By Melanie Robitaille, Sr. Staff Writer and Graphic Designer
When it comes to office ownership and leadership, Bill Holloway is the yin to John Akers’ yang, but together these two long-time franchisees are a well-rounded team making big moves with their EXIT Elite Realty office in Arnold, Missouri.
But long before these two comedic personalities became co-owners they were actually once competitors vying for the exact same franchise territory; a true but funny story they enjoy sharing.
“Before I got here, John and his ownership team had actually beaten me to this franchise territory by a day!” Bill recalled jokingly, “But he did me a huge favor because right after that a little thing called the recession hit for 10 years, and we would’ve both been out of business. It was fortuitous that we had a chance meeting doing a deal together. We had a good conversation and stayed in touch over three to four months before joining forces.”
That was back in 2008. Today, they’re a strong, 65-agent operation, and the office reached a significant goal of $100 million in closed sales volume in 2021. It’s a moment that both relished and lived in, however, John admits it felt different than what he expected when he first set the goal many years ago.
“When I opened the office in 2006, my mission statement and vision goal was 100 agents, $100 million. We achieved that with 65 agents. Does it feel good? Absolutely. Does it feel a little unfulfilled? Yes. I think my original vision seemed like a mountain at the time, but now seems quite small,” John admitted honestly. “I’m enjoying hitting that number, but I think we have bigger and better things in store. I just finished reading the book Who Not How, so my new mission statement and vision is 100 agents, $200 million.”
Culture is something they fiercely protect within their office, as is the belief of having the right people for the job. Where John is the big picture, numbers man always on the lookout for talent, Bill is continually doing a deep examination of the value that personalities bring to the brokerage as a whole and shepherding those who are the right fit for their family.
“We have an office where most of the agents would share a deal with a new agent and give away half their commission to see someone else succeed and that in real estate is rare. You can be competitive, and still be humble and grateful at the same time. Most offices aren’t built like that. Bill and I give more than we get. And because we’ve done that from day one, we’ve created this culture where our office is going to succeed whether the market is down, up, or sideways.” John explained.
Bill agrees, knowing that they choose personality over production every time saying, “It’s a way of life, it’s not how you operate a business, it’s how you live. We give and it’s reciprocal. In the event a particular agent is not on that program, we don’t like to fire, we allow them to pursue their dream somewhere else. We’ve got to look our children in the eye at night and know that we’re out there in the community doing the right thing the right way. If I had to do it any other way, I would probably go do something else. Once you get rid of your integrity, I don’t care how much money you have, you can’t buy it back.”
Initially the new brand on the block, EXIT Elite Realty opened amidst some stiff naysayers, but has outlived three major name brand brokerages that have closed over the years in the area. John and Bill’s philosophy of integrity, coupled with the lean, tight business they run has appealed to a new generation of agent, including John’s son. It’s a recipe that continues to see them prospering and positioned them for their most exponential growth yet; the recent purchase of a 20,000 sq. ft. office building. The dream is a main hub with several satellite offices to best serve their agents.
Going forward, Bill knows they will need to empower some of their agents to grow into leadership roles to continue their success, admitting, “There’s still only two of us and 24 hours in a day,” but he has confidence in the many young, thriving professionals with whom he and John have surrounded themselves.
“Bill and I, we probably contribute 20% of the ideas and then the agents contribute 80%. They’re the ones running this thing. We’re guiding it as the visionaries, but they’re the ones helping us with these ideas on how to grow,” John shared of their truly agent- and community-first way of operating.
Both are equally awed by the many efforts their team constantly comes up with, being huge proponents for volunteering. They pride themselves on their open-door policy for their agents, so much so that the running office joke is that the white wooden door frame on John’s office has been rubbed down to raw wood from people leaning there so much.
“That means agents trust the fact that when they have an idea, a thought, or direction they want to go in they can come talk to me. Bill and I don’t shut our doors, hide from the public, and the agents. When it comes to ideas and things [our associates] want to do, it comes from the 65 agents that we have here, and I bet all 65 have come to us with an idea or thought at some point,” John said. “I believe in volunteering. When you volunteer it builds positive energy. When you give, and go through life with an open hand, you tend to receive a lot more. So, I’m a big believer in giving time back to our community and to people who need it. I think that’s a way to kind of build self-confidence and to grow not just in real estate, but as a person.”
For a self-confessed “terrible employee,” John has come a long way from the young, successful, and entrepreneurial agent who first bought the franchise, and he’ll be the first to admit it’s because he and Bill balance one another out so well. And though these two larger than life personalities are both the perfect fit for EXIT’s unique model, you can feel the love for what they do runs so much deeper when they make statements like wanting to be heroes to their agents when asked what drives them forward.
“Everything has to be fair. When you look across the table at the people you work with, be it the community or your agents, they have to trust you. There has to be a feeling that we’re all in it together,” John explained of how they get through the hard times, including these last two years. “Our idea is that we’re going to struggle together and we’re going to prosper together. We’ve really focused on training and education and making sure we’re doing things the right way, so when we come out of this, we’re in a position to grow. And not just grow in terms of money, but in terms of culture, as well as value propositions for our agents.”