Many employees at GRS Group read and enjoyed the book Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self Promotion by David Zweig. The book is about workers in various industries, including commercial real estate, who do important jobs that impact our everyday lives, such as a designer of airport signage, but gain little, if any, public attention for their efforts. However, these professionals are not in their jobs for the limelight. Instead, they are working for the greater success of their “team,” or organization.
Check out our post on commercial real estate accounting to see how GRS Group applies to this model. With this article, which is the third of four, we’re going to show you how the commercial real estate title business is something that people are passionate about.
They might not have decided this would be their future at an early age, but now that these individuals are in this world, it’s their passion. Commercial real estate is a business of relationships, and you will find that it holds true with these women in GRS | Title’s Richmond, Va., office who are passionate about the work they do.
How did you get involved in commercial real estate and specifically your role at GRS Group?
Jeannette Pugh: When you are growing up, you never think “I will be a title examiner in commercial real estate.” I was in banking for many years, more than I want to admit. And through mergers and acquisitions and everything else happening with banks, I ended up in the mortgage area, originating residential mortgages approving and closing them. I knew that was not where I wanted to be. An opportunity came up to work for LandAmerica, which was a huge company at the time, and I went into the one-stop division as an account manager, working with clients to coordinate due diligence or title products they needed. After a short time there, the powers that be decided that One-Stop did not need to exist any more in size or its current location, so I was looking for another position. Steve Francis, a GRS | Title Director, who was in the commercial-title area of LandAmerica at the time, had an office in downtown Richmond; and he asked me about joining his group, which I did. I just sort of fell into the commercial-title world. It is very exciting. Every deal is different. You meet a lot of different people all over the country; customers and title folk. With the demise of LandAmerica, I have had the good fortune to stay in title and now work for GRS | Title (thanks Steve for bringing me along with you through all of the zigging and zagging!) That’s basically how I got into it, and it’s something I truly enjoy.
Linda Morris: I started out in banking as well, doing mortgage-loan origination and was a branch manager. After my youngest daughter was born, I left work for a couple of years, came back and went to work for an attorney doing residential closings. I left closings and went into commercial and residential title searching for many years. After, it was a move to Charlotte, N.C., and working for a national underwriter doing commercial closings and then to a bank owned title company, doing commercial underwriting. I then transferred with the bank to the title agency in Richmond. By networking, I found out that Steve Francis had an opening at GRS | Title doing all commercial work, and I joined him. That covers a lot of years in a short period of time!
Michelle Rogers: All of us would agree commercial real estate wasn’t something we set out to do. It’s one of those jobs you fall into and once you’re in, you’re in. I couldn’t find a job as a history teacher when I got out of college and ended up with working in the record room for the Clerk’s Office in Henrico County. This was my first experience with recording of deeds and other duties I shared with co-workers. I was there for 10 years and decided this was not the job I wanted to retire from and there was an opening with Commonweath Land Title, so I took a job as a title examiner. When they merged with Lawyer’s Title and became LandAmerica I came into the office as an underwriter, so I became a commercial underwriter. I went from LandAmerica to Chicago Title and when I was laid off by Chicago Title, I started my own business as a freelance title examiner and one of my clients was Steve Francis. I had known him through the years and worked with Jeanette and Brian Carr at Chicago before they left to join Steve when he opened an Old Republic Office. They had an opening for an underwriter, offered me the job , and I started working for them. Old Republic closed our office and we became the Richmond office for GRS | Title. In December 2012 I got a wild hair and tried to get out of the title business and spent all of one day at CapitolOne. I was too embarrassed to call Steve and tell him I had made a big mistake. I ended up at a local law firm as a paralegal for the lender side of multifamily housing reviewing title and survey for loan policies. It was a good job, but nothing like commercial underwriting. After about 6 months, Steve contacted me. They were expanding and had room for me to come back. I consider myself to be very lucky. When I came back, it was like coming home. Title insurance/commercial underwriting is not something you would go to college for, but we all love what we do. It’s one of those things where everyone we know who in this has business has been in it for 20-plus years, and we all wonder who in the world is going to do this when we’re gone. People aren’t coming into it like we did.
It seems like there is a common thread of relationships in the company that are important to people that make them want to stay with GRS Group and be good workers. Is that the case?
Morris: The people in this office have a really good relationship with one another. We like each other. We laugh, work hard, and all consult each other for job related advise. It’s a great incentive to do a better job. We have that strong work ethic that makes us want to satisfy our clients and we strive to do that as much as possible. We want to do a good job, build up a client base and bring them all back. It’s about our team doing a good job for the customers and working together to create the atmosphere that we need to be happy here and to also make our customers happy.
Rogers: In the commercial real estate title business, especially in Virginia, we have to go out and actively bid on a deals. We have clients who are loyal to us and will give us the deal regardless. Since it’s a bid state, we try and offer more to the customer than the “better” price. We strive to have the best customer service because if we’re close on a bid, the customer service will put us over the top. We’re going to answer the phone when you call. It’s not going to voicemail. When I was gone for seven months, working with attorneys, one of the things I missed the most was the atmosphere of this office. There was no socialization of any kind. You clocked in, made sure you had enough billable hours for the day, and went home. Here we all help each other out and make sure no one is too overwhelmed. I never have to worry about work not getting done when I’m out. All of us take days off, but we check emails and respond to clients to ensure we are providing the customer service they need. Everyone working for GRS Group understands we are a small company competing against much larger companies, but it’s the way we all work together to get the job done that matters, and you won’t necessarily get that from the larger companies.
Pugh: It’s a joy to me to be a part of this company. We’ve been a part of GRS Group close to three years now. It was very small when it started out, but is certainly growing. I feel like I am a part of that growth. The company supports me. I support the company. People are always there when you need support. I want to see the company be successful and do what I can to help the company grow, and the company makes that possible. It’s a great feeling to be a part of a growing entity.
You’ve talked about the company growing. Where do you see it going, and what makes you hopeful about the future?
Pugh: It’s a good company. People are recognizing the name. They come back because of service we’ve given them. It’s great to be a part of something growing. Everybody’s really into it, and they all do their best. It’s also important to enjoy the work you do. I really enjoy the commercial title work. I’ve made friends with other title offices, attorneys, people across the country, and it’s just remarkable. It’s thrilling.
Morris: GRS Group is growing, but it’s still small enough that we can interact with each other through all of the social networking that is currently available internally. We all feel that we are an integral part of the company. I like to see us grow, bring in customers and get new deals. It’s thrilling to get a new deal. I know GRS Group will continue to grow but I also hope that the we can keep that family feeling that we currently have. It’s so much better than the big corporate atmosphere. It’s nice to be familiar with people in the company. I hope we can keep that.
Rogers: It’s nice to see company grow across the board. The title side has seen much growth over the last four years. We opened the Richmond office of GRS | Title in February 2011 and have seen it grow on a consistent basis. The company participates in many seminars and conferences and is constantly finding ways to get our name and brand out there. The VCU Real Estate Trends Conference got our name out there we were able to meet some clients who were merely faceless points of contact prior to that event. We can now put a face to the email and vice versa. It’s a continued growth cycle, that you can see weekly in the bookings, but we are not a big corporation. We’ve all been there and done that, and this is much nicer. We have a lot of fun, we work hard, and I’m looking forward to more growth and commercial deals. GRS Group is up and coming and I believe around for the long haul.