Thoughts on Leadership: A Chip Off the New Block

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call and today I joined Intero’s Rally, where I shared “10 Things to Do Right Now to Crush it in Today’s Market” before sitting down to write this post to you.

Today I want to share an incredible story about an event that happened over the weekend. It all began when Michael Block, head club pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California – located just a stone’s throw away from our Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchise headquarters where I spent time last week – played in the 2023 PGA Championship.

But this story isn’t only about a golf club pro entering the 105th PGA Championship, one of four major PGA tournaments that take place each season. After Block arrived at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, New York – the host of this year’s tournament – he went on to capture the hearts of golf fans around the world with a brilliant (and unexpected) run for the title.

On Saturday at the end of play, Block was in the Top 10, something that hadn’t been achieved by a golf club pro in a PGA Major in over 30 years. And he did it with humility and charm.

On Sunday, he hit not just a hole-in-one at the par-3, 151-yard 15th hole but slam-dunked it, meaning he hit the ball off the tee and directly into the hole without disturbing even a single blade of grass.

In a post-tournament interview just after he turned in his scorecard, Block explained how it all went down. He said he didn’t see the ball go in but knew it was a good shot and knew it was at the pin, though he thought it was a little short. Professional golfer Rory Mcllory, who was paired with Block for the round, walked up to him and gave him a big hug as the crowd cheered. Block thought, “Why in the world is he giving me a hug?” Then Mcllroy said: “Blocky, it went in!”

“Are you serious?” Block asked against the roar of the crowd.

He sure was.

Later, when describing the shot, PGA sportscaster Jim Nantz called it an “all-time up and down.”

In the end, Block finished the tournament in 15th place, winning $288,333, though he’d also be offered $50,000 for his trusty 7-iron, the one he used to make the hole-in-one. Two-thousand congratulatory texts poured in for the tournament hero, including, Block said, one from Michael Jordan. And when a reporter asked him how he felt about his performance over the weekend, Block said: “It’s amazing. I’m living a dream. I’m making sure that I enjoy this moment. I’ve learned that after my 46 years of life, it’s not going to get better than this. There’s no way.”

After Block finished the tournament, he received a sponsor’s exemption to compete at the Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas this coming weekend. Cameras captured the now-famous moment when Block received the news and said: “If you could talk to my boss real quick and tell them that I won’t be at work next week …”

So, what’s the message? Michael Block’s improbable tale of an Orange County golf club pro turned PGA Championship legend can be summed up in the same two words he’s had stamped for decades on every single one of his golf balls–including the ones he used at the tournament: “Why not?”

Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from the Kentucky Derby

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me participating in my typical WIG calls on Monday, joining an early Berkshire Hathaway Energy call on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, going to the California Theatre in San Jose, California for The Dwight Clark Legacy Series: Playmakers. The event featured round table conversations with San Francisco 49ers greats, including Fred Warner, Bryant Young, Jerry Rice and John Taylor. Today, I sat down to write this post to you.

Over the weekend I was entranced – as I am each year – by the Kentucky Derby. (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network members will remember 2022 when the network took over historic Churchill Downs for an incredible Sales Convention celebration.) I love the Kentucky Derby not only because it’s exciting, but also because it always provides important leadership lessons. Here are a few from the 2023 races:

