Rise Up: A Fireside Chat with Leading Female Executives

On Tuesday, March 23, we continued our Titans of Industry series with an event featuring three female leadership legends. Nykea Pippion McGriff, Vice-President of Brokerage Services of Coldwell Banker Realty, led a fireside chat with Tami Bonnell, CEO of EXIT Realty Corp Intl., and Susan Yannaccone, President & CEO of Realogy Franchise Group, led a discussion on their leadership journeys and advice. Here are the top takeaways from the event:

When you know, you know.

When these leaders originally envisioned their careers, they did not expect to find themselves in the leadership roles they hold today. How did they identify leadership was the right path for them? Both Susan and Tami referred back to the moment they realized they needed to shift focus. Susan started as a commercial REALTOR®, and she ultimately found the independent life of that side of the business wasn’t for her. She simply wasn’t passionate about it, so the move to something she loved felt natural. Enter: leadership. “I knew if I was going to be successful in something I had to be passionate about it.” Tami’s realization came to fruition after witnessing an inspirational act of leadership from someone else. “I remember the exact moment I said I wanted to be that caliber of a leader,” she said. After a family tragedy, her boss showed her immense empathy and went out of her way to support her out of respect and kindness. Tami’s career journey shifted. She too honed in on what parts of her job (or parts of other future roles) sparked passion and excitement. “Letting people see something in themselves they didn’t see before, and watching them grow, literally it becomes addictive,” she said.

Tips for attaining the elusive “balance.”

Is there such thing as work-life balance? Nykea asked Susan and Tami how they define their “balance,” and they both shared tips and tricks they have picked up along the way. For parents struggling to find and commit to time with their children, Tami had two pieces of advice:
  1. “If you have children, find common grounds. For example, everyone in my family did martial arts together, three times a week.” The lessons were at different times on different days, but the point was it was an activity they did together.
  2. “For us, there’s no such thing as a 9-5,” Tami added. She asks her children to pick one thing they really want to do that week, and she sees what she can do to make it happen. They prioritize, and she looks at where it can work. “The time may not be set in stone but we commit to it and we do it.”
Susan recommends approaching to-do lists, responsibilities and work through a value-add mentality. “When you’re looking at what’s on your plate, start your decision process with what you’re uniquely qualified to add value to or do yourself. You don’t have to do everything.” By doing this, you’re starting your priority list and what you might be able to delegate. How does Susan draw boundaries for herself, especially over the last year? She asks herself what her “operating principles” or “never gives” are and she holds herself accountable to them. “I want to set an example for my daughter that I don’t regret my work. I set an example that I’m doing things that bring me tremendous happiness.” She is honest about the care she takes to prioritize and hone in on her passions.

Personal power and you.

Tami posted a popular video on her website about personal power and how examining her own, she has grown as a leader. Anxiety, stress and feeling overwhelmed bear a heavy load on women everywhere, so her video proposes potential solutions. “I wanted to show people the more they stay in the present tense, the more they’re in control of their entire life. To be true to yourself and your gifts.” When battling negative thoughts and the sheer volume of stressful circumstances, be it a pandemic or the typical pressures of caring for loved ones or maintaining financial stability, she goes back to these lessons. “You’ve got to surround yourself with positive people who bring the most and the best out of you,” she added. “Also, people who keep you grounded and keep you realistic.”

Take care of yourself.

What is one thing Susan and Tami do that’s designed to take care of solely themselves? Tami touts the power the morning solitude. “I get up earlier than everyone in my household. I have silence, and I exercise, and I read and I write. Then I take 120 seconds and visualize how I want my day to go.” She pictures conversations with people, how she wants to make people feel, and so on. Susan also seeks solitude and likes the early hours of the day. However, she isn’t picky about when she finds alone-time or how she spends it. “I don’t need to be doing anything, but I need to be alone. I like to get up before everyone and exercise and have coffee.” Sometimes, she pretends she’s in her hotel room, turns on a TV show, has a glass of wine and tells her family she needs her own time.

Let’s talk about the history in the room.

Nykea shared an impactful statistic: while over 60% of the real estate industry professionals are women, less than 20% hold senior-level positions. What obstacles have Susan and Tami faced, and what are their thoughts when they hear this is the case? Susan first recognized the two divergent “paths” in the industry and that the power of women who don’t hold senior leadership titles should not be undervalued. “There are a lot of very powerful women in our industry who have chosen not to go the corporate route of owning a franchise or a brokerage,” she said. “Their passion is in the field and connecting with consumers.” However, she did add that she sees a lack of focus, historically, on making sure there are diverse voices in the room. “There’s been a false perspective on whether women WANT the roles. Women are unfairly expected to choose between having children and ascending to leadership, and we as an industry need to honor and work on welcoming women back if they do choose to do both.”

Read the recaps from our other Titans of Industry events: