Game Changers: Wendi Harrelson


Wendi Harrelson, Keller Williams regional director for the South Texas region, talks with editor-in-chief, Tracey Velt about lessons learned, personal passions and their top strategies for recruiting and retaining productive agents.

Listen or read the full podcast interview below.

This is Tracey Velt, publisher for REAL Trends. We’re speaking to the top brokers in the country to take a peek at how they built their businesses. We’ll talk about lessons learned, personal passions and their top strategies for recruiting and retaining productive agents. Today we’re speaking with Wendi Harrelson, Keller Williams regional director for the South Texas region, operating principal for Keller Williams Heritage with 970 agents and Keller Williams City View with 780 agents in San Antonio, and Keller Williams regional operating principal for upstate New York. Welcome, Wendi!


Hey, good morning, Tracey! How are you?


I’m doing well. Thanks for joining us at REAL Trends, we really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.


I appreciate the opportunity.


So, tell me a little bit… we’ll start kind of at the beginning, so tell me how you got started in the business and ultimately came to the leadership positions that you’re in now.


Well, I started with Keller Williams as an agent back in the 1990s and I grew a business for about ten years. I became a mega-agent with Keller Williams, and the opportunity presented itself several times to go into a leadership position and like most agents, they love the independence and they deny the opportunity. And then one day, in 2001, I was approached to take a leadership, a team leader position in another state, which was North Carolina, and had the opportunity to move and run the brokerages that had been developed in North Carolina, and so I said yes. So, that is how I got started with the leadership path. I left a sales business with somebody in the office, I handed my business off to another agent to run it and keep database going, and I moved to North Carolina and started being a team leader for the Keller Williams offices there.


Okay, and how did you ultimately – are you still in North Carolina, because a lot of your business is in Texas, or have you moved back to Texas?


No, I had a two year stint in North Carolina and we opened a few offices and they became very successful and realized that my business, in my heart, was in Texas, and so we moved back to San Antonio, where I had an opportunity that was presented to me to take over an office in San Antonio. At the time had about a hundred agents that were in the office and it just sounded like a great opportunity. So we were back in Texas and so that’s where I ended up in San Antonio in 2003.


Okay. Well, it sounds like you made a really good decision, career decision, with getting into leadership, so congratulations!


Thank you! It was the best decision I’ve ever made. A lot of people look at that and go why would you leave an independent brokery or an independent sales business and go into leadership, and I will tell you that it has shaped the rest of my life.


Yeah, Well, great, so let’s talk about how it shaped it. What are some of the lessons that you learned while you were building the business?


You know the biggest lessons I learned were everybody is different. When they get into this business, everybody different visions and expectations and you just, you can never judge at what point they are in their life on their success rate. And so building a business from a struggling market center that only had about a hundred agents, in which you know, you know a third of them, potentially were productive, and you had to really get into everybody and put everybody as a foundation and work with them individually to see really wat their goals were. I think the lessons I learned by building the business were there are some people that are absolutely able to do this without any motivation systems and model in place, but the majority of the people really do need them, and so you have to focus on that and really make that your biggest priority. To give the opportunity to everybody and the ones that take hold of it, will, and the ones that won’t, won’t, and you just have to understand that everybody’s just in a different place.


Yeah, it’s a rare, rare person who can jump into it and establish their own structure and system, so that makes a lot of sense. So, let’s talk about the culture of your particular brokerage. I know a little bit about the culture of Keller Williams overall, so tell me about the culture that you’re cultivating.


You know, the culture in the San Antonio office, I think the biggest benefit is that we’ve been in business since 1997, and we still have some of the very original core members in both offices. And they still bring that wonderful Keller Williams culture to the table, and I see them now as they’ve gotten their businesses established, and they’re, you know they’re older, and they’re still very much entrenched, and they take those new agents by the hand, and they really invest in them. I think the culture of our office is everybody really does look out as it’s everyone’s business and there’s nobody that’s any better than anybody else, and they give… I have a staff at the City View office that we have not had turnover in ten years. They’re all there, they’re invested in each other, they have fun, I see them do things together. And the same thing at the Heritage office. The same team leader since 2003. He runs an amazing business with systems and models, and their growth is amazing, their profit’s amazing, and they just celebrate. I think that’s the culture, that they just celebrate everybody’s successes, and they encourage each other, and they really do, the staff, they all seem like a family. They really care about each other, and I think that that’s really the culture of those offices.


Yeah, and that caring about each other is definitely key. When you’re not competing, and instead collaborating, you definitely see differences in the brokerages that take that seriously.