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from the Kentucky Derby
  • You can win against all odds. Mage entered the Winner’s Circle as a new champion in the 149th year of the Kentucky Derby, racing against tremendous 15-1 odds and eventually, getting that coveted garland of roses. Before the race, Mage was far from a favorite. In fact, he only had three starts this spring. Mage’s success proves that it doesn’t matter what the odds are, what happened in the past or whether people doubt you. Only you can make the outcome yours.
  • You only fail when you fail to keep going. The jockey riding Mage, Venezuelan Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, was far from a trending name in the race. He was 0-15 before he broke his streak by this Kentucky Derby win. “I never give up,” Castellano said. “I always try hard to do the right thing. It took me a little while to get there. I finally got it.”
  • You can use your critics as motivation. As Castellano was in the jockey’s room preparing for the race, he said he looked up and saw NBC’s pre-race broadcast where the network had written: “0-15, Javier Castellano” below his name. When he saw the not-so-encouraging stat, Castellano told himself, “This is the year … I’m going to win the race.” Well, we all know what happened next.
  • You must write down your goals so they become etched into your subconscious. When asked, Mage’s assistant trainer and co-owner Gustavo Delgado Jr. said the win was a fulfillment of a dream – or we could say a Wildly Important Goal – that he had written down a year-and-a-half ago. Delgado said: “I wrote a note: ‘We’re going to win the Derby next year.’” Then, he won. Delgado’s story reminds me of my own start in real estate and a box I still have in my storage closet that has my old 3×5 index cards inside. On each card, I had written out my goals and affirmations. Re-reading those years later, it’s surreal to me that they all came true. As an example, in 1985, I set a goal of making $60,000, noting that it would be in direct proportion to the service I give. Even though it took me six months to get my first pending sale, I still hit my goal by the end of the year.
  • You can’t stop until you reach the finish line. In the backstretch of the race, Mage focused on the horse in the leading position and passed him at the eighth pole, going on to win the Kentucky Derby. Imagine if he gave up when he was behind? Instead, Mage didn’t stop until he was ahead of them all. “He’s a little horse with a big heart,” Castellano said.
  • You should always remember those who support you on your way up the ladder (or around the racetrack) of success. According to, Castellano’s win was as much about loyalty as it was about fate. For the last five years, Castellano has been sponsored by restaurateur Jeff Ruby, proudly sporting the Jeff Ruby Steakhouse brand. But in a tweet by Ruby, the restaurateur said Castellano almost didn’t wear the brand during the race. Why? Castellano was originally set to ride a horse called Raise Cain but the owners of that horse told him “at the eleventh hour” that he couldn’t wear the Jeff Ruby Steakhouse pants. Castellano said if he couldn’t support his sponsor, he simply wouldn’t race. He was going to give up a chance to be in the Kentucky Derby! Then in April, Castellano switched from Raise Cain to Mage so he could represent his sponsor. And when he triumphantly crossed the finish line with Mage, he was proudly sporting the Jeff Ruby Steakhouse pants. (Castellano also went to dinner at Ruby’s Louisville steakhouse after the win, where diners gave him a well-deserved standing ovation.)

So, what’s the message? Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties President Martha Mosier said it best when she shared her experience attending the Kentucky Derby this year. From the horses to the friendships to the leadership lessons this race contains, it is truly, as she wrote: “The experience of a lifetime.”

Thoughts on Leadership: The Transformative Power of Rivalries

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. Tuesday was all about meetings with the team, and Wednesday I participated in the early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call, got caught up on email then took the remainder of the day to recharge.

On Monday, I also had the opportunity to attend the Giants-Dodgers game with my friends Kevin Barrett, Kraig Constantino and Jordan Mott, celebrating an amazing baseball rivalry. On the drive to the game, I just had to call Chris Sears, vice president of partnerships at HomeServices, my good friend and New York Yankees fan. Going to a Giants-Dodgers game is the equivalent of Chris going to a Yankees-Red Sox game — the rivalries are just that long-standing and intense.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: The Transformative Power of Rivalries

Rivalries are sometimes seen as a bad thing, but really a rivalry is one of the most invigorating components of competition and one of the most motivating factors in a leader’s gametime decision-making process. What would technology be without the famous rivalry between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs? Or how would the history of basketball be changed without the games played between “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird? Would heavyweight championship boxing be the same without the epic trilogy of fights pitting Joe Frazier against Muhammad Ali?

If psychological scientist Gavin J. Kilduff from New York University’s Stern School of Business has anything to say about it; these historic matchups probably wouldn’t exist without the world-class rivalries that defined them. Kilduff’s pivotal research supports the idea that rivalries generate higher levels of performance among players. A rivalry also makes players take more risks. Studying the fourth downs of 2,000 NFL games played between 2002 and 2010, Kilduff and his colleagues found that a player was more likely to go for it on the fourth down or go for a two-point conversion when they were playing a rival team. Why? Because a strong rivalry shifts things into high gear – winning (however it’s defined for you) means more than it ever did before.

The same can be said about the San Francisco Giants-Los Angeles Dodgers rivalry, which dates back to the 1889 World Series when the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (later known as the Dodgers) played the New York Giants – the only two professional baseball teams in New York City.

One iconic moment of this cross-town rivalry was “The Shot Heard Round the World” (listen to it in the voice of Russ Hodges here), which happened on October 3, 1951 at the Polo Grounds in New York City during the decisive third game in a three-game pennant playoff series. New York Giants outfielder and third baseman Bobby Thomson stepped up to the plate in the ninth inning, his team trailing 4-2 with two players on base. And what happened next? He hit a game-winning home run off Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca and the Giants won the National League pennant.

The rivalry between the two teams became so strong that in 1957, when the Giants and Dodgers were facing difficulties and exploring options to move, National League owners approved a relocation to California – if both teams moved together.

