Fighting back: Investing in technology and efficiency

Mark A. McLaughlin, CEO of Pacific Union International, Inc., believes in embracing change and making his agents more productive with technology by Inman News

This is part of “Fighting back,” a new series of profiles on how broker-owners are responding to industry disruption.

Mark A. McLaughlin is chief executive officer of Pacific Union International, Inc. He led the acquisition of Pacific Union Real Estate in 2009 to become Pacific Union International, Inc., an expanding global brand.

Pacific Union has grown from a boutique luxury real estate brokerage with sales volume of $2.2 billion into the premiere California brokerage and one of the top 10 real estate firms in the U.S. with international reach and combined sales volume of $14.1 billion in 2017.

McLaughlin has been on a merger terror. He has led mergers with urban residential sales and marketing firm The Mark Company and four top-tier real estate brokerages in Northern and Southern California.

They include Los Angeles luxury brokerages John Aaroe Group, Partners Trust, Gibson International and Bay Area-based Empire Realty Associates.

What is your no. 1 asset in this environment?

Trust. Our real estate professionals’ clients engage with our brand as a result of trust. The clients trust in our real estate professionals, and our real estate professionals trust in Pacific Union.

Trust has supporting fundamental elements like local knowledge, sound advice and a client-first priority. I have not yet experienced a dot-com, @ or hashtag that replaces trust in a client’s or professional’s eyes.

How do you leverage what you have?

People first. Family first. If we do not get the people right — nothing else matters.

What new things must you do to compete?

Embrace change. To quote Brian Solis, digital anthropologist, “If you are not willing to disrupt yourself, it will be a gift given to you by someone else.”

Most real estate professionals hate change, and yet our clients change habits and behaviors every day in their lives. I am sharing now with all my executives that when they hear the statement “It’s different here,” what that person is really saying is “I am afraid of change, and I am not open to new ideas.”

Embrace and force change.

Are acquisitions the way to fend off change?

Not in my opinion. We grew Pacific Union organically to be no. 2 independent in Northern, California. To be a top three firm in L.A. we had to acquire so we bought no. 10, no. 11 and no. 23 to create no. 2 market share. The scale gives us the cash flow to invest back into the business and fuel change.

Do you explore alternative business models yourself?

Yes — we have done due diligence on two separate alternate brokerage models. If acquired, we would operate under separate brands.

Does your technology strategy change?

In a huge way, largely driven by client behavior. We have initiatives underway that were non-existent 36 months ago. Our big data initiatives (really small data as we are not a huge entity) to an intuitive CRM, to buyer based consumer demographic modeling, to applications that contribute to velocity of a transaction — we are deep into technology investments to make our professionals more efficient.

This time saved can be refocused to client relationships which build trust — see answer to first question.