Join QuantumDigital’s CMO Eric Cosway as he interviews James Fite, president and CEO of Century 21 Judge Fite, which is the #1 Century 21 franchise in Texas, and the Official Real Estate Company of the Dallas Cowboys.
Eric: Jim, welcome to the podcast.
Jim: Thanks very much, Eric. Glad to be here.
Eric: You guys have a great family business that’s been around for 80-plus years. When you were growing up, did you know that you’d one day take over the family business?
Jim: Well, first of all, my parents never pushed my sister and I—who is a partner in the business, Jan—never pushed us into the business at all. They wanted us to be our own people, and independent, but they wanted us to contribute to the world that we live in. So, it wasn’t their pushing us in. As a matter of fact, at 16 years old—my mother was an agent and my dad was managing a company—and we were sitting at the dining table. They were talking real estate at the other end of the table. Finally, I got fed up and I slammed my hand down on the table. And I said, “I am never going to be a Realtor!” And I stormed out of the dinner table. Two years later, at 18, I became the youngest Realtor in the United States. And that was 45 years ago. I’ve never had another job since. That’s all I’ve ever done. And I’ve never looked back, either. Certainly, you have those days when you wonder why you’re doing this. But you get over that in another day or so, and you move on and remember why you’re doing it. Back then, you had to be 21 to get a license. So, my parents took me in front of a judge and had my Disabilities of a Minor removed. That meant I was legally 21, or of legal age, as far as the world is concerned, so I could get my license at 18. Now, I wonder—I never asked them… their whole life, I never asked them—”Did you do that so I could get my license? Or did you just not want to be responsible for my actions?” I never found out the answer to that. I never had the guts to ask them.
Eric: It sounds like your parents had a lot of confidence in your sister at that point.
Jim: Well, I don’t know if they did at that point. I think they probably had too much confidence at 22, when I walked into dad’s office and said, “Okay, I’m ready to take over.” About 30 days later, he said, “Okay, I’m ready to do something else.” And he walked out the door and, except for the highest-paid consultant I know, he never looked back.
Eric: As you think back to your parents, what were the 2 or 3 values they taught you, that have influenced your style, and the way you run the business today?
Jim: I would like to think that those values that they taught us are the core values of our company today. Honesty. Integrity. Always do the right thing. Dedicated to our clients, our profession, and our community. Give world class service in everything that we do. Commitment to being goal-focused and results-driven. Dedicated to those results. Those are the same values that we have in our business today. I believe they all came from my mom and dad. Plus, the ethical standards and training. Dad was a pioneer in real estate education in Texas. Those things that he taught us are still very much alive today.
Eric: As you think back about it, you came in at 22. Was leadership a natural talent for you, or is it something you just evolved over the years?
Jim: I’m not sure I have it yet. I’m still working on it. I think it’s a process. It’s not an end result. I still read books. I still go to conferences. I still learn—you can never know enough about people, and the way they respond and react, and how you might be able to serve them and lead them, and help them to be better than they think they can be.
Eric: You’ve been the president and CEO now for what, about 40 years? What motivates you every morning to get up and do it again?
Jim: First of all, I love it. I absolutely love what I do, or quite honestly Eric, I wouldn’t be doing it. It’s been a blessing for me and my family, and we’re able to provide for us. But more important than that, we’re able to provide for other people, and we’re able to build careers. We have a philosophy here in our company that we’re not only in the real estate brokerage business, and our other businesses, but we’re also in the business of developing our people, and building their careers. I believe in the Zig Ziglar philosophy if enough other people get what they want, you get what you want. That philosophy is abundance. You help enough people get what they want, and you get it back in abundance.
Eric: We’ve talked about the level of professionalism in the industry today. How have you seen that change over all the years you’ve been in business?
