Thoughts on Leadership: A Quantum Life

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting Monday in Boston for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Summit conference where I had the opportunity to speak to the crowd of passionate top producers from around the world. On Wednesday into today, I attended and spoke at the HomeServices Legal/Title and Escrow conference in Minneapolis, and between speaking engagements and meetings, carved out some time to sit down and write this post to you.

During Covid, when the lockdowns first began, I found myself watching a lot of Netflix in my downtime. After a while, I started to feel bad that I was spending time watching Netflix and wasn’t really learning anything, so I made a commitment to spend one hour every day to learn something new. I started by learning and watching everything there was to know about the dinosaurs. (I’ve always been interested in dinosaurs ever since The Wall Street Journal wrote about the day the dinosaurs died.) From there I got interested in the cosmos and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I watched all of the cosmos videos then began watching “How the Universe Works,” which is where I discovered Hakeem Oluseyi.

As I dug into each episode, I was amazed by Oluseyi’s ability to explain extremely complex material in a way that I could understand. I listened to him untangle the mysteries of the universe in his calming Southern accent and was simply amazed by his intellect.

I googled him and discovered he had an amazing story and that he wrote and narrated the book “Quantum Life: My Unlikely Journey from the Streets to the Stars” which I immediately downloaded it on Audible. I was mesmerized by the book, and even more so by its details about where Oluseyi came from that inspired where he is today.

Since then, I’ve had the privilege to introduce him twice within a three-week span – first to our top producers at the HomeServices Stronger Together event in San Diego and then earlier this week in Boston at Summit.

Born James Edward Plummer Jr., Oluseyi was sent out west to live with his aunt at the age of 10. His genius was evident — people called him “the professor” and he learned to play bridge at age six— but so were his challenges. He lived with nine different households over the span of 16 months and went to five different schools, often landing in dangerous neighborhoods. He scored a 162 on an IQ test in the sixth grade. He smoked marijuana daily by age 13, living as Oluyesi described it, “like a feral animal.”

Despite his obvious gift, he spent much of his teen years in rural Mississippi, where he balanced advanced courses with the complications of life on the streets – poverty, drugs, and crime. In high school, he taught himself to program and coded parts of Einstein’s theory of relativity into a game, which won first place in physics at the Mississippi State Science Fair. He graduated high school at the top of his class.

Oluseyi had to join the Navy in order to pay for college, but a medical condition prevented him from serving, so he enrolled at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi.

At Tougaloo College, a Harvard-educated professor named David Teal noticed Oluseyi’s promise and encouraged him to join a meeting of African American physicists happening at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. What Oluseyi took from that meeting was clear: He had to enroll in graduate school if he wanted to be a real physicist.

Oluseyi was accepted to the prestigious graduate program at Stanford University and even had famed African American astrophysicist Arthur B.C. Walker as his Ph.D. advisor, helping him find his way through the challenges of the program. Walker was one of the first three Black astrophysicists in America and, like  Oluseyi, came from a military background . Walker’s former doctoral student, Sally Ride, was the first U.S. woman to go into space. Oluseyi told NPR that Walker “turned me into a gentleman and a scientist.”

After graduating with his doctorate in physics, he changed his name to Hakeem Muata Oluseyi to honor his African ancestors.

And the astrophysicist’s will to inspire was just beginning; Oluseyi made it his mission to motivate more Black students to become astrophysicists. In 2008, after receiving a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, Oluseyi traveled to South Africa to teach. After his instruction, the students passed their exams at the top 20% of their class.

So, what’s the message? There are so many highlights to Oluseyi’s incredible career – he taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; was NASA’s lead space science educator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate; was named Visiting Robinson Professor at George Mason University – and they all occurred because of his willingness to find the way to persevere from his difficult beginnings. His success may be as unlikely as our ability to interact with intelligent life-forms that inhabit planets far away and yet, it happened, proving that no matter where you came from, if you have a dream, there’s no limit to where you can go.

Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from the NFL

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting the post-Labor Day work week with an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call on Tuesday. After the call, I hopped on a flight to Washington, D.C. to join the RISMedia CEO Exchange and had a fantastic time presenting the opening keynote for RISMedia Founder, President & CEO John Featherston. Today, I returned home and sat down to write this post to you.

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Thoughts on Leadership: The Power of Connection, Collaboration and Listening

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls and the morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call. On Tuesday, I virtually attended the August HomeServices of America corporate team gathering, and on Wednesday I filmed various upcoming video projects at the local Intero office in Cupertino. (Thank you to Marketing & IT Coordinator Thuy Huynh for your script assistance!) Today, I’m in meetings and carved out some time to write this post to you.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons for Today

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting Monday with a Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I traveled to Dallas to attend and participate in Tom Ferry’s Success Summit and today, I attended the Dallas Business Journal Women in Business 2022 Awards honoring Allie Beth Allman.

