Thoughts on Leadership: Texas Travels

headshot-gino-blefari-150x150Nov. 20, 2014

By Gino Blefari

This week, I was in Dallas for the launch of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty Texas. As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas, and this event was no exception. Held at the 80,000-seat, 2.3-million-sq.-ft. AT&T Stadium, the event was an incredible opportunity to meet new agents and celebrate an important milestone for the PenFed Realty Texas team.


Gino Blefari, incoming CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC, familiarizes himself with Cowboy turf.

I have to say, even as a season ticket holder at the brand-new Levi’s® Stadium, where my San Francisco 49ers play, I was impressed by the grandeur and awe-inspiring design of AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys. From one of the 350+ suites, I looked down at the field and it made me think back more than three decades ago, when Tom Landry’s Cowboys played at Candlestick Park, scene of one of the most dramatic conference championship games in NFL history …

Let me set the stage: It’s Jan. 10, 1982, fourth quarter, 58 seconds left and the 49ers faced third down and 3 at the Cowboys’ 6 yard line. Dallas led 27-21. Coach Landry was six yards away from his sixth Super Bowl and, of course, the upstart 49ers were six yards away from Pontiac, MI, where Super Bowl XVI would be played. In the words of Broadcaster Vin Scully:

“[Quarterback Joe] Montana … Looking … Looking … Throwing into the end zone … Clark caught it! It’s a madhouse at Candlestick …”


Gino Blefari poses with Rick Wylie, broker of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty Texas.

Wide Receiver Dwight Clark, an obscure 10th-round draft pick in the 1979 draft—the 249th player chosen—went on to become Sports Illustrated NFL Player of the Year in 1982. “The Catch” gave him the confidence to overcome all odds and win five Super Bowl championships with the 49ers, two as a player and three with management.

Yes, it might seem a little strange to be thinking of such a classically San Francisco moment and athlete when standing in the very place the Dallas Cowboys call home, but here’s the message: Whether it’s winning the pivotal game, making a super-human catch or achieving in business, realizing you have the potential to succeed is oftentimes all you need to make it happen.

GINO BLEFARI is incoming CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


Thoughts on Leadership: Relatively Speaking

headshot-gino-blefari-150x150By Gino Blefari

November 13, 2014

Last week, I wrote about the physical challenges leaders must face, like General Patton navigating his troops through dangerous battles. This week, I want to talk about the mental challenges created inside our head. And who better to discuss when matters of the mind are at stake than Albert Einstein?

Einstein easily won the title of genius for both his astounding intellectual capacity and his scientific observations that have since altered our very perceptions of time and space. However, Einstein wasn’t always considered a rock star of relativity. During his early years, Einstein was the subject of much concern for his parents, who feared he might fall behind.

In the biography Einstein: His Life and Universe, author Walter Isaacson explains that as a child, Einstein developed slowly and only began to talk at the age of two. “My parents were so worried that they consulted a doctor,” Einstein said. And when he did start speaking, he would murmur his words before saying them aloud. Einstein’s younger sister, Maja, described the behavior: “No matter how routine, he repeated to himself softly, moving his lips. It was all very worrying. He had such difficulty with language that those around him feared he would never learn.”

rr-gblefari-tol-13Nov14Of course, Einstein would go on to become … well, Einstein but not before overcoming this speech difficulty, as well as the doubts of those who that had yet to experience his brilliance. Later in life, Einstein would even describe his minor speech impairment as the very thing that led him to his most famous discoveries. “I developed so slowly that I began to wonder about space and time only when I was already grown up,” he explained. The success Einstein achieved is not only a testament to the strength of his mind but also to the strength of his character that allowed him to push past any barriers and imagine, explain and achieve.

So, here is the message:
We can’t all be Einstein but we can certainly be inspired by the story of an extraordinary man who took an ordinary problem and used it to change the world.

GINO BLEFARI is incoming CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Thoughts on Leadership: The Battle of Business

headshot-gino-blefari-150x150By Gino Blefari

November 6, 2014

We all have our heroes. The altruistic, esteemed characters who, in our minds, occupy a space no one else can ever fill.

