The Real Estate Dish: 15 Minutes with Dean Cottrill of T3 Sixty
Join QuantumDigital’s EVP and CMO Eric Cosway as he gets the latest dish on real estate trends and technology with Dean Cottrill, SVP and president of the broker division of T3 Sixty. Dean leads the T3 Sixty management consulting practice for both residential real estate brokers and franchisees. He consults with CEOs and other key members of management in the residential real estate brokerage industry to help them navigate the complexities of change while still addressing traditional operational issues.
Eric: Dean, welcome to our podcast.
Dean: Excellent. Great to be here.
Eric: Maybe you can give our listeners just a quick overview of your background and your current role as President of T3’s Brokerage Consulting Division.
Dean: Love to. Born and raised in Pittsburgh. In college, I got an accounting degree. Moved down out of Pittsburgh, then to Washington, D.C. just outside. Was a field accountant for a construction company. Couldn’t stand it. Went to a night class at a community college. Got a real estate license. Moved into investing and selling houses. I was 22, 23 years old, so I end up feeling I had to have designations to feel confident when I was meeting with clients, or potential clients, so I went through the Graduate, REALTOR® Institute (GRI), Certified Residential Specialist (CRS). Got my broker’s license early on. Learned how to run a business, and so I started prospecting to primary market areas, and generating a lot of listings. Became extremely successful at selling houses. I did that for about eight years. And then, my daughter was born, and I decided I wanted to have a little more structure on weekends. And so, I end up moving into management, and I managed for Weichert, Realtors®, one of the largest brokerages in the country. I worked there for a number of years, and then I moved to Long & Foster, and I managed an office for them. The office was about 20 agents, and losing a couple hundred thousand. And we grew it, in a couple of years, to over 100 agents making over a million dollars. So, I learned a lot in that process. And then, I moved to NRT, under the Coldwell Banker brand. I ran the Baltimore company. And the, I ran the Mid-Atlantic. And then, I moved into a position called “Group President”, where I took responsibility for oversight of the Atlanta, Georgia company, the Carolinas company, and then also the Mid-Atlantic organization. I also had a resort rental division at the coast—Ocean City, Maryland, Bethany Beach, Delaware—a property management division, commercial brokerage, and then mortgage warranty title and insurance. So, I did that for ten years, and then I moved into consulting. So, I started out consulting, then I joined T3 Sixty, about 14-15 months now. And I’m president of the Brokerage Consulting Division, having a great time working with T3. T3 Sixty is the largest residential—we’re focused only on residential real estate—organization for consulting in North America. And we’re having a lot of fun.
Eric: I guess you were onto something when you didn’t like accounting. You made the right moves after that.
Dean: Yeah. Well, it’s only because I’m from a family of accountants. My dad… we’re all bean counters. I’ve got three brothers, and we’re all… yeah, and my dad, we’re all bean counters. But my twin brother—I have an identical twin brother—who actually, funny, him and I left accounting, and he runs a real estate company out in Pittsburgh, and everybody else is still in accounting.
Eric: I bet you since he left accounting, your Thanksgiving dinners are probably more entertaining.
Dean: Yeah, much more entertaining.
Eric: Let’s dive into the consulting practice. You’ve got a lot of experience, company-owned stores, large regionals, a lot of ancillary services around real estate. What do you like best about leading the consulting practice at T3?
Dean: You know, every day is different. It’s exciting, and it’s based on helping people—helping organizations, which break down into people. People make up organizations. And that’s what I found, early in my career, what I really enjoyed was helping buyers and sellers, and when I moved into leadership, helping agents grow prosperous businesses, and then helping leaders run better businesses. So, it just kept on growing that way. What I love about the consulting piece, is that’s what I continue to do that, and every day is different, every organization is different, everyone’s at a different place in their journey that they’re on. And, so it really keeps you on your toes, and I love that about the consulting business.
Eric: So what do you not like about it?
