Meet three incredible leaders whose vision, dedication and tenacity have helped take RE/MAX around the world
By Buck Wargo // Photography by John Morris
During the awards luncheon at the 2016 R4 Convention in Las Vegas, Beatriz Rubio and her husband Manuel Alvarez bounded to the stage as RE/MAX Portugal was named a Region of the Year. To thunderous applause, the beaming region owners pointed toward the more than 100 standing, cheering Portuguese Affiliates in the room. They raised their arms, sharing the victory with the entire group. National pride rose higher than ever. And in some respects, the celebration continued throughout the week.
It was an extraordinary moment of leadership in action…
Great leaders do a lot of things well. They set the tone. They share the success. They exemplify the ideal. They inspire. And great things happen because of it.
That’s evident in RE/MAX regions around the world.
Some of the most successful regions, like RE/MAX Portugal, enjoy the good fortune of having a married couple at the top and benefiting from not just one great leader, but two. Just look at RE/MAX Argentina, another 2016 Region of the Year, which is led by Dotti Penate-Sosa and Sebastian Sosa. Or RE/MAX of Southern Africa, which, through the vision of Val and Peter Gilmour, grew into one of the most impactful global regions of them all.
Beatriz, Dotti and Val, the female counterparts in these RE/MAX power couples, are smart, resilient businesswomen playing major roles in the growth and success of their regions. They set the tone, share the success, exemplify the ideal and inspire. Every day.
And to be sure, great things are happening for the people led by these three game-changing women.
Changing Lives in Portugal
“I think people need to dream big and set big goals for themselves,” says Beatriz, a no-nonsense businesswoman who worked for nine years as an executive with L’Oreal before launching her RE/MAX career. “If you don’t challenge yourself and set big goals, any place you get to will be enough – you’ll stop reaching higher. I want to always reach higher, and I want my people to always reach higher.”
They obviously do. RE/MAX Portugal is one of the great success stories within RE/MAX. Beatriz and Manuel founded the region in 1999, and growth came quickly when it opened in 2000. They sold more than three dozen franchises in each of the first three years, reaching 400 agents by year four. Today, RE/MAX Portugal has expanded to more than 5,000 Sales Associates in over 200 offices. It also has transformed the country’s real estate industry.
“Our mindset from the very beginning was to create a huge company that allowed people to work in a professional way, provided a quality service to the clients, and allowed real estate agents to earn lots of money,” says Beatriz, who was born in Spain. “We bet that people would see the opportunity and work hard to be successful, and we built training to create a true profession for agents and brokers. We weren’t alone in this. We sold many franchises and attracted very good people who did very well. When others saw what was happening, they came to us too.”
Starting Point in Argentina
Dotti and Sebastian certainly saw what was happening in Portugal. And they were inspired. At a RE/MAX Convention a decade ago, they watched as a crowd of well-wishers gathered around Beatriz and Manuel, who’d just received their first Region of the Year award. Sebastian was a new RE/MAX agent in Virginia at the time, and the couple was contemplating opening a RE/MAX region in Argentina, Sebastian’s home country.
“We approached Beatriz and Manuel at the welcome reception, and they were surrounded by all their brokers and agents and family. Everyone was excited and waving little Portuguese flags,” Dotti says. “It was amazing. We talked to them and told them what we were thinking of doing, and they couldn’t have been more gracious and helpful. These were the most successful regional owners in Europe and they shared everything with us. They became our very good friends.”
The entire convention experience reinforced the couple’s decision to buy RE/MAX Argentina.
“I have to admit I had my doubts. I thought the concept was too American,” Dotti recalls. “Business cards with photos. Red, white and blue on everything. I just didn’t think it would work in Argentina. But then I experienced the convention energy and met so many people who were just as excited and entrepreneurial as we were. And I noticed that many RE/MAX agents in Spain, where I’m from, were putting photos on their business cards too. It all started to click.”
The Sosas opened RE/MAX Argentina in 2005. But they sold only 10 franchises the first year, far fewer than they hoped. Four years later, they were on the brink of failure.
The Original, Thriving in South Africa
In difficult times, friends who understand your challenges are more important than ever. Dotti has counted Beatriz as one of her closest allies for many years, but she’s also relied on the counsel of another trusted friend and mentor: Val Gilmour.
“Being able to sit and chat and talk about best practices, what’s helped you, how you’re doing it – that’s invaluable,” Val says. “Collaboration and sharing are huge.”
Val and Peter opened RE/MAX of Southern Africa in January 1995, when very few RE/MAX regions existed outside the U.S. and Canada, and sold 55 franchises in the first two years. RE/MAX of Southern Africa was Region of the Year in 2001, 2005 and 2012, and was recognized by the Franchise Association of South Africa as “Franchisor of the Year” in all categories – across every industry – in 2003.
“It took a long, long while to win people’s trust in Southern Africa,” Val says. “But when you have a system that works, it sets you apart. I don’t view myself as a special leader, but we do have some fantastic leaders in our group – our brokers are coming up through the ranks.”
Val, who sold her ownership interests in 2015 and currently serves as a RE/MAX of Southern Africa Brand Ambassador, helped create a winning, cohesive culture, in part, by identifying what actions make RE/MAX succeed, and what hinder it. That list, deemed the RE/MAX Formula, hangs on the wall of every Affiliate’s office. She also stresses the importance of honesty, integrity, quality service, open-book management and teamwork. It’s no coincidence that those same factors are evident in the success of all three women, and all three regions.
“We always focused on quality. We wanted to sell franchises to quality entrepreneurs who would recruit quality Sales Associates,” Val says. “It was important to us to be seen as a South African company with international connections, and as the company with the most professional, service-oriented agents in every market. It’s a simple formula, and it worked exceedingly well for us.”
