision making between management and the agents was a big success, putting highly motivated agents on the streets to do their jobs with much to gain.
As word spread about this growing Austin-based real estate company, the opportunity for expansion into other markets presented itself. In 1991, the decision was made to open offices in other states. Keller and Williams thought this would best be implemented through franchising. In 1993, Keller Williams Realty opened its first franchisee in Oklahoma. Agents were offered an incredible 70/30 split on commissions and the office became an instant success story, eventually becoming the top single office real estate company in the state. Over the next few years, the company’s growing reputation spawned other franchises that were opened throughout the United States. In 1998, the company made its first inroads within the international real estate industry with the opening of its first franchise in Canada. By the end of 1999, it was clear the company’s business model was working wherever implemented and the company had become the 6th largest residential real estate company in America.
A New Millennium
At the dawn of the new millennium, Keller Williams Realty was ready for new challenges. As incredible results kept pouring in from states like Florida and California, and from offices in Canada, the company embarked on its next major endeavor; in 2007, the company introduced a new division: Luxury Homes by Keller Williams. The focus of this new division was exclusively on the brokering of luxury residences. Some of the organizations top agents were given extensive training through The Institute of Luxury Home Marketing, enabling the company to make immediate headway into high-end residential real estate. On the heels of the Luxury Homes division, the company also made its move into the commercial real estate industry with the opening of KW Commercial in 2008. The same methodology for compensating residential real estate agents worked just as well within the commercial real estate market and top agents were more than happy to join the fray.
Climbing the Ranks
Firmly entrenched in the country’s three biggest real estate markets, Keller Williams Realty set its sights on becoming the largest real estate agency in the world. By 2008, the company had already over taken Re/Max for the third spot in the nation. With franchises still popping up all over North America, it only took two more years to claim the second spot from Century 21 with over 77,000 agents located in the United States alone. With the North America business thriving, even after the horrible recession of 2009, Keller Williams was ready to conquer a new frontier.
The New Frontier
This new frontier for Keller Williams is the international real estate market. In 2012, the company awarded its first franchise outside of North America; operating under a company subdivision named Keller Williams Worldwide, that first franchise opened its doors in Vietnam. Due in large part to name recognition and an incredible track record, real estate entrepreneurs throughout the world were lining up to secure a franchise. By 2013, Keller Williams offices could be found in regions of Turkey, Germany, the United Kingdom, Indonesia and Southern Africa. Perhaps the crowning jewel for Keller Williams Worldwide was the opening of a franchise in Dubai, one of the world’s most elite and exciting real estate markets.
This journey started with five years of real estate experience and a vision held by Gary Keller. Twenty-two years later, Keller Williams Realty has over 115,000 agents throughout the world. To date, it is the only privately held international real estate agency in the world. The company has also become very active within local communities, supporting numerous charitable causes through KW Cares. Also, Keller Williams Realty is proud of its own personal cause known as RED Day (Renew, Energize, and Donate), where one day each year, all company offices are closed down to allow every company employee to go out into their community and donate time to worthy endeavors. It’s hard to imagine, but one would sense the company has only started scratching the surface of a bright future.