Bill Pankonin: Thriving in the Heartland

Bill Pankonin“I was driving out of Iowa, home to Minnesota. There are some long days when you’re building a business and I would drive into my region, spend the whole day there meeting with as many people as I could and then drive home, clocking between five hundred and a thousand miles a day,” says Bill Pankonin Regional Owner of EXIT Realty Upper Midwest.  “That particular night I was listening to a recording of The Secret and I remember getting so excited.  Here it was midnight and there wasn’t another car on the road and I had to tell somebody so I pulled over and texted Tami Bonnell, ‘I can do this thing! I know it! I can feel it! I know it’s going to work!’”

That was Pankonin’s aha! moment.  Pankonin is a second generation real estate professional, having joined his father’s independent brokerage part time straight out of college. “My father was a farmland broker in rural Minnesota.  I was home for a vacation and I must have seemed bored one day when he said, ‘I have a farm for sale.  Why don’t you go around and talk to all of the neighbors and see if you can sell it to somebody?’ So, not knowing any better, that’s what I did.  I drove around from farm to farm and by the end of the day and to my surprise, somebody said yes.  Having no experience, I had him write down on a yellow legal pad what he was willing to pay and sign it and I took it home.”

Pankonin returned to work.  Six months later he received a check in the mail for his part in the sale of the farm for more than seven times what he was earning monthly at his full time job.  “The light bulb went on and I said, ‘I’m going into real estate full time!”  He opened his own division of his father’s company in another town and set to work.  “I did a lot of odd jobs to make it work.  In tandem with the brokerage I had a loan servicing company as well as mortgage and property management divisions.  The brokerage had been independent for more than fifty years when I found out about EXIT.”

Pankonin wanted to build the real estate side of his business but found it difficult to compete with the large franchise organizations.  “I looked longer than most people do at different franchises because I didn’t want to make a mistake.  My father was still living and although he was in his eighties by that time and no longer involved in the business, I didn’t want to disappoint him.  I investigated the major franchise brands looking for the one that best fit my demographics, now and in the future and most closely aligned with my beliefs.  That brand was EXIT Realty.  I decided EXIT was right for me and my agents because it offered what my father’s business couldn’t; the opportunity for the agents to share in helping to grow the business and a retirement plan.” Pankonin recognized the value of EXIT’s unique business model, known as the EXIT Formula.  EXIT Realty Corp. International acts as a secondary employer whereby independent contractor real estate agents can supplement their income by helping to grow the company while they’re active real estate professionals.  The benefit also extends both into retirement and as a beneficiary benefit past death.  This single-level residual bonus supplements the traditional sources of income in real estate; taking listings and closing transactions.   “EXIT provides a system and a sense of support for me which are very important. I look to Steve [Morris, Founder and Chairman] and Tami [Bonnell, CEO] for direction but I still have the ownership. They provide the wisdom to help me grow.”

Pankonin bought a real estate brokerage franchise and eventually a second, building that from nine real estate professionals to more than fifty during the recession.  He was still juggling the other businesses when he set his sights on regional ownership, the sub-franchisor rights to a larger geographic area.  “I’m an entrepreneur,” he says.  “EXIT had stuck with me during the recession.  They went beyond the call of duty to help me so I knew that if I took the next step with ownership on a bigger scale into multiple states (eventually encompassing Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota) that they would be behind me 100%. It’s like they say in poker, I went all in.  I believed, knowing they had my back.  If I did the work, we’d get the rewards.”

But adding regional ownership to his already full portfolio meant he was spread thin.  “Steve recommended a business coach, Bob McKinnon, and that’s when I really started to be able to focus on growth.” McKinnon, EXIT Realty’s South Central Divisional President, is a fifty-year industry veteran and was one of the first regional owners in the CENTURY 21 system.  “Bob taught me to surround myself with talented people and focus on the areas of the business specific to my skillset and talents and that were most important to me, namely my new regional ownership.  I divested myself of my brokerages and the other divisions and concentrated there.” Doing so led him to that aha moment on the quiet rural road.

As Pankonin started to sell more franchises and help them to grow, he recognized the same problems in their leadership he himself had faced; being spread too thin. “I think it’s an issue that many new business owners face and it stagnates their growth. If an entrepreneur excels in a particular area of his or her business they should just work hard on that and delegate the rest.  I know it’s not easy; I struggled with it for years.  They should look within their own organization for emerging leaders.  I now teach that to the brokers I work with and their businesses have grown tremendously.  Often all someone needs is a chance to lead.  It’s not always about pay; sometimes it’s just an opportunity to do something the leaders do.  That’s often how new leaders are developed.”

“Bill has grown in to an amazing leader, says Bonnell.  “So much can be attributed to his passion and love for his people and wanting to see them excel in business and have a better quality of life.”

Pankonin’s other advice for entrepreneurs is to stay sharp.  “No matter what, during good times or bad, I’ve never stopped reading, in other words,  using a sharpening stone. I think SUCCESS Magazine is a great resource for this.  Reading publications specific to your profession and on personal growth as well as having the right mental frame of mind are key.  When I first joined EXIT Realty, Steve gave me a CD of affirmations and I play that in the car before every one of my presentations; I pretty much have it memorized. I’ve even passed it on to my adult children.  I talk to them about how important it is to have a good visualization of what you want in order to be successful in life and achieving your goals.”

With his focus on regional development, Pankonin has big plans for the future. “I feel the next five years are going to be very important. I anticipate I’ll have sixty brokerages open in my region by 2019 and that’s my goal.  I know that EXIT has my back.”

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