On April 19, 1973 Dar Reedy introduced me to Ralph Burnet for the first time. He had just started Burnet Gagner Realty after leaving Bermel Smaby Realtors®, a large independent company in the Minneapolis area. He couldn’t contain his enthusiasm when describing his future plans for his new company and rolled out a paper scroll of a 25–year plan that addressed the consolidation of the real estate industry and his belief that 5 national companies would do 80% of the business. He planned to have 30 branch offices, thousands of agents, new home sales, a rental division, relocation services, title insurance and a mortgage company.
At this point, my long term planning was about 5 minutes so I was impressed. I accepted the opportunity to work with him and was shown into the new office space. It was empty! No desks, no furniture . . . nothing. Only telephones plugged into the wall and laying on the floor. Well, the furniture soon came. And, in the next ten years, so did 35 offices, 2,500 agents, multiple ancillary services, a dominant market share in the Twin City market, branch offices in St. Paul and, later, an opportunity for me to head up my own training department.
In 1974 Dar Reedy was assigned the task of developing branch offices across the Mississippi River in St. Paul. He and I opened the first branch in a 300 sq. ft. basement office and began recruiting agents. Dar was, and still is to this day, the Master Recruiter of real estate agents. In a few short years, he took the St. Paul division from zero to the most dominant company in St. Paul. He helped me develop my selling skills and I became a top producing agent under his direction.
In 1976 Ralph had asked me to substitute teach an afternoon training class. I remember presenting my very first session in an office conference room on working with buyers. As soon as I finished I knew I’d discovered my new career path. I loved doing the training and, apparently, so did the class. Ralph said I’d received good feedback and asked if I’d like to do more training. Yes, I did!
He offered me the opportunity to design and run a training department. By the fall of 1976 I was the Training Director and had developed a four–week training program that was to run 8-10 times a year. I remember the late evening meetings with Ralph where we put our feet on the desk and discussed the future plans of the company, the training and my career.
Ralph lived by his creed: Fun, Change and Opportunity for Personal Growth. He always prided himself in seeing people grow and advance their careers. He loved watching agents become managers and department heads.
In 1978 we reviewed a revolutionary personal growth video training series called “Achieving Your Potential” by Lou Tice. We purchased the program and I became the company facilitator of this goal setting program.
In 1979 when I was accepted as an instructor for the Residential Sales Counsel of the National Association of Realtors®, he graciously allowed me to do outside speaking at 4 CRS courses each year. It allowed me to grow as an instructor and to bring some national prominence to our training department.
In 1982 I was restless and was considering going out on my own as a national speaker. I met with Ralph to discuss my future. He said I was free to start my own business, but suggested with a wink, “I think you’d better stick around. There might be a great opportunity for you.” Now when Ralph speaks, I listen. Sure enough, on April 1, 1982, Burnet Realty announced the sale of the company to Merrill Lynch. So this was the opportunity he was talking about. He and I had a good laugh that day and he assured me that good things were on the way. I met the President of Merrill Lynch that day and asked him if he had a National Training Director yet. No they didn’t. I told him that he would need one and that I’d like the job.
In 1983 Ralph called me into his office. He had a big smile on his face and couldn’t wait to tell me the news. Merrill Lynch Realty Associates in Stamford, CT was forming a task force on developing a national training program and they wanted me to head it up. That summer I met with my new boss Mike Lurie and I was named National Training Director. I worked with the 33 regional training directors across the country and, with their contribution, we built their training program. It was, and still is, one of the best groups of training professionals in the industry. It was a pleasure to work with them all.
Ralph went on to be Eastern Regional President and moved out to the Merrill Lynch Corporate offices in Stamford, CT. So I was able to work along of him for four more years. He taught me how to interact with the corporate structure and sent me off with one final lesson: never believe in your own corporate importance and always focus your efforts on how you can help the success of the operating units in the field. I will forever be grateful to him.