The caring is a big part, and we’ve found that the agents, really there’s only three things that they ask for, I mean, can you help me, can I trust you and do you care about me. That all comes down to getting them into production, and I think the same thing for the leadership teams, the staff. You know, as long as they can trust each other, they can help each other, and they care about each other, the business is going to run and it’s going to trickle down to the agents and that’s where, it’s a place where people want to stay.


Yeah, and so you seem to have a decent retention rate, so what do you look for in an agent you’re recruiting, that you know will end up staying for a little while?


You know we’ve found that as soon as we got to a certain agent count, of course retention is very, very, very important, and very hard in this business. Attrition is just a fact of life. You’re going to lose a certain percentage of your agents every year just because of things, you know, getting out of the business, it just happens to everybody. But what we’ve found is when we got to a certain number of agents, we realized that we were going to have to up our standards.

Now there is an opportunity for questions being asked to an agent that chooses to interview with us, and we have to make sure that they are absolutely committed to building a database, they’re committed to coming to training and they’re committed to our culture. Because it’s not about the numbers anymore, it’s about hiring the right people and making sure that they understand our value proposition, and that we can deliver it to them, and that they really do want to get into the business for the right reasons. And if they don’t, we have the opportunity to just say, you know, it just might not be a fit. We love to talk to them about coaching on day one, we talk to them about getting a productivity coach on day one, and we also have certain training classes that really are an expectation of them to take within the first two to three months. If they just don’t want to do that and it’s too much of a commitment for them, it just may not be a fit to go into these market centers.


Okay, yeah, definitely. It is interesting how, as you grow, you kind of take a different tack in recruiting. I’ve noticed that as a trend with a lot of the leaders that I’ve been speaking with.


It becomes a strain on the staff if you bring in everybody and you don’t give them systems and models. The chances of them succeeding are just so much less, and then you have work of putting agents in, putting people out, and really feeling like the disappointment that you didn’t deliver what you said you were going to deliver. Well, if they don’t know what they’re going to get up front, then it’s not anybody’s fault. It’s just that you set the expectations up front and then if they, you can see their look in their eye that they’re excited about it and they’re ready to go, you know that you potentially have a very good fit. Somebody that’s going to come in and take this seriously as a business, and not just as a hobby. I think it makes it, everybody with the same expectations and standards in place, I think it just makes it easier on everybody.


Okay, great advice. So, everybody… every great leader has a mentor or someone who really inspires them. Maybe it was early on, maybe it’s still… What or who inspires you?


That’s a tough question, because there’s so many. I mean there’s so many people, and as you get older, you look back and you go ‘maybe that was the person.’ Realistically, what inspires me is happy people. Happy people are productive people; happy people just have a full life, they enjoy life, they get to do what they were meant to do. You know, we go to work, it’s not about the money, but it’s abut what we do with it. That’s on the cover of Gary’s book and I’ve never forgotten that. I think that is really what makes people happy, as long as they are able to do what they want to do.

So, happy people really inspire me. Successful people inspire me, and I love to hang out with people who are more successful than myself. I’ve learned so much because that’s what I’ve been surrounded with, with this company. I’ve always been mentored by people who were amazing and great and always so committed to what my big why was. I think that’s what inspires me, is when you know… who inspires me is somebody who still looks at other people and if they’ve achieved what they want to achieve and they make it their mission to achieve what you want to achieve, those are the people that inspire me. And I’m just surrounded by them at this company and the list is long. I’m also inspired, I’ve got two daughters, and they inspire me as well, because they are my big why. I think seeing their happiness, and their commitment to their education and their sports is just, it makes me happy.


That’s great. Are they older, younger, how old are your daughters?


They are 15 and 16, so… you can only imagine! But they’ve been around this business since the day they ere born and they understand it. I love that they can talk about it. They know a lot of the leaders in our company, and they’re inspired by that. They read all the books. I believe one day that they could potentially end up in this business and I think that would be awesome.


That’s great. So, everyone has a defining moment in their childhood or teenage years that shapes the person they are. What was yours?


I was raised in Nebraska, in a very small farm town, it was almost like a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ town. You walked to school. My parents were married at 19, stayed married; I had one brother. Just your typical… and I think I remember, when I was 12 years old, my dad came to me and said, “I think you should get a job,” and I was like, “I’m only 12.” He’s like, “You know, Wendi, if you get a job, and then we’re going to go open a bank account for you.” I remember thinking this is a big step, I’m only 12. It was that moment when I realized that he was teaching me that you have to take responsibility at a young age.

Back then it really wasn’t so apparent as it is now. Kids grow up so fast. I just remember him taking me and going with me to a job interview, and it was not really a job interview, I worked in our friend’s restaurant and I washed dishes, so it was not like, it didn’t feel like a job, but it was a job and I had my own money. It made my independence. He said, “I want you to save your money, and see what happens by the time you’re 16.” Well then of course his rule was that you’re going to buy your own car. So I just remember that, as a 12 year old, thinking why would I need to start taking accountability now for my future.

