Listening and Guiding in the Right Place
February 1, 2008
As a young man, Mike Lawson promised himself he wouldn’t have a career that required he wear a tie.
“I was so wrong,” he says with a laugh.
Now president and CEO of Commerce CRG, Utah’s largest real estate firm, and with 25 years as an economic development specialist behind him, Lawson is as comfortable in the corporate world as he on the back of his motorcycle – he has ridden to all but seven states in the continental U.S.
Lawson started his career with a construction company that he and his brother founded. The company didn’t weather a market change, so he went looking for a job. “I loved entrepreneurship, I loved private enterprise and making your own decisions. I like the risk-taking side of the equation. [And] I’ve always thought government and elected office were higher service.”
A mentor suggested Lawson take a job with a chamber of commerce, which would allow him to combine his interests. He spent time in several parts of the country, including seven years with the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. Even after he moved away, he found himself returning to the state to ski or hike.
“My wife and I would jump on the bike or in the car to take a trip, and it was always back here,” he says. “And I thought, ‘I guess I must be in the wrong place.’”
About the same time that realization hit, he reached his 25th year with the chamber and decided he was ready for a transition.
In his five years as president and CEO of Commerce CRG, Lawson has seen the company double in size, with 238 people in five offices in Utah and one in Nevada.
Because about 200 of those people are independent contractors, his management style isn’t the traditional “lead from the front,” he says.
“In a company, there’s no one right way,” he says. “There are 250 people running around this company, and they all have great ideas, and [my] job is to figure out how to get the best out of that. You don’t have to stand at the podium to lead a really good organization. Sometimes it’s better just to have a big earpiece. If you can sit in the back without ego and help somebody clarify what their mission and their goals are, and make sure you’ve provided the resources to accomplish that – I consider that leading from the middle or the back.”
One area where leadership does come from the top at Commerce CRG is the mentor program, he says. “We still recruit highly competent, skilled, successful agents from our competitors and elsewhere in the market, but our culture is really important to us, and we decided if we want to propagate that culture, we’re going to have to do so by growing our own.”
The four-year-old mentor program and Commerce CRG’s “family” culture have significantly helped retention, Lawson says. “In an industry sector where you typically have a 50 percent turnover for new people, we’re less than 10 [percent] with those folks. We’ve had no turnover on our professional staff for the last eight or nine years. It’s the same for our senior agents. I don’t know that we’ve lost a senior agent in this firm for the past six or seven years. It’s not just because of salary. It’s because of the environment, the culture you build.”