Broker/Owner Lisa Marie Contaldi talks about launching Intero in Austin
LISA MARIE CONTALDI
Broker, MBA, GRI, EPRO
CEO, Intero Austin
In 2006, real estate agent and broker Lisa Marie Contaldi was chosen as one of 30 select individuals to pursue the Acton MBA-E, an intensive one–year entrepreneur–based program out of Austin. The Princeton Review calls the Acton program one of the “most competitive" in the country, with professors rated among the “top three business faculty in the nation.”
Lisa’s decision to accept and study at Acton was one she says changed her life, because it helped her reinvent her career and led her to launching Intero Austin. Here, Lisa tells to us about her experience in the program and why she thinks Intero and Acton have a so much in common.
Let’s talk a little bit about your background and how you came to study with Acton.
I got my real estate license in 1991 and then in 1993 I became a broker. I started in relocation, working with companies like Dell and IBM with their corporate leasing needs.
I then moved onto a well–known independent brokerage on Lake Austin where I was named as one of the top producers when I started, but by the time I left, I was suffering professional burnout. The truth was, I really didn’t like was how I was working in the field. I have been in sales for most of my professional career, specializing in real estate for 12 years. I felt a need to shift gears. That’s why I entered Acton.
Acton is a one–year program of full–time study—we’re talking 100 hours per week. I was one of the only students who attempted to work while attending the program. I was also one of only three women.
It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. It was like being in boot camp. You had to give up every personal thing in your life and dedicate yourself entirely to the program. I was also crazy enough to keep selling real estate, so I averaged only three hours of sleep per night. I really can’t explain how much commitment it took to get through. There were definitely times when I didn’t think I would make it.
Having gone through a prestigious program like that, you could have gone anywhere. What made you decide Intero?
I’d say that the Acton led me to Intero. Going through that intense period really helped me to reinvent myself. I came out of it with the drive to change something in the industry and offer what I felt was missing in Austin real estate. I recognized the need for a high–end boutique agency, with a national infrastructure. That combination, which is what I believe Intero represents, is very rare.
One of the courses we completed at Acton was called “Life of Meaning.” What I was living before was not a living a life of meaning. It was a monetarily–driven life. My interaction with Intero was more inspirational. When you learn to love what you do, the amount of time you devote to it is immeasurable. When it’s transaction based, the only time you’re up is when you make a sale and when you’re not selling, you’re down, really down.
I also wanted to be a part of a company that focused on coaching and training. And, those are the building blocks of Intero. In fact, Intero’s Value Pyramid is very similar to the values taught at Acton, which is interesting because Acton is a Harvard–case based program focused on three things:
- Learning how to learn
- Learning how to make money
- Learning how to live a life of meaning
Values like integrity and discipline are core to being in the Acton program and to being a part of Intero. These are the things I’m mentoring in my agents today.
Launching Intero in Austin was a logical progression for me. Gino’s values and mission statement were completely in line with the moral fabric of my MBA program.
What are some of the key lessons you took away from Acton?
It empowered me to reinvent myself. I’ve always felt the need to lead others and to help others achieve their goals. Acton gave me the toolkit to run a company and Intero provided the brand and infrastructure. Everything was perfectly aligned—the idea, the people, the economics and the timing.
It also taught me to understand the role of an entrepreneur in this industry. It sharpened the tools I have to manage a successful business and to choose a path that inspired me and had purpose. I also learned the importance of organizing an exit strategy. My professor and one of the founders of the Acton program Jeff Sandefer, often quoted Stephen Covey from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:
“Begin with the end in mind.”
You opened your office this last April. What have been your biggest challenges?
I chose to bring a new franchise to an area of the country where it is not known. And so, I’m trailblazing right now to create brand recognition in the Southwest. Just because the idea was in line with everything that I was seeking professionally, that doesn’t mean the process is going to be easy.
I think that my initial hurdles here are to let people know who Intero is and the great things they have already done. Actually, I’m fighting two fronts: brand recognition and winning over agents who clearly would think this kind of firm is too good to be true.
I’m not in a position to move the masses in terms of agent recruitment. I opened this office with a background of sales. I don’t have the same momentum that Intero had in the Bay Area. I am creating relationships rather than tapping into and changing the course of existing ones. When great managers move, great agents follow.
This is just another hurdle I have to make it over. If in five years, I have 50 agents selling 20 houses per year, I’d be on the road to success.
I’ve realized how tremendously difficult it is to find people who have the discipline to work in real estate. Most enter this industry because they don’t like going to work. The irony is that you need an even stronger work ethic and sense of discipline in real estate due to the competitive nature of the business.
What you do everyday is predicated on disciplined activities within a strict schedule. Gino and I connected on that. It’s the same discipline you need to have in a workout regime. If you want to be fit and healthy, you have to work out everyday. Well, if you want to have a healthy business, you have to workout in it every day.
How have you coped with the changes in the market this year, while trying to launch your office?
We’ve had about a 30 percent drop in sales year–over–year. The way I see it, attrition in the industry improves the quality of players who remain. To be honest, I’ve had to be back and forth between sales and recruiting. It’s difficult to recruit agents to an unknown brand. I am completely convinced that other choices don’t compare. They may have a great pitch but they don’t offer the tools for growth.
In Austin, Coldwell Banker and Keller Williams are the main players, but half of the market is still controlled by local independents—50 percent! This area is ready for the next national brand—the Intero brand—to enter and control market share. It is the perfect opportunity for agents, new and experienced and Austin is still a young city and so there’s a ton of growth taking place.
Intero has done things to help me become a better manager and leader. They offer management coaching and I hired a professional coach who has managed an office and sold real estate. When you pay a significant sum on a monthly basis, you learn how to get with the program of being better at both quickly. I am sold on every coaching principal that Intero espouses. I think having mentors in this business is key. There are times when I feel the need to succeed on my own, but knowing I can jump back in to sales at any time is what makes me know that I can survive the growing pains.
You’re one of the few women in ownership roles in this industry. Has that ever crossed your mind? Or, is it something that’s incidental to you?
I’ve been involved in things like the Women’s Council of REALTORS®, but to be honest, I’ve never looked at myself as being unique in an ownership position. Women have always been prominent in the real estate scene. I feel lucky to a woman in this particular field.
Somehow, I think the stereotype of men is more incorrectly characterized. As women, we have no images to uphold and when we succeed in business it’s more of a surprise. This makes it more inspiring to people. On the competitive landscape, this can be a great advantage.
At the office level in real estate, gender is unimportant. My greatest goal is to be recognized by the achievements of both men and women and to continue to broaden the reputable name of Intero in the Southwest.