For me, one of those heroes is General George S. Patton, a man best known for his command of the Third United States Army during World War II. Not only does Patton win the title of hero because he was a brilliant U.S. commander and leader but also because he was such a man for my own father, who served under Patton during the Battle of the Bulge, a major World War II German offensive fought in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany from December 1944 to January 1945. (My father would go on to receive two purple hearts for his bravery fighting with Patton’s Third Army.)


General George S. Patton

During the Battle of the Bulge, Patton was single-handedly responsible for combating German forces that threatened to destroy entire American armies, with a decisive choice to turn his troops 90 degrees north. The decision allowed for a counterattack on the southern flank of the German army and American victory was soon declared.

Recently, I read Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, a frank investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding Patton’s death. I chose the book because I’m fascinated by the life of this heroic figure and how nearly 70 years after he led his troops onto hostile foreign terrain, his principled brand of leadership – straightforward, stirring and relentless – is just as significant today, both on the battlefield and in business.

The study of General Patton is a study in boldness, candor and truth. And what business leader doesn’t aspire to achieve these qualities when leading his or her employees in the constant fight to accomplish their goals? What manager wouldn’t want to possess these characteristics when running a company? And, what agent wouldn’t want to be bold and courageous as Patton while sitting across from an opponent, negotiating for a client’s best interests?

Here’s how George M. Steinbrenner III, the late owner of the New York Yankees, once described Patton’s leadership philosophy: “Put all the pieces in place, give your people every opportunity to succeed and they will do so. Give people goals they understand and they will meet them. Set the bar high and your people will raise themselves to meet it.”

Of course, Patton applied this philosophy as he worked under extremes; financial loss or gain didn’t hang in the balance, and instead Patton dealt in the currency of human lives, which he was both responsible for protecting and tasked with motivating for the greater good of his country and ultimately, the world.

Now, our responsibilities may not seem as grand in scale or as pressure-packed or high-staked. Still, there’s much to be learned from Patton’s story, and much to understand in the narrative of a man who went beyond the ranks of ordinary leadership to become a true hero.

GINO BLEFARI is incoming CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.


The Haunted House Listing: A Ghost Story

headshot-sean-cawley-150x150October 31, 2014

By Sean Cawley

I’ve been asked on several occasions if I would ever list a haunted house.

And what better time could there be to think about that question than on Halloween? Haunted homes conjure up many images in my mind, from ghosts, ghouls and goblins to the movie Beetlejuice or even that Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland.

So, would I list a haunted house?


Now before you call the ghostbusters on me, some explanation: I wouldn’t just agree to list the home. I’d speak with the sellers first – as any good real estate agent should – and then schedule an appointment with the ghost-in-residence before putting together the listing agreement. I haven’t scheduled many appointments with ghosts but here’s how I imagine this conversation would go:

CASPER (because in my mind all ghosts are named Casper): BOO!

SEAN: Woah! You scared me!

CASPER: Sorry. I can’t exactly shake your hand. It’s the only greeting I know.

SEAN: Understandable. So, Mr. Casper, we’re thinking about listing the home you currently haunt here on Transylvania Way. How do you feel about this?

CASPER: I’m not so sure. I like the current homeowners. We get along great, even if their Halloween decorations scare me more than I scare them this time of year.

SEAN: I’ll talk to the owners about cooling it with the motion-detector zombies and mini-robotic spiders. But back to business: The current homeowners have outgrown this home and need to move.rr-scawley-haunted-house

CASPER: Really? This is all so sudden! Is it something I did?

SEAN: Of course not. They’re just looking for something bigger and maybe a little less creepy. The late-night creaks, the foul smells and the rushes of cold air even when the windows are closed … you can’t take it personally, Casper.

CASPER: I see. Well, if they don’t want me, then I don’t want them. Plus, I am getting a little bored of haunting the same people every day. I could use a change. Change is good, right?

SEAN: Right. So you’re OK with this? No surprise haunts before they move or unexplained things moving around in the home after I stage it?

CASPER: You have my word. Let’s shake on it … err, never mind.

Are you thinking of selling your home? As scary as it might seem to make such a big change, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices real estate agents are here to guide you through the entire process. Happy Halloween!