I’ll just never forget that. I think it did shape me as who I am now, because I think about that with our agents, about them having accountability for their lives and potentially their families. It just taught me a big lesson and I know it doesn’t sound like it’s very profound, but it was for me.


No, I can relate, my parents did the same thing. I had a Penny Saver route when I was 12, so, yeah, I understand it. It does make a big impact.


It does! Kids now, there’s so much in their lives, I mean there’s so much with just… life. It’s busy. Getting a job, one at 12, would not happen, but they just don’t grasp that concept. I just think it shaped me as a person because I never, then, did not have a job. It motivated me to have a better job. I always knew that I wanted to be able to never worry about money. That was ne thing, I think at 12 years old when you started thinking about that versus 21 when you graduate from college, it just made a big… I think I was ahead of the curve.


Yeah, definitely! So, every leader has some kind of routine, or things that they do or believe in that they really attribute to their success. What are a couple of the things that you do? Maybe it’s not a morning routine, maybe it’s reading time, or maybe it’s something you do with people. What do you do that attributes to your success?


I check in with my people, almost on a daily basis. I think it, just staying in communication, even though you’re not with them every single day, you stay in communication with them. I also invest in them. I always make sure that I ask what they need and what can I do to help you. That was a hard lesson to learn, because you get busy and you start seeing people struggle and then you wonder why, just because you didn’t ask questions. I think that like three things that I do that attribute to success is that I stay in touch with people. I don’t disappear. I always ask them what they need and what I can do for them. And then I do like to have my down time and I do like to read. I do read a book, pretty much once a month, I try and finish a book a month about just better health, better life, better thinking. It’s helped me, I think it’s a way to really digress after the busy days and the busy months, and then be able to use that information and be able to give it back to the people.


Yeah, that’s so important. You mentioned that your daughters are committed to sports, so I assume that’s a lot of what you do in your free time, but what are some of your personal passions? What do you like to do?


My personal passions… We, I do have a daughter who is an amazing volleyball player and I played volleyball myself, in college, so that is something that I’m so passionate about, for her staying involved in volleyball. My other daughter’s an amazing runner and so they both… those are some really big passions for me, to watch them as they’ve grown up. We love the beach, we have a house at the beach, and we love to go to the beach, and I think that’s where my best thinking and mind clearing happens. So, when we go to the beach, we love to have fun, but it’s also a place for us to really relax and have fun.

The other thing I think is one of my personal passions is just giving back and investing. With Keller William, we’ve learned a lot about the more you give, the more you receive. That’s just everywhere, that’s a life lesson, but we really focus on that. I’ve worked with my daughters on giving back and they’re really passionate about doing the same thing, and we see what it can do. So, I think that’s my biggest passion, giving back and investing in other people.

But then, one of my favorite things to do in my spare time is just spend time with my kids.


Yeah, that’s so important. Yeah, I have a volleyball player, too, so I assume you’re going to be in Atlanta or… I don’t know if she plays club anymore, since she’s in high school.


Yeah, we are in club and we are everywhere. I can’t even tell you how many reservations and plane flights I’ve bought for this season, but it’s crazy. At 15 years old, the things that they get to see and experience are so different, but it’s so much fun to watch them and watch the competitiveness. If you wouldn’t have taught that to them in their young age, you know it’s okay to be competitive, and it’s okay to not win everything, but just to see them be so inspired to win at such a young age. I can only imagine what this generation of kids are going to become.


It’s true, you know, sports, for those involved, are like having a job now. I know volleyball is, for sure, with the commitment, the time commitment that it takes.


It’s a time commitment, but it’s also a mental commitment for them and they realize that our club rules says there is no quitting. It’s a club rule, it’s on the back of their shirt. I look at that and I see those girls, and they’re all committed to that, and they fight until the end. They go to practice until 10 o’clock at night, three nights a week, do their studies, and they just, they’re committed to having a great team at such a young age. Usually that didn’t start until you got out of high school, so I think that is a huge commitment. But it’s so much fun, I just enjoy it so much. I’m glad you have a volleyball player.


Yeah, I have a football player and a volleyball – I have a 22 year old, too, so, and a 12 year old, too. A lot of space in between!


That’s awesome, I bet you could teach me some lessons on how to get to 22 alive.


Yeah! (laughter) Well, Wendi, thank you so much for joining REAL Trends for this podcast and I appreciate your time.



You’re so welcome, and thank you for the opportunity and have a wonderful 2018!


Yeah, you, too!