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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.

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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

Leadership versus management: What’s the difference?

(Business News) The two terms, leadership and management, are often used interchangeably, but there are substantial differences; let’s explore them.

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leadership Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Some people use the terms “leader” and “manager” interchangeably, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with this, there is still a debate regarding their similarities or differences.

Is it merely a matter of preference, or are there cut and dry differences that define each term?

Ronald E. Riggio, professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College, described what he felt to be the difference between the terms, noting the commonality in the distinction of “leadership” versus “management” was that leaders tend to engage in the “higher” functions of running an organization, while managers handle the more mundane tasks.

However, Riggio believes it is only a matter of semantics because successful and effective leaders and managers must do the same things. They must set the standard for followers and the organization, be willing to motivate and encourage, develop good working relationships with followers, be a positive role model, and motivate their team to achieve goals.

He states that there is a history explaining the difference between the two terms: business schools and “management” departments adopted the term “manager” because the prevailing view was that managers were in charge.

They were still seen as “professional workers with critical roles and responsibilities to help the organization succeed, but leadership was mostly not in the everyday vocabulary of management scholars.”

Leadership on the other hand, derived from organizational psychologists and sociologists who were interested in the various roles across all types of groups.

So, “leader” became the term to define someone who played a key role in “group decision making and setting direction and tone for the group. For psychologists, manager was a profession, not a key role in a group.”

When their research began to merge with business school settings, they brought the term “leadership” with them, but the terms continued to be used to mean different things.

The short answer, according to Riggio is no, not really; simply because leaders and managers need the same skills to be productive and respected.

This editorial was first published here in June of 2014.

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Business News

Does Raising Cane’s have the secret to combatting restaurant labor shortages?

(NEWS) Fried Chicken Franchise, Raising Cane’s, has turned to an unusual source of front-line employees during the labor shortage- Their executives!

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White paper sign with black text reading "Help Wanted."

I wouldn’t call myself a fried chicken aficionado or anything, but since chains are designed to blow up everywhere, I have experienced Raising Cane’s.

I’m pretty sure the Cane’s sauce is just barbecue mixed with ranch, but hey, when you’ve got a good idea, keep with it.

In the further pursuit of good ideas, the company has resorted to an intriguing method of boosting staff in a world where the lowest paid among us are still steadily dying of Covid, and/or choosing to peace out of jobs that they don’t find worth the infection risk.

Via Nation Restaurant News: “This is obviously a very tough time, so it was a joint idea of everybody volunteering together to go out there and be recruiters, fry cooks and cashiers —whatever it takes,” said AJ Kumaran, co-CEO and chief operating officer for the Baton Rouge, La.-based quick-service company, from a restaurant in Las Vegas, where he had deployed himself.”

The goal of this volunteer mission, which involves 250 of the 500 executives deployed working directly in service roles, is to bolster locations until 10,000 new hires can be made in both existing locations and locations planned to open.

It’s obvious that this is a bandaid move – execs exist for good reason, and in terms of sheer numbers (not to mention location and salary changes), this is hardly tenable long-term. But I can say this as someone who’s gone from retail to office, and back (and then forth…and then back again) several times – if this doesn’t keep everyone at the corporate level humble, and much more mindful of employees’ needs, nothing will.

The fast-food world is notorious for wonky schedules only going up a day before the week begins, broken promises on hours (both over and under), horrendous pay, and little to no defense of employee dignity in the face of customers with rank dispositions. With the wave of strikes (Nabisco, John Deere, IATSE) making the news, and lack of hazard pay/brutal physical attacks over mask mandates still very fresh in workers’ minds, smart companies are hipping themselves to the fact that “low level” employee acquisition and retention needs to be much more than the ‘work here or starve’ tactics that have served since the beginning of decades of wage stagnation. The best way for that fact to stay front-of-mind is to go out and live the truths behind it.

In Raising Cane’s case, the company also announced that they’re upping wages at all locations — to the tune of an actually not totally insulting $2 per hour, resulting in a starting wage of $15 and a managerial wage of $18.

Ideally, paying people more to cook, clean, and customer service all in one job will actually attract people back to fast food work. Seriously consider the fact that the people cleaning fast-food toilets are the same people making the food that goes into your mouth. The additional fact is that it’s better for everyone’s health when they’re paid enough to care about what they’re doing and stay healthy themselves.

Of course, one does also need to consider how much inflation has affected the price of goods and housing since the ‘fight for $15’ began almost a decade ago in 2012. Now, raising wages closer to the end point of multiple goods still might not be enough!

AJ Kumaran continued, “The chicken prices are through the roof. Logistics are very hard. Shipping is difficult. Simple things cups and paper napkins — everything is in shortage right now. Some are overseas suppliers and others domestic suppliers. Just in poultry alone, we have taken significant inflation.”

That’s global disruption for ya.

It remains to be seen whether this plucky move can save Raising Cane’s dark meat, but I’m very pro regardless. Send more top-earning employees into the trenches! No more executives with 0 knowledge of how the sausage sandwich gets made.

No more leading from behind.

Why not? What are ya? Chicken?

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Business News

Unify your remote team with these important conversations

(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.

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Woman working in office with remote team

Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.

According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.

Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.

Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.

With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.

The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.

Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.

This story was first published in November 2020.

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