Jim: Not to disparage my fellow Realtor out there… you know I have a great concern about our profession, our industry, whatever you want to call it today. The people that are being lured into recruiting for various organizations that do not have adequate training, do not have the professionalism. They’re basically… I call them one hit wonders. They come in the business. They have some success in sales. They can run their brokerage—by the way, these folks have always been in our industry, running the business out of the trunk of their car. But technology has proliferated it. So, they have a friend, and they say how successful they’ve been as an agent. So, that friend joins them, and they don’t have a clue. Pre-licensing basically teaches new Realtors how to pass the test, how to stay out of jail, and how to stay out of the courtroom. That’s what pre-licensing does. It doesn’t teach you how to serve people, how to make a really good living for you and your family. It doesn’t teach you the hard stuff that it takes to be a Realtor. Those ups and those downs. Those glorious opportunities that you have, and those downsides of disappointments that you have when something doesn’t go like you’d planned. Unfortunately—again, the great market that we’re in, the fact that technology… you can get the listings on your telephone in a moment—those are all great tools. But at the end of the day, if you really don’t concentrate on the people, then I think that something’s being lost from our industry.
Eric: How do you think that erosion has taken place? Is there a spark that’s created, maybe that lack of professionalism—and you talked about technology making it easier for people to transact and do business—but, was there something you’ve seen along the years that’s just maybe eroded that?
Jim: If I look back, certainly technology… which, by the way, I love technology. We’re a tech company, and do a lot of great things in the world of technology. So, it’s not that I’m slamming technology, thank goodness we have it. But I do believe it’s made data easier for people that get into our business, and as a result of that, they forget the people side of it. So, that was one thing. The other thing is the market. Of course, today’s marketplace just brings on folks, and they think they’re going to make a lot of money and don’t have to work. So, that’s the second thing. Again, not a slam because I personally like House Hunters International on HGTV. But I can’t tell you how many people we interview, and they think they’re going to buy a house—and this is an exaggeration—fix it up, and they’re going to sell it for a huge profit in 30 minutes. So, that’s why they’re getting in real estate. They used to say, “I love houses.” They still say that. But then they come back now and say, “Oh, I just want to do what…” (I won’t call any TV names) “I just want to do what that couple does, or that guy does, or those people do. And they don’t get it. That’s reality TV. That’s not reality.
Eric: It sure makes it look easy, doesn’t it?
Jim: It really makes it look easy. So, I think you’ve got a lot of dynamics working there. And, again, this robust market we’re in. They think you can get rich quick, and that’s not this business. You don’t get rich quick. You build wealth, you don’t earn it.
Eric: If you were standing in front of a crop of new recruits, who are millennials or younger, what 2 or 3 nuggets of wisdom would you want the to ingrain as part of their career going forward?
Jim: This morning, in our training center, we’re having our monthly orientation of new agents. So I go before them, and it starts from 9 AM to 4 PM one day a week for 12 weeks. During that period, if I’m in the building when they’re meeting at 9 o’clock, I go in at 8:30 AM as people are coming in. I just do a very informal Q&A session. One of the questions that always comes up, it’s “Jim, what is the secret to success?” They want that magic pill, or the shot in the arm, or whatever it is. I really believe there are 2 secrets to the success, after doing it all my life. That is one, you’ve got to show up. The second one is, you’ve got to work when you show up. For so many companies that don’t have training programs that really show you what to do when you work. But the fact is, most of the people do not make it in this business, because no one is there to say, “It’s time to get up this morning and go to work.” And, by the way, you don’t go in at 10 AM, and get off at 2 PM, and have a 2-hour lunch break. You go in early in the morning, and you go home late at night, and you’re on call for your clients… not quite 24/7, but you know what I mean. It’s a service business, so they don’t show up, they don’t come to work, and they don’t do those things that they have to do to be successful. One of the problems of our industry is, the perception of what we do as a Realtor—by a new person coming in—and the reality of what we do to serve our clients, is daylight and dark. There’s virtually no comparison, unless the person has had someone as a Realtor in their family that has been successful. Then, they have an idea. But, they don’t have a clue of how to run their own business, how to build a budget, how to do a business plan, and then how to execute that business plan—what activities do you have to do to be successful.