It was a week of meeting and learning – my favorite thing to do. As the saying goes, once you think you know it all, your slide to mediocrity has already begun.

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Thoughts on Leadership: The Story of Sylvester Stallone

By Gino Blefari:

This week my travels find me at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel for Stronger Together, the first annual HomeServices of America top performer event. Onstage at Stronger Together, I talked about an interesting tale, which I’d like to share with all of you now.

Have you ever seen the Rocky movies? Rocky is one of the highest-grossing media franchises in the world and has inspired countless people to (cue “Eye of the Tiger”) work hard to achieve their dreams. The story is so great but there’s actually an even better story and that’s the story of Sylvester Stallone.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: The Story of Sylvester Stallone

Like Robert “Rocky” Balboa, Stallone knows a lot about setbacks and comebacks, and it all started at birth. There were serious complications and at the last minute, the doctor had to use forceps to save his life. Stallone was brought into this world head first, and the nerves on the left side of his face died. 

Not only did he have a tough birth, but he also had a tough childhood. His parents divorced at a young age, and he was in six foster homes and went to 11 schools. (He was also kicked out of a number of them.)

At age 15, he moved into his mother’s apartment in Philadelphia but he always felt like something was missing. He believed his destiny was to become an actor, so after attending high school in Philadelphia and studying drama at the University of Miami, Stallone moved back to New York and later to Los Angeles to pursue his dreams.

Stallone passionately auditioned, hopping from one casting call to the next, but each time the casting director would tell him the same thing: Look at your face. No, we don’t have a part for you.

They didn’t like the way he spoke. They didn’t like the way he looked. He kept striking out and took on odd jobs just to support him and his wife. A few years later, he and his wife divorced.

So now here he is, a failed would-be actor, alone and depressed. For a while, he started believing what people were saying about him. They were telling him to stay down, and he bought into every word. Then someone said to Stallone: You seem to communicate stories well. Maybe you shouldn’t be an actor. Maybe you should be a writer.

Following the advice, he put his acting dreams on hold and wrote the script for a movie called “Paradise Alley.” He sold that script for $100. It was the first money he’d really ever made in his entertainment career. Years later, he made the movie.

The next part of the story is so unbelievable, I had to do some research to validate every detail and separate the urban legend from fact. Here’s what happened next: After that initial movie, Stallone was still poor and down on himself. He was so desperate and defeated he took his only companion left in his life – his dog – and went and sold his dog for $50 just so he could eat. (True story, not a Hollywood myth.)

Two nights later, he was meeting his friend at a sports bar and the TV in the corner was showing a fight. This was before Pay-Per-View when you could actually see fights. The inspiration for Rocky was a real-life fight between the world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and a little-known club fighter named Chuck Wepner. In March 1975, Wepner went 15 rounds against Ali in a title bout in Cleveland.

Ali didn’t take the fight seriously. He came out and in the first round Wepner knocked him down, just like in Rocky. Ali gets up and punishes the guy. Round after round he is battered, bloodied, bruised and yet, he keeps on coming and coming and Stallone is watching and becomes fired up at this display of such intense courage.

He was so inspired by that fight, he wrote the script for Rocky in just three and a half days.

When he’s done, Stallone takes the screenplay to the same people he’d sold the $100 “Paradise Alley” script to, and they loved it. Just one month after he sold his dog for $50, Stallone is offered $150,000 for Rocky. (Today that’s the equivalent of about $760,000.)

But the story doesn’t end with this offer. There’s a problem. Stallone tells the studio he’s going to be the main character. They say: Not a chance. You talk funny. You have a strange mouth. You’re a good writer, be a writer.

He tells them no; I’m an actor and I want to act. They go back and forth for a while and Stallone eventually turns them down for their offer. They return to Stallone three weeks later and offer him $250,000 for the script. (That’s the equivalent of $1.3 million today for the guy who was just forced to sell his dog).

Stallone again refuses, holding firm that if he’s not in the movie as Rocky, there is no movie. He told them he is the character and lived the life that Rocky lived. He knew he was this character and if he doesn’t act in the movie, he would regret it for the rest of his life.

He believed it was his calling to be an actor and if he couldn’t pursue his calling, it simply wasn’t worth it for any amount of money.

Finally, they caved and said they’d give Stallone $35,000 for the script and $23,000 for acting in it.