As a young boy, I had my first opportunity to witness the Giants-Dodgers rivalry in action at Candlestick Park on August 22, 1965, sitting with my dad among the at-capacity crowd of 42,807 fans. The infamous Marichal-Roseboro “bat incident” occurred that day. It was the third inning and Giants pitcher Juan Marichal had stepped up to the plate. After the second pitch, Marichal hit Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with his bat after the catcher returned a low ball to Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax by throwing it close to Marichal’s head.

What I took away from the 14-minute brawl that followed wasn’t the chaos on the field or the anger between the players but the heroism of my idol Willie Mays who immediately rushed from the dugout to be the peacemaker among the rival teams.

Later describing the incident, the Boston American Herald reported: “Except for the majestic presence of Willie Mays, several players could have been maimed. Willie was out of the dugout in a flash to help disarm Marichal … this could be the year Mays wins the MVP award and Nobel Peace Prize, too.”

I saw Mays dart in and out of the players, pulling them apart, and removing a bat from the hands of Giants’ on-deck hitter, Tito Fuentes, while calming both teams down. His peacemaking efforts were so powerful that when the Giants traveled to L.A. to play the Dodgers again – just 15 days after the incident ESPN called “arguably the ugliest moment in MLB history” – the San Francisco players were all booed by the crowd, except for Mays, who received a standing ovation. Back in 1965, the only Giants’ games that were televised were the games against their rival Dodgers, so I was able to see my hero Willie Mays get his standing ovation from the Dodgers fans. So, what’s the message? Roseboro and Marichal famously patched up their differences while reconnecting years later at an old-timers’ game. Roseboro then visited Marichal in his native country of the Dominican Republic and even lobbied for Marichal to be elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. When Roseboro passed away in 2002, Marichal was a pallbearer at his funeral, proving that at the heart of the very best rivalry is nothing but love.

Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from NCAA Women’s Basketball

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by meetings in Los Altos. On Wednesday, I had several meetings and conference calls and then this morning, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy “Our Familia” Employee Resource Group (ERG) panel with facilitator Angelica Silveyra, current Chair of the panel and director of Customer Contact at NV Energy, Amy Key, Principal Engineer with Mid-American Energy and Antoine Tilman, Vice President of Customer Operations with NV Energy. Now, I sit down to write this post to you.

It’s been a while since we covered any sports news on the blog, and if you know me, you know I love sports and the lessons they can teach us about life and leadership. So, this week, I thought we’d dive into some lessons from the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. On Sunday, Louisiana State University defeated the University of Iowa 102-85 to win the 2023 NCAA women’s college basketball national championship, claiming its first-ever national title – not only in women’s basketball but also in collegiate basketball for the university.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from NCAA Women’s Basketball

In other history-making updates, the LSU Tigers and Iowa Hawkeyes combined for the most points scored in title game history, and LSU set a record for the number of points scored by a team in the final.  Here are a few key leadership takeaways from the NCAA women’s basketball tournament this year:

Play by your own rules.

After winning the tournament, LSU’s Angel Reese said: “Just keep being you. Never let anybody tell you no or that you can’t do this, you can’t do that.” She talked about how people tried to create an image of her that was unlike the way she really was – or saw herself. But as Reese explained, nobody can define who you are but you.

Yahoo! Sports writer Shalise Manza Young wrote in a poignant article published earlier this week: “Reese [is] smart enough to see the game for exactly what it is and insistent that she’ll play by her rules, thank you very much.”

I was sent Young’s article by Johnnie Johnson, my good friend and former All-Pro for the Los Angeles Rams, author of “From Athletics to Engineering: 8 Ways to Support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for All.” In his note to me, Johnnie said when he wrote his book, he knew that talking about race would cause discomfort for a great many people. He also knew that sports at all levels of the game would continue to provide an outlet for these necessary conversations.

Reese’s “just being you” mentality is an excellent example of the kind of straightforward, honest discourse we as leaders must embrace for our team members and organizations. Diversity is as much about togetherness as it is about individuality, and Reese’s insistence that she is defined by no one but herself celebrates the progress-making combination of the two.

This tournament was more than just a collection of fantastically played games; it was a movement toward greater equality.

Caitlin Clark, a star player for the University of Iowa, helped take her team to their first championship appearance. She was named Naismith Player of the Year and was also the first player ever – in women’s and men’s NCAA basketball – to earn a 40-point triple double in tournament history. For my non-sports readers, a triple double is when a player scores at least ten points, ten rebounds, and ten assists in a single game (i.e., double digits in three categories).