Eric: I still find the business very complex, when you look at it. You hear all these things about all these Internet companies that are going to disintermediate the business, and take it over. It’s still a person-to-person business. And, it’s still a very complex business at the local level
Jim: Of course, I think it’s a very simple business. Not to disagree with you. I think it’s real simple. The simple part of it is, you see people, you like people, they like you, they trust you, they will do business with you. Then, you’ve got to just take care of them. And the complexity that you’re talking about—which, by the way, I agree with—is how to coordinate the lender, and the title company, and the appraiser, and the contractor, and the foundation repair, and the roof repair, and the flooding waters that just happened here in Texas… that’s where it becomes complex. That’s the background. But, the business itself of generating leads, and taking care of those leads, and then maintaining those customers for life… to take one of our car dealerships up here in Dallas, Carl Sewell, who wrote the book Customers for Life… by the way, I buy all my cars from them. I wrote my salesman a message this morning already. Anyway, when you take care of people, and you build that customer’s life, it is truly amazing how you build a career. Just take care of people. That’s the simple part.
Eric: Three of your principles are around people—serve community, develop people, and have fun. Your team is actively involved in a number of community charities in Dallas: The Methodist Health System, the Easter Seals, and of course the Dallas Cowboys. Can you share with our audience a little bit about these organizations and how they impact the way you folks do business?
Jim: From a company standpoint, my sister and I—prior to joining Century 21—were always debating what charity of choice we might do as a company. We joined Century 21, and their national charity of choice is Easter Seals. We were at a convention, our first convention ever, and we saw this young lady walk across with her mom, and the Jumbotrons were up… we were moved. I looked at Jan, and she looked at me, and said, “Well, maybe we found our answer. We don’t have to argue about it.” I had my favorite charity, she has hers, you have yours, and they’re really important to us individually. And yet, Easter Seals helps all kinds of people with disabilities—whether it’s hearing, or speech, or physical, or whatever. They have a great autism program here in DFW. Anyway, we looked at each other, and we said, “Well, we don’t have to fight over this, we’ll just do it.” Because it didn’t affect either one of us. Luckily, we haven’t had to use Easter Seals personally in our own family. And yet, I will tell you our Judge Fite family has over the years. So, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it.” We started our first golf tournament, and we raised $5,000. It was a simple little deal. Last year… now, we have an annual Boots and BBQ dinner/auction, one of the most fun nights. If you’re in Dallas, come see us. I’ll buy your ticket, you and your guest. September 23rd, this year. If anybody I’m talking to wants to donate, send money to me, and I’ll make sure they get the money. Because we need it. Anyway, last year at this event, we raised $262,000 in one night. Our goal this year is $300,000. With the hurricane hitting the Gulf coast, I hope people are remembering to give to their local charities, whatever charity it is. Because, I’ve done enough fundraising in my life with various charities—whether it be religious organizations, or Methodist Health System, or whatever—that, when these disasters hit, people forget the local charities still need money to operate. I’m really passionate about… yes, extra money goes to the hurricane victims, whether it’s Haiti, or the tsunami in Southeast Asia, or Houston. But, I still need to give to my local charity. My local charity helps people next door, and around the corner. So, that’s the story of Easter Seals. We’ve raised over $2.5 million as a company for Easter Seals. Methodist Health System is a board that I’ve been on a couple of times. I’m on one of their advisory boards, they’re a big hospital now. That’s a personal thing with me. I was born there. My brother and my 2 sisters were born there. Some of my grandchildren have been born there. So, you know… let’s just say healthcare is a mess. And yet, hospitals seem to be doing really well if they’re well run. This is a great hospital, and I’m proud to be part of it. But, I will share with you my wife’s and my favorite this we do. We have a teddy bear ministry that started when our children were 5 and 7. I had just gotten a divorce, and I wanted to do something on Christmas Day that was different for my kids. Because they get, get, get, and I wanted them to give, give, give. So, I called up a Methodist hospital—back then, they had pediatrics, it was before children’s hospitals—so, I called and said, “How many kids do you have in pediatrics?” And they said 10, and I said, “Great!” We went up there Christmas morning, instead of opening presents, we took 10 teddy bears up to the Methodist Hospital Dallas. The kids had to give them to the parents or the children, or whatever they had to. That was the goal. They walked in with a teddy bear and gave them. That has been going on now for 30 years. This will be our 31st year. We now have various Santa Clauses throughout DFW. Last year, we gave over 3,200 bears. Christmas morning, our friends, our relatives, our acquaintances, companies, connection vendors, sometimes they act as elves. I have a Santa Claus suit. We have 4 Santas now that hit a lot of the hospitals around DFW. We deliver a teddy bear to every single person in the hospital. We deliver candy canes to all the nurses, and people mopping the floors, and cleaning the rooms that have to be done. On Christmas Day. Most of us are out there enjoying our families, and religious holiday, and remembering why the season is there. But I will tell you, there are hundreds of people that are working that day so other people can get well, or they… policemen, firemen, all those folks, they work on Christmas Day. So, this is something we’ve done over the years, and we’ve given tens of thousands of teddy bears away.