Shifting the Focus
That same simple formula – focusing on quality and service – helped Dotti, Sebastian and RE/MAX Argentina survive the darkest days.
“When I look back, I can’t believe how close we came to shutting it down and losing everything,” Dotti says. “We had started on a high, moving to Argentina and thinking we had the last Coke in the desert. But for the first few years, nobody was thirsty. Nobody wanted us. Even Christmas was depressing. We allowed ourselves to get discouraged, but we never gave up. We had impossible economic challenges in Argentina, but we never used them as an excuse. Instead, we looked at ourselves and figured out what we could do differently.”
One of the truths Dotti and Sebastian had to confront was that they’d sold some of their franchises to the wrong people. They had to clean house, even if it meant parting ways with relatively successful operations.
“We needed office owners and sales agents who aligned with our values. So we made some changes and we moved forward,” Dotti says. “We became much more careful about who we brought on board, and we focused on taking care of our people and building a community everyone could be proud of. We started to grow, and it was a completely different – completely better – kind of growth.”
Once the tide turned, recovery came quickly. RE/MAX Argentina earned its first Global Region of the Year award in 2011. It was honored again in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Now, the future is bright for the country’s only national real estate company.
“I’m very strict about the use of the RE/MAX brand. We use it everywhere: on our signs, our folders, our storefronts, on billboards and on television. Why wouldn’t we? It stands for quality,” Dotti says. “I’ve also come to realize that everything starts with attitude and alignment. Last year, we launched our 2020 vision, and today we have a 100 percent retention of offices. The only time an office leaves is when we ask them to. Our brokerages are profitable and our agents love being with RE/MAX.
“We’re changing lives. What could be better than that?”
A Culture that Works
Throughout Southern Africa, the Gilmours have changed lives as well. RE/MAX of Southern Africa now stands at more than 180 offices and 2,400 Sales Associates in 10 countries. It’s No. 1 in sales and larger than its next two competitors combined. The regional roster of agents includes top producers at every level of achievement.
“The RE/MAX model works virtually anywhere, especially if you’re able to build a common, productive culture,” Val says. “We take the best parts of the system and adapt them to our local markets.”
The same things that make RE/MAX successful in Southern Africa make it successful everywhere else – quality people, shared values, great services and a spirit of helping others. In fact, before Val and Peter ever brought RE/MAX to Southern Africa, they spent time in four or five RE/MAX regions in the U.S., visiting offices and taking notes on what worked and what didn’t.
“Everyone with RE/MAX is willing to share; the brand is so strong,” Val says. “Peter and I were recently in Ireland and we saw a RE/MAX sign. Our immediate thought was ‘Let’s go have a look at their office.’ If we were with any other organization, I don’t think there’d be that same affinity and connection.”
With the region’s day-to-day operations in the capable hands of Vicky and Adrian Goslett – Val’s daughter and son-in-law – and Regional Owner Amanda Cuba, Val is as optimistic as ever.
“To see our legacy moving forward with no major obstacles is just phenomenal,” she says. “The region is set up for longevity and continuity well into the future.”
“In real estate, you talk about location, location, location. But with me, it’s timing, timing, timing. We’ve always managed to do things at the right time, and it’s always worked out perfectly. This is a special thing to be part of.”
A Spirit that Doesn’t Quit
In the end, being part of something special – and, in fact, leading something special – is one reward that makes all the hard work, long nights and difficult challenges worth it. Like the Sosas in Argentina and the Gilmours in South Africa, Beatriz and Manuel had to navigate a lot of dangerous, choppy water on their way to the top of their profession.
In fact, Beatriz says those challenges drove the success that followed. A decade after its amazing start, the region was slammed by the global downturn – and the four-year stretch between 2008 and 2012 was the most challenging time of Beatriz and Manuel’s journey. At one point, Beatriz put aside her involvement in day-to-day operations to work with a personal coach.
“I couldn’t give up; there was so much more to do,” Beatriz says. “I knew that if we got through it, we would be stronger. I went to New York and London, and I started learning and growing as a person. It helped me in every way, and it gave me something very valuable I could share with others.”
Upon her return to Portugal, Beatriz began traveling to the region’s brokerages. Each month, she visited the offices in one of its eight areas. Her message was clear: Stay focused.
“I advised the agents to stay away from the daily news about the crisis, because it was something beyond their control,” she says. “I coached them to focus on the things within their control – like the service they provide to their clients. When you do that, it changes your attitude and gives you positive energy to go on, despite anything else that’s happening. The amazing thing is that people listened to me. They wanted to be guided and led. It made a difference, and it kept the agents on track. When the economy recovered, we had the best results in our history.”
A Network Built on Leadership
In many respects, Beatriz best sums up the role, and the value, of leadership in that statement: “They wanted to be guided and led. It made a difference.”
RE/MAX has grown into a global powerhouse of more than 100,000 Sales Associates in nearly 100 countries. The vast majority of these agents are entrepreneurial to the core, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want or need leaders. In fact, exceptional leadership has been a hallmark of the network, at every level, for more than four decades. Successful regions – and brands – don’t grow by accident.
“Val, Dotti and Beatriz are absolutely incredible at leading by example,” says Pamela Alexander, CEO and Managing Director of RE/MAX INTEGRA, North America. “Their power is in their success, but their strength is in the success of their Affiliates. For these three women, RE/MAX has always been about helping others and filling an unmet need. And it’s worked.”
Great leaders do a lot of things well. They set the tone. They share the success. They exemplify the ideal. They inspire. And great things happen.
Need proof? Just ask anyone in Portugal, Argentina or South Africa. They’ve seen great leaders in action for years!