The history-making, record-breaking games translated into bigger audiences than ever before. A reported 2.5 million people watched Iowa defeat Louisville in the Elite Eight, and to put that number into perspective, televised NBA games this season have averaged about 1.6 million viewers, according to Nielson data.

Yet as fantastic an athlete as Clark is, she still faced microaggressions and inappropriate comments on her highlight reels and videos. The uncalled-for comments raise serious questions about the connection between the rise in popularity of women’s sports and why they were less popular in the first place. These women are extraordinary athletes, with passion, commitment, and talent that’s incredible to watch. Everyone should tune in with just as much enthusiasm as they do for the men’s tournament – if not more. I was on the edge of my seat watching Iowa play South Carolina, texting with Iowa Realty General Manager John Dunn. At exactly 8:49 p.m. Pacific time on Friday, I texted him and asked if he was watching, to which he responded: “Epic. I can’t wait for your Thoughts on Leadership.” So, if you like this post, you have John Dunn to thank.

Sports should bring people together, not tear them apart.

This year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament experienced a 42% jump in viewership compared with last year. And the championship game was the most-watched college women’s basketball game in the history of the sport, peaking at 12.6 million viewers.

In a Harvard Crimson article, staff writer Marley E. Dias said: “Sports are meant to bring communities together, teach children important life skills in cooperation and discipline, and entertain. The suggestion that history-making athletes like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese are anything less than extraordinary is more than false. It is a harm to the young girls on the court striving for excellence.”

So, what’s the message? The truth is, I wish this was one leadership post I didn’t have to write. Women athletes don’t just deserve their day in the spotlight because of this tournament, they deserve their day in the spotlight because they work hard, fight for every win, and commit to greatness in a way that will inspire generations to come.

Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons Learned – Cardboard Boxes & Apple Pancakes

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me in Las Vegas for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention. We learned. We recharged. We celebrated and most of all, we inspired each other to find even greater success tomorrow than we have today.

Each year at General Session, the presentations and awards are followed by a keynote speaker who shares their words of wisdom with the crowd. This year, after our keynote speaker Kevin Brown took a bow at the end of his speech, I heard someone behind me yell: “I’m feeling all the feels now.”

And I couldn’t agree more.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons Learned – Cardboard Boxes & Apple Pancakes

Kevin Brown made us laugh, cry, jump up from our seats to a standing ovation and recognize in his leadership lessons, the ways we can enrich our own. Here are a few takeaways from Kevin’s keynote:

There’s one question you should ask yourself, always. As Kevin said, ask yourself: “What can I do to add value to the people I serve?” He says when you look in the mirror, do you see yourself or do you see the people who helped you become you? We are the sum and the byproduct of all the people who have passed into (or out of) our lives.

Heroes are not ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Kevin believes heroes are far from ordinary. “I don’t think there’s a person in this room doing ordinary things,” he said. The true definition of a hero for Kevin is extraordinary people who choose not to be ordinary.

Splash brilliance on your cardboard box. As a child, our vision for the future is limitless. Then, Kevin explained, our vision begins to narrow, and we don’t see the world as it should be; we see the world as it is. Growing up, Kevin and his friends would live for the day someone bought a washer or dryer in the neighborhood. Why? Because once the box was discarded, they could use it for anything. “If someone got a refrigerator, jackpot!” He said. “We had a time machine. Inside the box, time stood still.” They’d color on the box, “splashing their brilliance” across the cardboard canvas. Then we grow up, Kevin said, and a box no longer stands for imagination, it stands for conformity. We say things like, “Think outside the box,” but Kevin said that phrase makes no sense. “The game is played in the box,” he explained. Why are we drawn to certain people and certain leaders? Because they never lost their ability to decorate the box. They still splash their unique brilliance on it every day. That’s why, to us, their approach to life and leadership looks different – because fundamentally, it is.

Nobody notices normal. A trip to Disney with Kevin’s son, Josh, who was diagnosed with autism, proved to be a turning point in Kevin’s theory of heroes and in his young son’s life. Josh was on a specific diet, and when they went to a restaurant at Disney on the first day of the trip, the chef didn’t have all the ingredients necessary to make the apple pancakes Josh requested. The next day, Josh asked to return to the restaurant, and the same chef was working. This time, she came out to their table and said she could make the pancakes. How? After the interaction the day before, she’d gone to the store on her way home from work and bought all the ingredients necessary for Josh’s apple pancakes. It was an incredible lesson in love, support, and customer service. “Nobody notices normal,” Kevin said. “Satisfied is code for ordinary and organizations chase it like gold.” Instead, you want enthusiastic ambassadors for your brand – the apple pancake variety of ambassadors – and that only happens with extraordinary customer service. Josh went to that restaurant every day for the entire trip, enjoying Mickey-shaped apple pancakes, and on his next trip to Disney, he returned once again, near-famous for his meal request. The chef had taken the interaction and transformed it into an opportunity to launch a menu for children with special dietary needs, and more than one million kids were served. The experience was so profound for Josh, he’d wind up moving to Orlando just to be closer to the chef, who he kept in touch with for years.