Stallone said OK if he could have 10% of the box office gross.

The studio spent $985,000 to make the movie. To put that number in perspective, it cost $15 million to make a James Bond movie that same year.

Anyway, you know what happened next. Rocky grossed $200 million. It went on to become a billion-dollar franchise. There were six Rocky movies made.

At the 1977 Academy Awards, Rocky was nominated for no fewer than 10 categories. And the $20 million Stallone made is the equivalent of $100 million today.

So, what’s the message? If you’re following your calling and stick to your dreams, the money will always come.

P.S. As soon as he got the money for the script, Stallone was able to buy his dog back for $3,000 and a part in the Rocky movie.

Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from Bud Winter

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. Next, I traveled to Orange County to provide a “State of the Market” during the Asian Real Estate Association of America O.C. Chapter Luxury Redefined event, where I had the chance to share the stage with Sharon Tay of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties. (Read more about that here.) On Wednesday, I worked from the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices HQ office in Irvine and attended the virtual leadership meeting at California Properties led by President Martha Mosier where I provided the team with an economic update on the market.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from ‘Ted Lasso’

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls and the Berkshire Hathaway Energy morning call. On Tuesday, I had a one-day turnaround business trip. On Wednesday, I traveled to Tampa, Florida to attend the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) National Convention and earlier today, I delivered a keynote speech to the attendees. NAREB is doing important work to urge Black Americans not to defer their dream of homeownership and I was grateful to lend my voice to this profound – and ongoing – mission.

As many of you know, I love to listen to books but sometimes while resting and recharging, I tune into movies or TV shows that provide inspiration in unconventional ways. One of those shows is “Ted Lasso,” about an American football coach who finds himself coaching a British soccer team, even though he knows next to nothing about the sport. As we watch Ted deal with the challenges of coaching, we realize this show is basically a master class in leadership. Here are just a few lessons from Ted Lasso:

  • Relationships are in the details.
  • Make it a point to know the names and birthdays of every member on your team.
  • Create a cadence of accountability. (Ted does this with daily “biscuits with the boss” morning check-ins.)
  • Don’t harp on the losses; use the progress of the people around you as a benchmark for success in what Ted calls “the infinite game.”
  • Live like a goldfish. They have a 10-second memory; if you mess up, learn from it then quickly move on.
  • Know that tackling a challenge is just like riding a horse. If you’re comfortable when you’re doing something difficult, you are probably doing it wrong.
  • Leaders empower leaders, just like Ted does with often-overlooked “kit man” Nate Shelley who eventually becomes a member of the coaching team.
  • Treat everyone with kindness. (Nate was not treated well by anyone before Ted’s arrival.)
  • Optimism over everything.
  • You must always believe in yourself.
  • Even when the odds are stacked against you, find positivity in the situation and keep moving forward.

So, what’s the message? Leadership can – and should – be fun. There’s humor to be found in any situation. There’s positivity to be found in even the most negative of circumstances. There are insights to be gleaned from every member of your team, and there are advantages to gain from truly getting to know who you work with and showing them, like Ted does, just how much you care.

P.S. If you watch this show and there’s anything you’ve learned from Ted Lasso that I’ve left out, please let me know!

Thoughts on Leadership: Leading through Change

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting Monday with my typical Monday morning WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy call then traveled to Virginia. On Wednesday, I spent the day with the team at Long & Foster, including filming “The CEO Is In The House” with Long & Foster President and CEO Jeff Detwiler and Johnnie Johnson, former All-Pro defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams, president/CEO of World Class Coaches and author of “From Athletics to Engineering: 8 Ways to Support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for All.” Now I’m traveling home, writing this post to you.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Sleeping Habits for Leaders

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels first found me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy meeting then the Monthly CEO call. After that I headed to Las Vegas, Nevada for the Mike Ferry Superstar Retreat, happening as I write this post to you now.

Last week, we talked about M.E.D.S. (Meditation, Exercise, Diet, Sleep), keystone habits that create small wins. This week, I want to break down that last part of M.E.D.S. – Sleep – and dive deeper into how you can achieve the most restful sleep possible.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Establishing a Solid Routine

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting off at home, with my typical Monday morning WIG calls. On Tuesday I attended a Berkshire Hathaway Energy meeting in the morning then participated in several other meetings throughout the week. I’m also focused on planning for this month’s CEO Leadership Meeting as well as upcoming meetings in San Diego, happening August 15th through August 19th.

As all this planning and strategizing ramps up, I’m reminded about the importance of a solid morning routine. When you have a good morning routine it sets you up for success throughout the day.

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