Eric: As I hear those stories, I really think you’re legacy is going to be that you’ve made a big difference in people’s lives.
Jim: Well, I hope so. I mean, that’s why we’re here.
Eric: You serve the community, develop people, that’s really all in line with the business you’re in, the industry you’re in, and the leadership role you’re in. In closing here, I’ve read something that you were quoted saying, “I have a well-balanced life.” What does that mean to you?
Jim: I think if you looked at the textbooks, or whatever… I try to go by those, and that’s my God, my family, my friends, my business, my health, my spiritual life, my career, my education. I read, study or think an hour a day. I go to breakfast by myself most mornings. Sometimes I have a 1 hour breakfast, and sometimes I’ll sit there for 2 or 3 hours just thinking about how we can help others and build our business. Sometimes I think about my grandkids. I’m buying a lakehouse right now, and I think about that lakehouse, and how the memories will hopefully be built around our family. I don’t know that I have many gifts, but I have one gift that God gave me, and that is to compartmentalize my life pretty well. I can be on this call today right this minute, and I’m 100% with you. I walk into a meeting next door where I have a company update I’m doing for the company, which we do via webinar. Kind of a monthly where-we-are-as-a-company thing at 10 o’clock. Well, I’ll be 100% on that company update. I’ll be visiting the orientation class, I’ll be 100% with them. I’ve got a meeting at 3 o’clock this afternoon, I’ll be 100% with her. That’s just a gift that God gave me, that hopefully other people can work in their own lives. Because wherever you are, you are there. You have a choice. We have a choice; you do, I do. We have a choice every day if we’re going to be happy or not. That’s another thing my parents taught me. You have a choice. It doesn’t matter what your kids are doing, or your grandkids are doing, or your friends, or your coworkers, or that client. I have a choice, every single minute of every day, if I’m going to be happy or not. If I’m going to enjoy what I do. And I can either say, “I’m going to enjoy it”… by the way, I don’t always like it, I hope I’m really clear. Sometimes things happen that I really don’t like. But I still, at the end of the day, the beginning of the day, I have a choice that I can love it, or I don’t. Be happy, or I can’t. And I choose to be happy. It’s my choice. Nobody else’s. Not my wife, nobody. It’s my choice.
Eric: Jim, thank you for spending the time with us today, It was a great pleasure getting to know you better. Good luck with the rest of the year in the business, and I sure hope those Dallas Cowboys make it to the Superbowl this year.
Jim: They’ve got a chance, let me tell you! A few years ago, we didn’t think they’d ever be there again. But right now they have a chance.
Eric: Thank you for your time. I know you’re a busy man, and I appreciate the time you spent with the podcast this morning.
Jim: Surely. And thank you REAL Trends and Steve Murray. What an amazing way they’ve touched our industry and really made us better. So, I appreciate all you do.
Eric: They’re a great crew. Thank you, Jim.