Thoughts on Leadership: In Remembrance of Bruce Mulhearn

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me in Southern California, meeting with colleagues, brokerage leaders and superstar sales professionals. But more about that next week. This week, I want to focus solely on one leader … one extraordinary leader … who the world lost and subsequently celebrated this past Saturday in Long Beach, California.

I was fortunate enough to speak at the Celebration of Life for Bruce Mulhearn, president and broker/owner of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties, who passed away Dec. 26 at the age of 80. He was a true legend of leadership, followed by a legion of admiring fans. More than 1,000 people attended his Celebration of Life, punctuated by the sound of bagpipes to signify his English heritage—he was born ina coal mining and ship-building town on the border of Scotland—and an American flag that waved proudly in recognition of his time served in the United States Army. (It’s almost poetic that his humble beginnings were in a coal town. Coal, when put under enormouspressure, turns to diamond, a geological trajectory that closely reflects the life of Bruce.)

Surprisingly, Bruce got his start in real estate in New Zealand, where he purchased beachfront property in Toa Loa, which he would coincidentally sell for $1,500 after he decided to move to the United States. This was when the transformative epiphany happened. After delighting in the profit from the land, he thought, “If I did this by accident … what could I do on purpose in California?”

 

Immediately, the transaction sparked a life-long passion for real estate that would eventually lead Bruce to Jan. 1, 1967, when Bruce Mulhearn Inc., Realtors opened for business. The brokerage quickly expanded to become one of the fastest-growing real estate companies in California.

On Saturday, his widespread success and admiration was evident. It was astounding to witness the depth of respect and love that poured out for Bruce from all corners of our country and industry. Words like these were used to describe him: “there will never be another like him,” or “his range of talents was immense,” or “he brought a level of sophistication and humanity to our industry.”

Let me add the words that Mike Ferry, one of the real estate industry’s premier coaches, trainers and my own mentor, recently relayed to me about Bruce: “I met Bruce in the early 1970s while working with my broker Pat McVay,” he said. “After meeting Bruce with Pat, Pat said to me, ‘You’ve just met one of the smartest and best real estate people you will ever meet!’ And that’s been proven for years.”

You’ve heard the phrase one in a million and ironically, there are approximately 1 million REALTORS® working today and Bruce was one in a million. To prove it, we have our own special story and it begins in 2013.

It was May of that year, just as the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand was readying to launch. The top 50 Prudential Real Estate franchisees gathered in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the Gibraltar Circle Conference. Prudential had just sold the Prudential Real Estate network to Brookfield then Brookfield sold a majority interest in the network to HomeServices of America, Inc.

The latter transaction created the “Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices” brand, and the Jackson Hole gathering was an opportunity to sign Prudential Real Estate franchisees to this brand-new brokerage network.

Frustration, concern and unease tainted the mountain air and with each brokerage leader given the choice of joining Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, no one had yet committed. Everything was on the line, nothing was certain and that’s exactly when Bruce asked for the microphone.

(A note about Bruce Mulhearn, as explained by the moving eulogies at his Celebration of Life: He was an adventure seeker and daredevil. A lover of skiing, who raced down to the bottom of a soaring mountain only to climb back up to the top and do it all over again. He thrived on challenges—like navigating his company through five economic downturns—both personally and professionally. His daughter Elaine told a moving story about her teenage years, when her father would wake her up at the crack of dawn to run along the beach. One morning, the beach was a mess; record-high winds and waves had hit the shores. Still, Bruce woke her up to run, and they jogged around the debris and on top of giant, fallen pylons. “He taught me that there will be horrendous hurricanes in your life and you will have to run through them,” she said on Saturday. “The values of perseverance, grit and self-discipline were taught [to] me by my father because he lived it.”)

 

In Jackson Hole, Bruce’s fighting spirit was on full display. He calmly asked the audience—many of whom were leaders at some of the most prestigious brokerages in America—to open their eyes to the possibility of adding the name “Berkshire Hathaway” to theirs. The combination would be magic, Bruce explained. He said the brand equity and reputational strength of Berkshire Hathaway would be important for the new brand moving forward. And Bruce was absolutely right. It was.

Bruce said the association with HomeServices of America and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. would be worth its weight in gold. And Bruce was right. It was.

He said the brand would change the face of residential real estate in America. And again, he was right. It did and continues to do so every day.

The meetings in Jackson Hole seemed to turn on Bruce’s voice of reason. Brokers looked deeper into the brand as well as their minds and hearts. The first Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchisee was signed in Jackson Hole and many, many commitments came in rapid succession, including one from Bruce and his team at what would soon become Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties.

Now, exactly five years and one month after Bruce launched Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties, our brokerage network has amassed nearly 300 companies, 50,000 agents, and more than 1,400 offices across the United States and Berlin, London and Milan.

So, what’s the message? Bruce’s legacy will forever be tied to the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices narrative. There are a lot of good people in our industry, a few great ones, and then there was Bruce Mulhearn. I speak on behalf of our entire organization when I say thank you, Bruce. We will always respect you as an inspiring leader, revere you as an incredible real estate visionary, and miss and love you as a great, unforgettable friend.

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