Dean: There’s not a lot of things I don’t like about it at all. It’s just everything is so challenging and different. I guess sometimes what I don’t like about it -- when I’m dealing with a client that’s not open to listening, and is extremely difficult, and creates their own barriers. I don’t say that’s what I don’t like about it, I think that becomes more of a challenge, and I like that. So, I wouldn’t say there’s really anything I dislike about the business.
Eric: Let’s talk about that challenge, or some of the broker pushback you get. What attributes does a consultant need to have to be able to work through that pushback, and help the broker or client understand and adopt recommendations?
Dean: Being a very good listener is something that is extremely important, and listening to the client, understanding what their friction points are, what their personal challenges are. We all come to the world with our own barriers that we’ve had, either through the people in our lives—whether it’s parents, coaches, teachers, you name it—that have created some type of sense of what the world is. And, so in that, we look at the landscape through those eyes, those lenses. And sometimes that blinds us to opportunities. And, so being a good listener, getting to know a client, and then being able to work them through some of those potential challenges they’ve put up in their own minds, or somebody else has, and they have enforced them through their own beliefs. That’s something that’s challenging. But again, it always comes back to the thing that’s important for us to do in this consulting bit, is listen. We want to provide a clearer path to help everyone reach their goals. Part of it is actually understanding are their goals really their goals, truly their goals. Some people have goals, and they’re really not their ultimate, bottom-line goal for them. It’s not their “why.” It doesn’t tap into their passion. And they might be throwing it out because it sounds good. So, it’s really getting to the bottom of what are they doing, why are they doing it, and then how is the best way that we can help them to get to that end result.
Eric: So, given your client base today, I know have group consulting through the T3 Fellows program, and that also includes some personal consulting. Through that group, what’s been one of the toughest, or maybe another experience, what’s been one of the toughest consulting assignments you’ve had?
Dean: You know, “toughest” is probably not the right word to describe it. The most challenging is the organizations that have a lot of things going on, and they’ve got multiple layers of… whether it’s the employees, multiple divisions; so, it’s very complex. And, that’s more challenging and, frankly, it’s more exciting. A lot of balls in the air. There’s so many priorities, and it’s like “Which one’s first?” And, while you’re focused on one, ten other things hit you on the side of the head, and, “Should I go this way? Or do I go that way?” So, they’re all challenging, at different degrees. The organizations that are really multidimensional—with a lot of revenue streams, a lot of different areas of focus—I find them to be more challenging in that, because there’s just more things going on.
Eric: You’re practicing and, with your experience, how deep do you take the clients? Obviously, you’re presenting strategy, recommendations; you’re presenting an action plan. Do you actually go and assist with implementation and execution as well?
Dean: No. Not into the implementation. We actually support them through that whole process, through our consulting calls. We do in-person meetings, where we can visit clients’ office operations, meet participants, things like that. That gets into custom consulting. So, that’s more of a deep dive into an organization, and we’re more than happy to do that. Most of the organizations we work with, though, go more into the programs that we have put together that are more streamlined, like the Fellows Program. There’s a lot of structure in there, they get a lot out of it, and it’s actually more economically feasible for them.
Eric: That makes total sense. When I worked in the automotive industry, we had 20 groups. And, it’s the same idea. I mean, it was a scalable, affordable model for dealers to come together, and then get individual coaching along the way. The folks that are in your program, maybe you can’t classify them all, but are they open to transformative ideas? Or, is it an incremental-type group? Or, “Hey, Dean. Slow it down. I can take some of these goals and objectives.” What’s your sense of how open they are to change?