SEAN CAWLEY is an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Arizona Properties. Visit his website at

Thoughts on Leadership: A Foreign Perspective

headshot-gino-blefari-150x150October 30, 2014

By Gino Blefari

This week I was in China with Earl Lee, HSF Affiliates LLC CEO, presenting to a group of 800 top-producing agents at the 5i5j Group Conference. The market in China has had an unprecedented run, and I was asked to speak about the U.S home-buying and selling process, the qualities of a successful agent in America and the best strategies for connecting with clients and colleagues.

Even though I spent 14 hours flying to China to share my perspectives, I was distinctly aware I was there to learn: from the passionate agents themselves and from the bustling Chinese economy. While in China, I also remembered the ancient teachings of Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, whose lessons of decisiveness, introspection and leadership told in The Art of War I always carry with me.


Gino Blefari, HSF Affiliates LLC incoming CEO, poses with a group of top-producing real estate agents at the 5i5j Group Conference in China.

It’s no secret that The Art of War is much more than a 2,500-year-old How To for military minds. Its principles have been espoused by managers, entrepreneurs, politicians and even on the gridiron by Super Bowl champions (New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick famously promotes its principles to his players and coaching staff).

The Art of War has widespread appeal because, at its core, the text is about strategic decisions instead of waging war. “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle,” Sun Tzu wrote. The connection between its principles and a competitive approach to achieving success in business should become obvious. For Sun Tzu, the art is not in the fight but instead in avoiding the fight. Therefore, a leader must be skilled and confident enough to plan and protect. Leadership, according to The Art of War, is described as an exacting endeavor unmarred by ambiguities or apprehension.

I saw these qualities in the faces, actions, energy and mindset of the 800 agents I met in China. Their enthusiasm for their craft and devotion to the real estate industry provided me with real-life lessons as important as those taught in The Art of War.

GINO BLEFARI is incoming CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Ten Tips for Winning the Listing

October 28, 2014headshot-marsha-kotlyar

By Marsha Kotlyar

This summer I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion at the INMAN CONNECT Real Estate Conference in San Francisco. The topic of the panel was “Winning the Listing: What Sellers Expect” and I was one of three professionals speaking to the large group of real estate agents. I enjoyed the experience and our panel shared a lot of insight and so I thought I would share my 10 takeaways from the discussion:

When it comes to winning listings, all the technology in the world won’t help you if you can’t build a relationship with your client. Although real estate agents now have access to a wide variety of technology resources, real estate remains a people business, and agents must have solid relationship-building skills if they want to succeed. For me, it’s all about balancing top-notch, state of the art marketing, with an old-school emphasis on relationship building. Here are 10 ways you can win the listing:

1. Do your HomeworkReal-Estate-Connect-SF-2013-Inman-News

You want to show the client that you know the market, including what’s on AND off the MLS. Research the home ahead of time and either memorize the comps or bring a thorough list, including active properties for sale. Homeowners typically know what’s going on in their neighborhood, and sometimes when they ask a question, they are testing you to make sure you know the neighborhood, too.

2. Know the Client

Just as you need to research the property and the market, you need to research the person you are about to meet. If, like me, you work in a luxury second-home market, chances are your clients are probably very smart and savvy in real estate, and they have been through the process before. They want to work with someone they like and they expect top-notch customer service, which I provide no matter the price of the home.

3. Be Gracious

When I first walk through a client’s door, I always thank him or her for having me over to the house. The last thing I do when I leave is thank the client for the opportunity. Sounds like a no-brainer but it always surprises me when agents walk in the door assuming they already have the listing and forget their manners.

4. Be Enthusiastic

Find a way to show excitement about the property – enthusiasm almost always seals the deal to help me win the listing. If I’m not enthusiastic, the homeowner will not be convinced that I will do a good job. Your clients need to know that you love their home and that you’re convinced you can sell it for the most money in the shortest amount of time.

5. Come Prepared

In addition to research about the home and the neighborhood, you should come prepared with examples of your marketing and information about your past performance. I always bring a resume, a list of references, and a list of recent sales. You should even bring a blank listing agreement – just in case they are ready to sign right away.

6. Have a Plan

Show the client that, as his or her listing agent, you have a clear plan for the entire process. Go through your marketing strategy step by step, from the preparation and photography to the final walk through. This will show your client that you have a good handle on the process and what it takes to generate a successful sale. If I sense a client is an experienced home seller, I might point out only a few things that I do differently from the competition and skip the basics.

