SUCCESSion Strategies

By Melanie Robitaille, Sr. Staff Writer & Graphic Designer

No business owner opens a company with closing their doors as a goal. An entrepreneur’s dreams of a successful future can sometimes mean a plan for perpetuating the business goes overlooked or gets put off until too late.

Cade Pankonin, CFO and one half of the father/son team behind EXIT Realty Upper Midwest, is the region’s legacy, and ironically has an almost inherent focus on the future horizon. He’s constantly asking three vital, and burning questions that continue to fuel the region’s growth and longevity as they celebrate their 10th anniversary.


It’s a valid question that Cade asks regularly when out in the field, always trying to move that needle. It starts a conversation with agents both in and outside of EXIT, making room to establish relationships, and share EXIT’s ownership benefits.

“You’re always looking for that diamond in the rough,” he explained. “The ones who get it, who run with it, and who feel it was the best decision they ever made. Those are the ones we try to find; ones that work together as a team, have the right mindset, and the right respect and culture for everything that’s in their business.”

This question creates room for those looking to level up within the company, and because not all franchises are created equal, it’s an opportunity to showcase EXIT’s uniqueness in the industry. Because it takes time to see if franchising is right for each individual, the region has several “team player” offices who model the true EXIT culture of mentoring through incubation systems where people can build an office within an office, share tried and true systems, and help a fellow owner get off the ground.


The baby boomer exodus was already underway when a worldwide pandemic’s worth of perspective suddenly caused even more people to re-think their priorities.

“There are things in life we all want. Most just want some time; time, and all the unnecessary things taken off their shoulders,” Cade shared of commonalities he’s noticing in those ready to slow down. He sends out 10 letters on this topic a week and follows EXIT’s Mergers and Acquisitions whitepaper, which provides a framework for anyone in the industry, interested in these types of deals. “The beauty of the EXIT Formula is [owners] can sponsor in all of their agents, continue to bring in more, and earn more money. Even if they decide to stop selling, they know the brokerage they built will be supported and taken care of. They can pick and choose what they want to do.”

Building on this thinking, the region is currently expanding on a brokerage system whereby offices can offer operations management for brokerages merging into the region, taking the back office administrative tasks off an owner’s hands so they can free up their time and sunset their career.


This has proven the most interesting question over the last several years. Cade has seen that ownership isn’t for everyone. Sometimes unexpected life changes happen. Sometimes business partnerships can break down, but ultimately no one wants to work forever. This is where he and his father, Bill Pankonin see an increasing opportunity within the industry right now.

“I’ve gotten very good at assignment agreements, whether it’s an existing EXIT office taking over another, an office joining the brand to merge with an existing EXIT office, or owners re-organizing based on what their desires are for succession plans,” Cade said, explaining their true goal is ensuring ownership opportunities for the next generation of leadership.

They keep a 30-foot view so they can support those who need it, or equally as important, help bring together those who may be looking to slow down, with those who are poised to grow. The answer to this question is simply being a resource, especially for outside independents who are on somewhat of an island. Cade knows, as with many things, timing is everything with succession planning, advising, “Whether you’re two years down the road or five, it’s something you have to start thinking about today.”

The EXIT Achiever magazine is your source for all things real estate and EXIT news. Read more stories and tips like this in the latest Adaptability Issue today!

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