Dean: Most of them are open, they’ve joined the program. And, one of the things I find is, most people in general are hesitant to get outside help, whether it’s a coach, whether it’s somebody at the gym to help them with working out, or holding them accountable; accountability partner, things like that. So, by them stepping forward, and opening up their organization, and opening up them as a leader for constructive criticism, is challenging for most people. And so, that mindset by itself is great. As we know, when you push yourself and you open yourself up to grow, you’re going to fall down. You’re going to pick yourself up, and you become stronger from that process. It’s like doing reps. You know, the more reps you do, the stronger you are, the thicker your skin is, things like that. And so, the clients that move into the fellows program, they’ve opened themselves up to this, with their eyes wide open. Now, to your question, is some are at different levels in their mind. Fear is some . . . that four letter word called “fear,” is bigger. In some, it’s not as big. That depends on where they are in their personal journey in life, and also their business. And, sometimes, they tie very closely together, and sometimes they don’t. But, that’s part of the consulting piece for us, and for me, is to get in tune with both those things, and tie them together. Because part of this for all of us—and for me, it’s very important—is that we don’t live two lives. You know, you live a personal life outside of work, and then you have your life persona. You know, it should be one. We should be one and the same, and we take on everything in our life, whether it’s work or personal, and set our goals, and pin our ears back, and go for it. And not live in two realities, if that makes any sense.
Eric: Ok, yeah it does. I was thinking about imagining myself in the gym doing lots of reps and saying to myself, “Why am I still fat?” Hey, has there been one project along the way that you’re most proud of? And you go, “Wow. That was a great experience, and I just got a lot out of that.” Do you have that marker?
Dean: No. Each one of the things I shared with you in the beginning, whether it was running the business—personal sales business I ran, and the management of the Weichert office, and then the Long & Foster office, and then the NRT operation—you can track along there just different things that come back that were very rewarding. The most rewarding for me, personally, has been the ability to help people see that they are leaders, and can become very strong leaders, and help them to reach levels of success that they, frankly, never thought they could ever achieve. And that is the most rewarding for me. And, fortunately for me, I’ve actually been able to reach some level of that in every position since I’ve been going through it.
Eric: Well, speaking of that, how would you best describe yourself if I used the terms “coach, “mentor,” or, “consultant?”
Dean: I think “consultant” is all-encompassing. So, in the consulting piece, some I’m more of a mentor to, in a way, because I’ve been there, running a large organization. You know, if we broke out what I was running with NRT, that group president role, it was in the top ten real estate companies in the country, in sales volume and in units. It was a big operation. There’s not a lot of people that are running organizations that are larger than that. Having that experience and that knowledge is very helpful to give them some sense that I’ve experienced that, I’ve been there. I’ve done that. Here’s, you know, what I learned. Because you know, I went down this one road and, frankly, we fell on our face. And so I learned from it. Here’s some of the school of hard knocks. And the other part of it, too, is coach. In my mind, just for clarification for who’s listening to this, is coach is like, part of it’s the, “Rah-rah!” It’s the inspiration. It’s the motivation piece, in addition to the knowledge transfer. So, some individuals are much more open to that type of coaching—I’m doing air quotes as I say that—and some are more in tune with a mentor, someone who comes more at it from theoretical, strategic thinking, and it’s not so much, “Rah-rah.” So, it really depends on the client. But, consulting would be all-encompassing, to answer your question directly.
Eric: Oh, very good. I want to keep us on time. Outside of real estate, what are some of your personal passions?
Dean: Family, wife, kids, we love adventure, which is awesome.
Eric: You have two kids, correct?
Dean: Yeah, I have two children. I’m divorced, and so I have three step-children—I hate to say that—I’m like their second dad, is what they call me, which it warms my heart to hear that. And, so I have five altogether. And we love doing things. My wife and I, we love hiking, and we ski and golf and doing different things. We’ve hiked the Grand Canyon twice, and we go up a 14,000 foot mountain out here in Colorado every summer, so that’s always an adventure. And there’s I think 56 14,000 foot mountains in Colorado, so we have a number of them to go. But, we have fun and we like to get outdoors, and experience life, and push ourselves.
Eric: Well, very cool. And you know, if we had done this podcast a couple of days ago, we could have nailed it right on you birthday. Happy birthday.
Dean: Thank you very much.
Eric: I was going to say, if all those five kids go into university and postgraduate studies, you’ll be working well into your 80s and 90s.
Dean: I know. I’ve got two going, so four total will be in school here, starting in the fall.
Eric: Dean, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for the time today. You’re a very busy individual.
Dean: Well, my pleasure. And, if I can be any help to you, or to anybody else, feel free to reach out to me.
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