Customer feedback usually follows two kinds of interactions. Kevin said: “There are only two times when people talk about you: When you exceed expectations or miss them completely.” We’ll pay a premium for people who reach beyond the requirements and achieve something remarkable. Like the Disney chef, leaders must constantly ask that question: What can I do to make your life better? The chef could’ve easily said, “No, we don’t have apple pancakes on the menu.” And that would’ve been that. But she went to the store. She purchased the ingredients. She went above and beyond, and it did no less than change Josh’s life and the lives of the one million kids she’d go on to serve. Ordinary has become commoditized. It’s what some people wrongly compete with others to achieve. Extraordinary makes heroes.

Be careful of the vision people cast on your lives. Kevin said we either live up to or down to the vision people cast upon us and that practice isn’t right. Instead, we need to create our own storylines – just like his son, who was told by teachers and doctors he’d be lucky to even graduate high school. With hard work and support from his “Mama Bear” and family, Josh graduated high school … with honors.

So, what’s the message? Yes, a hero is an extraordinary person who chooses not to be ordinary but as Kevin explained, it’s also someone who understands the storyline life tries to give them and rewrites it their own way.

Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from Amadeo Pietro Giannini

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting Monday at home with an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I hosted the monthly HomeServices of America leadership meeting and yesterday, virtually joined the team members at Long Realty to celebrate their 2022 accomplishments and talk about finding opportunities amid chaos. Today, I drove with HomeServices of America’s SVP of Research and Development Allan Dalton to visit Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties, where we celebrated 2022 award winners from the brokerage.

The big news story this week was the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, which happened after the bank’s announcement it would have to sell part of its bond holdings at a major loss, subsequently causing a run on the bank. The tech-focused lender was taken over by federal regulators, and we’ve been following the fallout ever since.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from Amadeo Pietro Giannini

The story reminds me of another Northern California banking narrative that began in the small Italian town of Acereto …

Amadeo Pietro (“A.P.”) Giannini was born in San Jose, California, the child of Maria Virginia De Martini and Luigi Giovanni, who left Acereto just a few months before Amadeo’s birth on May 6, 1870. When Giannini’s father died, his mother remarried the owner of a produce business and moved the family to San Francisco. As the A.P. Foundation describes, Giannini left school at the age of 13 to work full-time for his stepfather. Just six years later, Giannini was a partner in the successful produce enterprise, servicing farms throughout the Santa Clara Valley.

In 1892, Giannini married Florinda Agnes Cuneo, the daughter of wealthy Italian immigrants who owned a substantial share in Columbus Savings & Loan, a small bank located in San Francisco’s “Little Italy,” located in a neighborhood known as North Beach. At age 31, Giannini decided to retire, selling his interest in the produce business. The Wall Street Journal estimates that at his retirement, he was worth about $300,000 or the equivalent $9 million today. But Giannini’s business career was far from over.

Not even a year after Giannini’s “retirement,” Giannini’s father-in-law died, leaving Giannini to take over his position on the Columbus Savings & Loan board. For Giannini, this new role was a chance to help the city’s growing immigrant population, who had trouble securing loans. The directors disagreed. Frustrated, yet far from defeated, Giannini left the board and on October 17, 1904, founded the Bank of Italy with $150,000 raised from family and friends. Coincidentally, he headquartered the bank in a converted saloon that was directly across the street from the Columbus Savings & Loan. Giannini said this new bank was for the “little fellow” and was determined to service the hardworking, predominantly Italian immigrants from San Francisco’s Little Italy.

During the early 1900s, banks only worked with the wealthy. If you were poor, things like savings accounts, checking accounts, even home mortgages or auto loans simply didn’t exist – at least not for you. Those who were poor had to hide their money under mattresses and borrow funds from loan sharks at outrageously high rates. Giannini’s Bank of Italy gave these people hope. He focused on lending to merchants, farmers, and laborers, encouraging immigrants to transfer their money from beneath their mattresses to the safety of his newfound bank. It wasn’t just a whole new way of banking; it was the democratization of the entire banking system, and from an old saloon-turned-bank in San Francisco, Giannini led the charge.

