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OB Jacobi: business leader showcase

By getting to know how business leaders tick, we can relate and learn from their experiences to make each of us better leaders ourselves. This interview with OB Jacobi, President of Windermere Real Estate Company is entertaining and inspiring.



ob jacobi

ob jacobi

Tell us about yourself and your work.

I work in a family business, Windermere Real Estate, which makes it hard to define exactly what work entails day to day and week to week. If you’re in a family business, you do whatever it takes at that time to get the job done.

I’ve been at Windermere for 16 years, but it wasn’t my first career, if you will. I owned a bar for nearly three years after I left college. My dad believed that real-life experience is the best way to learn, so that’s what I did.

While I’m listed as president of Windermere Real Estate Company, we really don’t pay much attention to job titles. It’s more important that we just do what needs to get done.

Our executive team also includes my brother-in-law Geoff Wood (chairman) and my sister Jill Jacobi Wood (president, Windermere Services Company), and fortunately, while our passions follow different paths, we complement each other really well.

Geoff likes to focus on the financial side of the business, Jill is a great people person and I get excited – make that very excited – about technology and how it can change our industry.

This diversity leads to great chemistry that helps us get along in the workplace and enables us to bounce ideas off one another. But in reality, each person is running their own mini-company within the larger Windermere brand.

Walk us through a typical day in your life.

Well, like most people in the real estate industry, it’s sometimes hard to define a ‘typical day,’ but here goes. For me, there are three business elements in every day.

Our family owns six Windermere offices, which means I have all of the opportunities and challenges that any owner faces. On any given day, I may be assisting one of our agents with the business of buying and selling homes.

We also own the franchise division of Windermere Real Estate. So I may be visiting at one of our offices, talking with agents, brokers and owners about different company programs and how they can benefit from them.

I’m also involved in the technology side of Windermere Real Estate, and that cuts across multiple layers of our overall business. It’s a large part of what I do daily with the company.

All in all, it’s a full day and I try to allocate time every day to each of these two buckets. And like most of us, I find myself looking at financial numbers after dinner because there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.

Where were you raised? Where all have you lived?

I’m a Seattle boy, born and bred, with three biological sisters and two step-sisters. I was born in Laurelhurst, a close-in Seattle neighborhood, and moved to Windermere, a nearby neighborhood, when I was three. When I was 10, my parents got a divorce and I moved to Bainbridge Island, yet another community near Seattle, to live with my Mom.

When I started 7th grade, I moved back to Seattle to live with my Dad. After high school, I moved to Boston and did a couple of internships before going to college. I worked at a radio station and at a child day care program.

I moved back to Seattle to attend University of Washington. While at U-Dub, I realized that school isn’t necessarily my forte – I’m much better working in real life situations. So during my junior and senior years, I had a job in the property management division at Windermere.

During my senior year, I left Seattle to travel around Europe with friends. When I returned after four months, I was looking at the possibility of returning to the property management job when something interesting came up.

A restaurant and comedy club in downtown Seattle was going out of business and the owners basically had walked away from all of their equipment and furniture. I partnered with a friend who had restaurant experience and we bought the club. Six months later, I bought out my partner.

I ran the place for nearly three years, doing the insane schedule and work hours of the restaurant life until my wife came to me and told me that I was killing myself. She was right. So I sold that business and started a café with her.

After six months, my sister Jill said to me, ‘Why don’t you just join the company?’ So I did, 16 years ago.

How did you get into your current career?

As I said, Windermere is a family business. My dad started the company in 1972 and I was born in 1970. So I’ve lived and breathed real estate my whole life. Once I got that restaurant thing out of my system, it was a natural progression.

What is something unique that you do to balance work and life?

That’s a great question. For me, I have to get out of Seattle. One of my passions is boating and for two to three weeks each summer, we take off and head north up Puget Sound in our boat. I also love the outdoors. We have a family cabin in Leavenworth, up in the mountains east of Seattle. It’s a great place to go hiking, skiing and river rafting.

What keeps you up at night?

Technology is moving so fast that it’s hard to keep up personally, but even harder to keep up with how it can impact your business, both positively and negatively.

Specific to the real estate business, it’s making sure that my people earn enough to make a good living. Real estate has been so challenging in the past few years that it’s hard for people to make a living. And the possibility of a double-dip recession really makes me nervous.

If you could spend one day in the life of another leader, who would it be? Why?

Bill Gates. I’d love to see how he did it. I’d also love to spend time with anyone who’s done a successful software start-up to learn how they grow a company by taking the right risks. There would be a lot of things to learn that I believe can apply to real estate.

What tools can you not live without?

That’s easy – my iPhone. Frankly, I would love to not have to live with it, but we’re so connected these days that it creates anxiety when I don’t have it. Imagine that – the world has created anxiety over your telephone.

I love this thing, but the flip side is that I wish I wasn’t connected all the time. That’s one of the reasons that I try to escape by getting out of town – that’s pretty much the only time my iPhone isn’t connected.

At age 15, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Oh my god, no! At age 15, I was rebelling against my parents – something that most of us go through, I think. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a job and I actually was working in construction at that time. But I took a summer off when I was 15 and took a NOLS course (National Outdoors Leaderships School) in 1985.

I thought that NOLS was the greatest thing since sliced bread. So at age 15, I wanted to be a fishing guide or a mountaineer.

What about you would most not believe unless they knew you?

I was a cook at Red Robin and I love to cook.

