Brokerage Looks Forward to 100 More Years

On the heels of its centennial celebration, find out what one real estate company says are the secrets to business longevity.

August 3, 2015

Jennings Realty didn’t just survive the Great Recession – the Chicago-based brokerage survived the Great Depression. Now, as the owners of this family-run real estate company are celebrating its 100th anniversary, they have no doubt of another 100 years ahead.

The secret to Jennings Realty’s longevity: diversification, hiring great people, and having tough conversations.

“The 100 years culminates the company and the legacy,” says Warren Jennings Peters, who took over the brokerage from his mother, who led after his father passed in 1943.

Peters’ father and uncles originally founded the company in 1915, known then as Petrzilek Brothers and later as Peters Brothers. The company was based in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood until moving to the city’s downtown Loop neighborhood in the 1960s. In 1960, the name changed to Jennings Realty Inc. and, since then, the company has fostered upwards of 20,000 residential and commercial real estate deals, totaling more than $450 million. They settled into the suburb of Evanston, just north of Chicago, in 1988.

Peters, who is now 94 years old, still maintains a presence at Jennings and is credited by his successors as setting the tone for the caring culture toward clients and staff.

“He saw a greater long-term purpose for business in places others did not see it,” says his daughter Barbara Davis, principal and former CEO.

Peters was a visionary when it comes to diversification, Davis says, from buying farms later turned into subdivisions to investing in RV parks early on. Those additions of new business lines under Peters’ leadership depict his innate perception of how communities would change in the future.

And retirement means little to Peters, who is currently pursuing his real estate license in Florida.

Davis carries on her father’s tradition, recently opening and becoming managing broker of Jennings on the Park, a boutique arm of Jennings Realty that caters to clients aged 55 and over.

“That’s what helped the company avoid any crisis; the foundation became diverse and allowed [us] to weather various economic times,” say Scott Siegel, director of real estate brokerage at Jennings and a licensed managing broker.

Siegel, who’s been with the company for two years, is the exception among the team of about 40 staff members and sales associates, most of whom have been with Jennings for 20 to 40 years.

“There’s a sense of empowerment at all levels,” Siegel says of the company culture. “[It’s about] finding the right people and letting them do what they do without micromanagement.”

Davis says that having the right people has helped their company navigate obstacles in the past and it will help them in the future.

“My father had that culture,” Davis says. “He led from the top down but really believed in people he hired.”

Many businesses don’t last for multiple generations because they don’t have a succession plan, Davis says. Her father was open to discussing succession and business strategy, so Davis says she knew what she had to do to keep the brokerage going for the next generation. And now her sons, Jay Lapat, CEO and managing broker, and Louis Lapat, chief technology officer, are poised to take over and lead the company into this increasingly digital era.

“I won’t be around,” Davis says, “but I think we laid the groundwork for another 100 years.”

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Beth Shea Palmer is a Hawaii-based freelance writer with nine years of experience reporting and editing for the Chicago Tribune, AOL, Advertising Age, and other publications. Connect with Beth at