Then, as most stories do, this one took an unexpected turn. On April 18, 1906, a massive earthquake shook San Francisco. Lasting less than a minute, the earthquake sent the city into shambles. More than 3,000 people died from the destruction and the subsequent fires it caused. Giannini was somehow able to get to the Bank of Italy building and salvage about $80,000 in gold and cash, loading everything into two horse-drawn produce wagons, which he discretely covered with crates of oranges then wheeled to his home in San Mateo, about 18 miles from the bank. (The Wall Street Journal reported Giannini said the money smelled like oranges for weeks.)

His careful retrieval of the bank’s funds paid off. While other city banks struggled to recover, Giannini set up a makeshift bank on the docks near North Beach. He leaned a wooden plank on top of two barrels and used that as his “desk.” On a cardboard sign nearby, he wrote: BANK OF ITALY: OPEN FOR BUSINESS.

From his new Bank of Italy “headquarters,” Giannini met with customers who were able to secure loans with a simple handshake, allowing them to get the money they needed to survive and rebuild. His efforts are widely regarded as pivotal in the redevelopment of the city. The Wall Street Journal, citing a 1921 interview, published Giannini’s remarks about his work: “The ‘glad hand’ is all right in sunshine,” he said. “But it’s the helping hand in a dark day that folks remember to the end of time.”

After the 1906 earthquake, Giannini wanted to do more to help. He decided that instead of one central banking location, he’d open “branches” of his bank to service additional customers. In 1909, the first Bank of Italy branch opened in San Jose, and in 1913, branches opened throughout Southern California. On November 1, 1930, Bank of Italy merged with another bank, and Giannini’s new bank was called Bank of America, which in time became the largest banking institution in North America.

Customers weren’t the only beneficiaries of Giannini’s vision. In 1923, when Giannini set up a motion-picture loan division at the bank, hundreds of films were financed, including “West Side Story,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” When a filmmaker named Walt Disney couldn’t secure the loan for his first feature-length film, Giannini’s bank loaned him the $1.7 million and Disney finished “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Giannini’s bank also helped finance “Pinocchio,” “Peter Pan,” “Cinderella” and later, Disneyland. And when an innovative engineer named Joseph Strauss came to Giannini with the idea to build a bridge spanning the Golden Gate Strait, Giannini famously asked Strauss how long the bridge would last. “Forever,” the engineer told him, to which Giannini replied, “California needs that bridge.” In 1933, with Giannini as a financial guarantor, construction of the Golden Gate Bridge began.

So, what’s the message? Before Giannini retired (again) in 1945, he worked almost every day on the main floor of Bank of America’s headquarters, interacting with customers well into his 70s. After his passing in 1949, Giannini left behind just $500,000. Famously, he believed in only keeping as much money as he absolutely needed. When Transamerica Corporation gave him a $1.5 million bonus, he donated it to the University of California to develop a school for agriculture economics. Beyond his inspiring selflessness, Giannini’s tale reminds us that when a crisis occurs, we must be nimble – rolling that vegetable wagon down the road, nailing the wooden plank to the barrels on the wharf, and serving everyone. It’s not when things are simple and quiet that legends like Giannini are made. It’s during times of upheaval when the real heroes of our story emerge.

Thoughts on Leadership: Celebrating Black History Month

By Gino Blefari:

This week my travels found me starting Monday with an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by my typical WIG calls with the team. On Tuesday, I participated in several event planning meetings for the upcoming Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Summit, HomeServices’ Stronger Together event and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention 2023. Yesterday, I joined the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention virtual review, and today I’m writing this post to you.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Rosa Parks

By Gino Blefari:

Remember: The tallest oak was once a little nut that stood its ground.

This week my travels find me starting Monday at my home office, conducting WIG calls with our team. On Tuesday, I attended the early Berkshire Hathaway Energy weekly executive team meeting and hosted our monthly HomeServices of America Leadership meeting. On Wednesday morning, I met with Dominic Nicoli at Intero Real Estate Services and delivered a no-nonsense speech on the realities of business and life to his accountability group. This afternoon, I was a virtual guest speaker for a class at the University of Colorado entitled “Real Estate Technology.” Each semester, Mike DelPrete, who teaches the class, invites about 15 different industry guest speakers to provide their insights and share their experiences. As a perpetual student myself, I always love chatting with a room full of people eager to learn. And after class, I sit down to write this post to you.