7. Lead by Example

Use your success stories as examples of what you’re capable of achieving. Show your clients that following certain recommendations will lead to a successful sale, whether it’s a quick sale or one above the asking price.

8. Be Consistent and Honest

I plan to work in this business for a long time. I always strive to make sure my reputation is something I can stand up to, always.

9. Establish Trust

Clients will hire you only if they trust you. Showing clients and reminding them that you’re looking out for their best interests from the outset is the way to gain trust and set the tone for the rest of the listing process.

10. Follow up

Within a day or two of the listing appointment, I deliver a marketing commitment package to the client explaining what I plan to do to sell the property, tailored according to my expertise and including client input gained during the listing appointment. Additionally, I almost always include a plant or another small and personal give to thank the client for the opportunity. This has guaranteed me the listing on more than one occasion.

One more note: Valuable lessons can be learned when you don’t win the listing.If possible, find out what went wrong in a listing presentation you don’t win and adjust accordingly. Also, know that it’s equally as important to quickly bounce back from those disappointments. Call a friend and vent or get your frustrations out at the gym and move on.

Even though we hear “no” a lot in our business, if you learn how to build a client relationship based on trust, competency and warmth, you will stand out and put yourself that much closer to hearing a “Yes!” Combine those people skills with experience and high-quality marketing, and you’re well on your way to winning the next listing.

MARSHA KOTLYAR is a top-selling real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties in Montecito, and is a member of the national REthink Council. Email her at

Thursday Thoughts on Leadership: Giant Qualities Inspire Success

headshot-gino-blefari-150x150October 23, 2014

By Gino Blefari


Gino Blefari at Tom Ferry’s 2014 Blueprint Conference

It’s been a terrific few days in New Jersey. I was honored to speak to agents and managers of Bill Keleher’s Somerset-based Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Jersey Properties; then sprinted over to Secaucus to address attendees of Tom Ferry’s 2014 Blueprint Conference. I loved both experiences and am in awe of the talent, passion and experience I observed in the professionals I met.

My amazement continued last night while watching my beloved San Francisco Giants battle the Kansas City Royals in Game 2 of the World Series. Though the Giants lost the
game – knotting the series at one game apiece – my confidence in their chances to win the series is unwavering for one reason: our “X” factor and leader, Manager Bruce Bochy.

If they win this series, the Giants will have tallied three World Series titles in five years. That’s impressive even by New York Yankees’ standards. Yet the Giants don’t have a Yankee-size payroll (they spent nearly $62 million less than New York in 2014; $91 million less than the Los Angeles Dodgers) and, on paper, they are not the best team. Like the Royals, they qualified for the playoffs as a Wild Card team and had to beat two division champions to get to the World Series.


San Francisco Giants Manager Bruce Bochy

San Francisco’s roster has changed in those five years but with Bruce Bochy at the helm they perform at their very best when it really counts – when the most is on the line.
Bochy and his Giants translate nicely to the business world. Sound leadership and guidance, when matched with passionate, hard-working team players, equate to success at just about anything – baseball, business, real estate.

What makes Bochy such a great leader? At a glance, he’s a strong communicator, he is incredibly humble – respecting everyone – he’s confident in his abilities, and he has an innate sense to manage superstars. In Bochy’s dugout, there’s also great chemistry as everyone plays for the name on the front of the jersey, and not for the one on the back. Those who don’t are moved along to other teams.

Bochy reminds me of what author and management consultant Jim Collins describes as a Level 5 Leader, someone who transforms groups from good to great through a blend of personal humility and intense professional will. According to Collins, who conducted tireless research trying to understand how some companies transition from good to great and then sustain peak performance, a Level 5 Leader is always humble and eschews the limelight. He acts with calm determination and uses his established processes and techniques to inspire. He shoulders blame for substandard performance and credits the team for success.

To me, that’s Bruce Bochy, and Bochy is a big reason behind the Giants achievements. As a Giants fan, I’m proud of our manager and team. As a real estate leader, I’m inspired by Bochy’s qualities as they map directly to long-term success in business and life overall.

GINO BLEFARI is incoming CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC. Find him on Facebook and Twitter