What inspirational quote has stuck with you the longest?

‘What would you be able to achieve if you knew you couldn’t fail?’

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. laniar

    August 30, 2012 at 10:04 am

    I love that your rebellion included being a leader. Awesome! Great read, and thank you for sharing with us, OB!

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Business News

Too connected: FTC eyes Facebook antitrust lawsuit

(BUSINESS NEWS) Following other antitrust hearings, we’re expecting to hear more about the FTC’s antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, soon.



Facebook being crossed out by a stylus on a mobile device.

Facebook might be wishing it had kept the “dislike” button.

On September 15, the Wall Street Journal announced that the Federal Trade Commission was preparing a possible antitrust lawsuit against the social media titan. Although the FTC has not made an official decision on whether to pursue the case, sources familiar with the situation expect a determination will be made on the matter sometime before the end of 2020. Facebook and the FTC both declined to comment when asked about the story.

The news comes following a year-long investigation by the FTC that has looked into anti-competitive practices by the Menlo Park-based company. This past July, the United States House of Representatives held hearings in which they grilled the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook regarding their business practices. In August, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also testified in front of the FTC as part of the department’s antitrust probe into the organization.

The FTC seems to be especially interested in Facebook’s past acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, which they believe may have been done to stifle competition. In internal emails sent between Zuckerberg and Facebook’s former CFO David Ebersman back in 2012, the 36-year-old seemed worried that the apps could eventually pose a threat to the social media conglomerate.

“These businesses are nascent but the networks established, the brands are already meaningful, and if they grow to a large scale the could be very disruptive to us,” Zuckerberg wrote to Ebersman, “Given that we think our own valuation is fairly aggressive and that we’re vulnerable in mobile, I’m curious if we should consider going after one or two of them.”

When Ebersman asked him to clarify the benefits of the acquisitions, Zuckerberg stated the purchases would neutralize a competitor while improving Facebook.

“One way of looking at this is that what we’re really buying is time. Even if some new competitors springs up, buying Instagram, Path, Foursquare, etc. now will give us a year or more to integrate their dynamics before anyone can get close to their scale again.” Zuckerberg said.

This isn’t the first time the FTC has investigated Facebook either. Last year the agency fined the company $5 billion for the mishandling of user’s personal information, the biggest penalty imposed by the federal government against a technology company. As a part of the settlement with the FTC in that case, Facebook also promised more comprehensive oversight of user data.

If the FTC does pursue an antitrust suit against Facebook, it could end up forcing the social media giant to spin off some of the companies it has acquired or place restrictions on how it does business. Considering how long it will take to file the litigation and prove the case in a courtroom, however, it seems that Zuckerberg will once again be “buying time.”

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Business News

What you need to know about the historic TikTok deal (for now)

(BUSINESS NEWS) No one really knows what’s happening, but the TikTok deal’s impact on business, US-China relations, and the open internet could be huge.



Male black hands holding app opening TikTok app.

So, maybe you’ve heard that Oracle and Walmart are buying TikTok for national security!

Um, not exactly.

Also, Trump banned TikTok!

Sort of? Maybe?

But then he said he approved the Oracle-Walmart-TikTok deal!

We guess?

The terms of the proposal seem to shift daily, if not hourly. The sheer number of contradictory statements from every player suggests no one really knows what’s going on.

Just one example: Trump said the deal included a $5 billion donation to a fund for education for American youth. TikTok parent ByteDance, said, “Say what now?”

Here’s what we think we know (as of this writing):

Oracle and Walmart would get a combined 20 percent stake in a new U.S.-based company called TikTok Global. Combine that with current US investors in China’s ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, that would give American interests 53 percent. European and other investors would have 11 percent. China would retain 36 percent. (On Saturday Trump said China would have no interests at all. But that does not jibe with the reporting on the deal.)

Oracle would host all user data on its cloud, where it is promising “security will be 100 percent” to keep data safe from China’s prying eyes. But reporting has differed on whether Oracle will get full access to TikTok’s code and AI algorithms. Without full control, skeptics say, Oracle could be little more than a hosting service, and potential security issues would remain unaddressed.

Walmart says they’re excited about their “potential investment and commercial agreements,” suggesting they may be exploring e-commerce opportunities in the app.

The US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is overseen by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, still has to approve any deal.

As for the TikTok “ban” – which isn’t really a ban because current users can keep it – the Commerce Department postponed the deadline for kicking TikTok off U.S. app stores to September 27, to give time for the deal to be hammered out. Never mind that it’s still not clear whether the U.S. government has authority to do that. Unsurprisingly, ByteDance says it doesn’t in a lawsuit filed September 18.

Whatever happens with the whiplash of the deal’s particulars, there are bigger issues in play.

According to business news site Quartz, moving data storage to Oracle mirrors what companies like Apple have done in China: Appease the Chinese government by allowing all data hosting to be inside China. A similar move could “mark the US, too, shifting from a more laissez-faire approach to user data, to a more sovereign one,” says China tech reporter Jane Li.

More obvious: Corporate sales and mergers are now part of the parrying between the U.S. and China, which adds a whole new playing field for negotiations among businesses.

In the meantime, TikTokkers keep TikTokking. White suburban moms continue to lip sync to rap songs in their kitchens. Gen Z continues to make fun of the president – and pretty much everything else.

And downloads of the app have skyrocketed.

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Business News

Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?



Hobby Lobby storefront

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.

While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.

When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).

In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.

However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.

Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.

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