As part of Black History Month, we’ve been celebrating Black leaders on the blog and for today’s post, I’d like to talk about leadership lessons from Rosa Parks.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Rosa Parks

Parks is credited with helping to initiate the civil rights movement in the U.S. after she famously refused to give up her seat to a white man while riding a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. At the time, African Americans were required by city ordinance to sit in the back half of all city buses and yield their seats to white bus riders should the front half of the bus become full.

According to, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks – a seamstress from Tuskegee, Alabama and a respected member of the African American community in Montgomery – was sitting in the front row of what was called the “colored section” of the Cleveland Avenue bus. She had just finished a long day of work at the Montgomery Fair department store. When the “white seats” filled up, the bus driver asked four Black riders to give up their seats, as per the existing city ordinance. Three of those riders vacated their seats but the fourth rider – Rosa Parks – wouldn’t budge.

In her official autobiography, Parks recalls that pivotal decision. She wrote: “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

By the time she was sent to jail, everyone in the Montgomery community had heard about Parks’ arrest, including the former head of the Montgomery National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, E.D. Nixon. He’d been waiting for the perfect case that could challenge the segregated bus system in Montgomery … and believed he’d just found it in the unstoppable Rosa Parks.

As Stanford University’s King Institute describes, a group quickly assembled to bail Parks out of jail, including: Park’s close friend Virgina Durr; Virginia’s husband, Clifford Durr; and E.D. Nixon. Virginia Durr played a pivotal role in Parks’ civil rights advocacy; in 1955, Durr organized for Parks to receive a scholarship to attend a two-week workshop at the Highlander Folk School. The workshop focused on the implementation of school desegregation and cultivating local leaders for social change. What Parks learned at that workshop is believed to have (at least in part) inspired her actions on the Cleveland Avenue bus. Durr’s husband, Clifford Durr, was a lawyer who long championed diversity and equal rights.

Back at home, Parks spoke with Nixon about her case and its potential to ignite real change in the Montgomery community and around the country. The following day, when Parks’ trial was set to take place, there’d also be a citywide bus boycott and by midnight, 35,000 flyers were sent out with details about the upcoming event.

On December 5, 1955, describes that about 40,000 Black bus drivers (most of the drivers in the city) participated in what would become known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Later in the afternoon, Black organizers also formed the Montgomery Improvement Association and elected a 26-year-old pastor from Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church as the president of the group. His name? Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott continued for 13 months – exactly 381 days – until December 20, 1956 when the Montgomery buses became officially integrated. Several months later, on June 5, 1956 a federal district court in Montgomery ruled that bus segregation was in violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In November 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision. 

So, what’s the message? One of my father’s favorite quotes was that the tallest oak tree in the forest was just a little nut that held its ground. Stand tall. Fight for what you believe in. Have courage. Be brave. Parks once said: “To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.”

Thoughts on Leadership: Tough Love and Butterflies

By Gino Blefari:

This week my travels find me starting Monday at home, conducting my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I had my early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call and then prepped for several meetings with the team. Today, I had the opportunity to support newly inducted Santa Clara County Association of REALTORSⓇ (SCCAOR) president Will Chea of Intero Real Estate at the 2023 Installation of SCCAOR Officers and Directors. Now, I sit down to write this post to you.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: Tough Love and Butterflies

Even though we’re about midway through the academic year, I happened to see Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech online, and it inspired me to think about what an ideal talk to a graduating class should be. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” Jobs famously told the new grads. “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

His speech was moving, but it was also direct. As a leader, it’s about imparting tough love, the kind of love that’s no-nonsense, gritty, and real.

Many times people who love you don’t have those difficult, tough-love conversations because their instinct is to protect, comfort and shield you from all the bad things about the world; they only want you to see what’s shiny and good.

Tough love will help you recognize that life isn’t easy, and tough love implores you to learn those difficult lessons all on your own.

Here’s a scenario: You’re sitting in your backyard one afternoon. Suddenly, you spot a butterfly attempting to break free from its chrysalis – that hard shell formed during its metamorphosis. The struggle is difficult for you to watch, and your instinct is to help the creature out. So, you get some scissors from the kitchen and cut the chrysalis, allowing the butterfly to emerge into the world.

Success, right?


You wait for the butterfly, still shriveled up and weak, to flap its wings and fly away. But it never does. Instead, it just walks on the ground, and that’s where it will remain, if it even survives as all.

What the metamorphosis of a butterfly teaches us is that struggle is necessary for survival. As the butterfly pushes through a small opening at the bottom of the chrysalis, the fluid from its body is sent to the wings, making the butterfly’s wings strong enough to support its eventual flight.

