Great Managers: Culture Inspires First-place Finish

Nice guy builds camaraderie to boost sales and identify new markets.

June 1, 2002

Bottom line: Who says nice guys finish last? Since he came on board as broker-manager of RE/MAX Unlimited, REALTORS®, in Palatine, Ill., Lee Bialek, considered an all-around nice guy by his sales force, has helped his office grow its sales volume 64 percent, from $101 million in 1999 to $166 million in 2001. Now the company ranks No. 1 in its market. Increased per-person productivity is a driving force behind the growth, but Bialek has also increased the number of sales associates 69 percent, from 26 to 44, in the same two-year period.

Management style: Taking his office to No. 1 is an accomplishment that couldn’t have happened to a friendlier guy, say his associates. “Lee is that rare manager who is always there, handling all of his associates’ headaches, and doing it with a smile,” says Laura Weaver, ABR®, a 30-year veteran sales associate with the company.

Management system: If Bialek keeps a smile on his face, so do his associates. And that’s by design. Bialek recruits salespeople selectively. “The owners and I see ourselves as ‘defenders of the environment,’” he says. “We won’t bring on board someone shopping only by price—‘How much are the desk fees? How low will we go? What kind of deal can I get?’ We’re not trying to be the cheapest RE/MAX out there. We focus on attitude.”

What’s different: Bialek cut his management teeth owning and operating a deli-style restaurant in the mid-1980s, and incorporates in his current practice much of what he learned then. “In the restaurant game, you need to hire positive, upbeat people, and you need an organized system that runs itself,” he says.

To keep his associates upbeat, Bialek distributes a questionnaire to them before each sales meeting to find out what’s on their minds. Then he sets aside time at the meetings to respond to their issues. “They know they’ll get their concerns addressed quickly,” he says. He also holds regular team-building events, such as outings to see local minor league baseball.

As to the office system, three full-time support staff members oversee operations and maintain the smooth flow of office processes: entering listings, scheduling appointments, handling advertising, maintaining office equipment, running reports, and fielding inquiries.

Prospects: Company camaraderie isn’t just about feeling good. It’s about business, too. Thanks to the information they’re sharing with each other, Bialek’s associates are pursuing business in the outer northwest suburbs of Chicago. There, rural towns of 3,000 people, such as Huntley, are expected to balloon to 50,000 in 5 to 10 years, creating big opportunities, primarily in new-home sales. “The associates are good at sharing ideas, and that helps them capture new opportunities and take their business to the next level,” he says. Sales for the first three months of 2002 are already outpacing those of the same period last year, putting the company on track to maintain its No. 1 position.

View from the top
Leon G. “Lee” Bialek
Palatine, Ill.
Years as manager: 7
Years in real estate: 17
Honors: 2001 Manager of the Year, RE/MAX of Northern Illinois; 2001 International Manager of the Year, RE/MAX International
Education: Attended Triton Community College, River Grove, Ill., and Loyola University of Chicago
Community: Active in collecting contributions for Children’s Miracle Network, a principal charitable partner of RE/MAX International, and for Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago.

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