07/17/2014 10:58 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The DeWolfe Effect


Have you ever laid awake at night thinking about that entrepreneur, business owner, or CEO who has already forged the path that you are on? What would they do differently? Would they agree with your current strategy? There's always someone who has broken the ground in your area of expertise, and if only you could get inside their head perhaps you could save yourself years, maybe even decades of mistakes. As I continue on my own journey of building the largest real estate empire in New England (within five years we will be helping 20,000 families a year buy or sell real estate in New England), I often think of an entrepreneur who has already accomplished much of what I am setting out to do. He is a legend when it comes to real estate brands in New England. His name is Richard DeWolfe. He is a builder of empires, a lover of real estate, an entrepreneur with the audacity to go after humongous goals and accomplish them, a dad to six kids, and a veteran. If you are from New England you certainly know of his companies, because The DeWolfe Companies, including real estate, relocation, mortgage, and insurance offices, dominated the New England landscape up until the sale of the businesses to NRT in 2002. In New England, DeWolfe was to real estate what Coke is to sugary soda. The DeWolfe name is synonymous with success. This week I had the rare opportunity to sit down with Richard DeWolfe, a visionary in the real estate world, as we discussed success, building empires, and achieving huge dreams.

If you are building an empire of your own, listen up, because I'm about to share the blueprint -- here are five keys to colossal success the DeWolfe way.

Simple Focus - According to DeWolfe, one of the hallmarks of the enormous success of The DeWolfe Companies was their simple focus. The company was built solely on the principle of providing home ownership to all, with an emphasis on the fact that having shelter is one of the basic needs of every human. DeWolfe says that there is a social responsibility in the real estate business and everyone in the firm was groomed to hold that responsibility in high regard -- the team wasn't focused on commissions and closings, they were focused on putting roofs over the heads of as many citizens as possible. Understanding this focus and holding their real estate, mortgage, and insurance professionals to it enabled the company to easily make decisions. For example, The DeWolfe Companies did not diversify into commercial real estate services because by doing so, it would have diluted the simplicity of their core focus, while adding mortgage, insurance, and relocation to their business portfolio was a natural fit.

Tracking Trends - DeWolfe attributes much of his success to predictive analysis and tracking trends. Every move made by the company was based on strategy, including deciding where to open offices, based on the town turnover rate, to being one of the first real estate companies to rely heavily on online advertising based on the early trends of consumers ditching their newspapers in favor of web based content. DeWolfe says that you can mitigate risk by creating a strategy based on what has worked in the past and analyzing trends that are likely to affect your business in the future.

Learn from Failure - Every great company is built upon a foundation of learning from failure. In fact, true failure only occurs when one chooses not to extract a lesson from it. For example, the DeWolfe empire consisted of real estate offices as well as mortgage, relocation, and insurance offerings. Interestingly, it wasn't until a third try that their insurance business succeeded. While many would have given up on building an insurance business after the first or second try, DeWolfe examined the first two failures closely in order to launch the insurance division a third time, this time with massive success.

Goals - Colossal success cannot be built without specific goals says DeWolfe. Success is easy when you know specifically what the team is trying to accomplish which is why every goal must be measurable. DeWolfe says the blueprint followed at The DeWolfe Companies was so simple that anyone could implement it. Here is his simple blueprint -- 1. Set Goals, 2. Be Specific, 3. Don't Compromise. The compromise part of the blueprint was extremely important, explained DeWolfe, because it is usually the compromises that eventually come back to bite you down the road.

Differentiate Your Brand - According to DeWolfe, when a brand can clearly differentiate itself from the competition, and the sales team can explain that differentiation, then business momentum will fall in your favor. For example, the competitive edge for The DeWolfe Companies was their ability to sell houses faster than the competition. The agents were trained to identify the difference between consumers who needed to sell versus wanted to sell versus would sell. Their goal was to find home sellers who needed to sell and would sell, not the ones who just wanted to sell. When home sellers need to sell, their homes statistically sell much faster than those who just want to sell, and by finding the right home sellers DeWolfe agents were able to maintain their competitive advantage of selling houses faster than the competition.

Richard DeWolfe built a legendary real estate brand across New England, all while actively engaging in the lives of his spouse and six kids and while entrenching himself in the offices to learn the most he could about the people he worked with. When looking at an entrepreneur who has accomplished every dream he has set for himself and his business, it's easy to assume that there's some magic formula that is so complicated that it is a barrier to success for most entrepreneurs and business owners. However, what we can learn from Richard DeWolfe is this -- success is simple. It is humans who are complicated. When you have a leader who can get everyone in the organization from the executive team, to the sales agents, to the staff at each office, to focus on simplicity, then massive success is yours for the taking. Richard DeWolfe is one such visionary who has built a business that will be a legacy in real estate for decades to come.

While Richard DeWolfe certainly had the opportunity to retire after selling his businesses in 2002, instead he decided to take his experiences to a global stage. Now as Chairman of the Board of Manulife/ John Hancock Financial (MFC, NYSE) he has oversight of the third largest insurance company in North America managing $600 billion in assets operating in 21 countries around the world with 28,000 employees and 55,000 agents. As DeWolfe explained, "The size of the company may be vastly different and the languages more challenging but the same five principles to achieve success are the same"