This is the tough-love lesson those students – and all of us – need to hear when times get challenging. It’s the hard that makes us great. Just like the butterfly must fight against its cocoon to develop wings solid enough to fly, so too do people need to experience adversity to grow strong enough to overcome it. Remember, it is not what struggles happen during our lives that determine how well we’ve lived. It is what we choose to do next during those unexpected times of struggle that defines our character and determines our happiness.

In other words, we must develop grit. In author Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed, the journalist says that using IQ and academic success as a predictor of future accomplishment is wrong. Through exhaustive research, he discovers that noncognitive skills like gratitude, optimism, curiosity, and grit are far better predictors of high achievement.

So, what’s the message? When it comes to success, it doesn’t really matter what other people say, or even how they perceive you. It doesn’t matter what talent you’re born with or what skills you acquire early in your career. It doesn’t even matter whether the economy is strong or weak, or what the market is doing today and where it’s going tomorrow. What matters is that you understand there’s no substitute for hard work. As the saying goes, if you’re interested in being successful, you’ll do what’s convenient, but if you’re committed to being successful, you’ll do whatever it takes. Basketball coach Tim Notke said, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Your competition may have more innate talent than you do, but tell yourself they’ll never outwork you. That’s tough love. That’s the chrysalis you’ll have to break on your own. Because in the end, the only one who can determine how high you’ll really fly is you.

Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from Katherine Johnson

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home on Monday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On Tuesday, I had an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call and monthly leadership virtual meetings. Wednesday through today (and really, for the rest of this week), I’m working on various projects and in between those projects, sat down to write this post to you.

This week our HomeServices family of companies honored the tradition of MLK Day of Service with a wide variety of company events. So, in the spirit of leaders who give back, I want to dedicate this post to a Black leader whose contributions changed our country, our world and really, our entire universe: Katherine Johnson.

Read more: Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from Katherine Johnson

Johnson lived an extraordinary life. She was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in 1918 and immediately it was clear she had a penchant for – and brilliance with – numbers. By age 13, Johnson was already attending high school classes. At age 18, she enrolled at West Virginia State College, where she excelled in mathematics and was mentored by math professor W.W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third Black American to earn a PhD in mathematics. In 1937, she graduated West Virginia State College with the highest honors and began working at a teaching job at a Black public school in Virginia.

In 1939, when West Virginia quietly integrated its graduate schools, West Virginia State president Dr. John W. Davis chose Johnson and two other men to be the first Black students at the state’s flagship graduate school, West Virginia University. Johnson left her job teaching and enrolled in the program, though she left the program shortly after the first session to start a family. When her children were older, Johnson returned once again to teaching.

Several years later, in 1952, a relative told Johnson about a few open positions at the all-Black West Area Computing section at the Langley laboratory at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Johnson moved with her family to Newport News, Virginia and started working at Langley in the summer of 1953.

For the next four years, she analyzed fight data and plane crashes, and in 1958, her mathematics work was used in “Notes on Space Technology,” a series of lectures by engineers in the Flight Research Division and the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division (PARD) who would become the Space Task Group, NACA’s first official exploration into the possibilities of space travel. Later that year, when NACA turned over operations to NASA, Johnson, according to NASA “came along with the program.” The year prior, she co-authored a report along with engineer Ted Skopinski – “Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position” – and this credit marked the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division was named on a research report.

Her work on NASA’s Mercury program (1961-1963) was perhaps what she’s most well-known for today. In 1961, Johnson’s calculations of the path from Freedom 7 sent the first U.S. astronaut – Alan B. Shepard, Jr. – into space. In 1962, Johnson began work on an orbital flight for astronaut John Glenn that required the building of a complex communications network around the globe.

Despite the intense work to create this network, astronauts were hesitant to trust their lives to electronics. “Get the girl,” Glenn told his engineers, during the preflight checklist.

“The girl,” of course, was the brilliant Johnson, who ran the same equations that were programmed into the computer all by hand, using a desktop mechanical calculating machine.

Johnson would later recall Glenn saying, “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”

On February 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth. The mission, thanks to Johnson, was a success, and marked the beginning of NASA’s accomplishments in human spaceflight.

So, what’s the message? During Johnson’s 33 years spent at Langley, she co-authored 26 research reports and among many, many achievements, was part of the team that made calculations about when to launch the rocket for the 1969 Apollo 11 mission that sent the first three men to the moon. She also worked on the space shuttle program. In 2015, at age 97, President Barack Obama awarded her with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, though sadly in February 2020 Johnson passed away at the age of 101. When once asked about her time at Langley, Johnson said, “I loved going to work every single day,” proving that when you love something that much, you can achieve goals that are out of this world.

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