Lessons from Murney Associates: Building a Company Culture That Lingers
I was very lucky to have been scooped up into the real estate business when I was just barely old enough to be licensed. The money was good, even though I didn’t know how to hold on to it, the hours were flexible so I could go to school part-time, and I was literally surrounded by successful people every single day.
Some might argue that this experience established unrealistic expectations for me about what life would be, but I would respond that it gave me a picture of a life I had no idea was out there. After all, my high school graduating class was just 173 people. I lived my whole life to that point as a fish in a very small pond.
Life Lessons from a Real Estate Superstar
Like I said, I was fortunate to be in the general vicinity of some of the people I met so early in my adult years. The agent I worked for, while a bit squirrely and quick to rage, was a woman with an indomitable spirit. She came from very humble beginnings and managed to become a top-grossing Realtor in our area.
The other personality, among so many brilliant people, that I look back on and realize I have internalized is Patrick Murney. Patrick owned the brokerage where I spent most of my time while I was working in the real estate field. He had a big corner office because he needed space for a team of agents that represented both buyers and sellers in the Springfield, Missouri, market.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the man with the big glass corner office and his name on the door made a huge impression on me. It didn’t occur to me how heavily he influenced my idea of how to run an office, how to be a good boss, until a few days ago when I was spacing out at the gym (hey, nobody’s perfect).
I’m a Better Business Owner Because of Murney Culture
I was deeply invested in business culture long before I knew what business culture was. And though I wasn’t a member of Patrick’s personal sales team and knew him only in passing, everything he stood for was all around me, all the time. And I guess I was still at an age where that sort of thing absorbed too easily.
While my college friends were binge-drinking and doing drugs, I was learning how to write real estate ads that converted. When they were skipping class because they had a hangover, I was skipping because I had clients calling. The more time I spent at the brokerage, the more I started to peel away from the culture of my peers and became entangled in the Murney-verse.
There are plenty of things I have taken from there and carried with me all these years, but if I were asked to name the top five, they would be:
- Every office needs a dog. A slow, happy black Lab was practically Patrick’s calling card. He came to work every day, had his own spot in the office, knew absolutely everyone (and here I am struggling to remember his name) and, every year, we threw him a birthday party. Over the years, more agents brought in more dogs… and before we knew it, we had a dog-friendly office. It was incredible.
- Take care of your own. In late December 2003 or early January 2004, I had to have an emergency appendectomy. Being an independent contractor at the time (and diabetic) meant that I had no access to health insurance. The procedure was very expensive, and I lost a good number of sales in the little downtime I could afford. Somehow, my situation came up at the sales meeting and they started passing an envelope around. I was in tears when they gave it to me. I would have been grateful for five-dollar bills in that moment, but I was pulling fifties and hundreds out. I’m crying now and it’s been 15 years since.
- You need the help you need. And by help, I mean both the labor and the act of helping. At Murney Associates, there wasn’t this garbage where the marketing manager is also the part-time janitor and answers the phones over lunch. We had the help we needed. And we had the support we needed, too. Whatever might go wrong, they’d already anticipated and were quick to swoop in with the right kind of expert.
- Pricing down the middle is a winning formula. One of the things that buyers’ agents like me quickly learned was which agents tended to price better or worse and which were impossible to deal with. Patrick’s team was really good to work with, even if you had to get ugly because the sellers had done something fishy (like throwing big rugs over tears in the kitchen vinyl when you came to show the place). His team was also very conservative with its pricing models. Especially back then, it was easy to justify just about any price on any sort of house, but there is a proper way to go about it. And when they suggested pricing to their clients, it was always just a tiny bit under market value. Everybody wanted to work with Patrick’s sales team because they knew they’d get a fair hand and a square deal.
- Your team is your team. If you’ve never worked near real estate, this part may get a little confusing, but I’ll try to explain it a bit. Patrick had his own sales team to handle the homes he listed for sale and any buyers those advertisements might generate. But he also had the wider team of agents at Murney Associates. Like the Murney sales team, other agents, including mine, had sales teams, too. So we were little teams that made up one big team. And he never let us forget that we were, in fact, a team. We didn’t have to play dirty to make a living; all we had to do was cooperate and we’d all rise with the tide.
It was a beautiful dream that I sometimes think might have only been a dream: the overheated fantasy of a career with potential as imagined by a local newspaper reporter who was watching her entire industry collapse in front of her. From dust to dust, as they say.
The Takeaway, if There is One
I guess there’s really one big overarching takeaway here. The culture you cultivate has a bigger impact than you could ever believe. People will remember the stuff you taught them, for good or ill, and roll it into their personal narrative without even realizing it. Your team will only ever be as good as you are, as people and professionals. And that simple basic decency, communication and collaboration are really what drive successful businesses with long-term outlooks.