Most Sundays, Rosey Koberlein, the CEO of the 90-year-old Long Cos., sends an email to all company employees and real estate agents.
Sometimes she wishes them a happy holiday. Sometimes she updates them with business news. Sometimes she reminds them to take a moment to enjoy the rain.
The email goes out to roughly 1,300 people.
“She is inspiring in a very down-to-earth way,” said Debbie Goodman Butler, executive vice president of Long Realty Co., which is a company of HomeServices of America Inc., an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway.
When the people around her are inspired, Koberlein is inspired.
“When you start to see other people be successful, that’s what charges you up,” said Koberlein, the 2015 Greater Tucson Leadership Woman of the Year.
In 1985, Koberlein, living in California, got into real estate for the same reason many agents do.
“I got the idea, which is what most realtors think, that the last real estate agent I had hardly did anything and they made a lot of money, so I’m going to be a millionaire,” said Koberlein, 67. “So I took a class and got my license and went to work and realized it was the hardest thing I ever did in my life.”
No salary a challenge
Koberlein spent most of her previous career — about 15 years — working in management positions in Ohio city and county government. She got into real estate in California.
“What was challenging for me, at the time, was I had always been in a salaried position,” Koberlein said. “Not really high salaries, for sure ... but I was used to getting a paycheck every two weeks, whether I needed it, deserved it or wanted it. And then all of a sudden, there’s no paycheck. ... You’re totally responsible for your success and you’re also totally responsible for your failure.”
Koberlein opted for success.
She worked as an agent for about two years and managed a real estate office for the brokerage company she worked under.
“And then, when I turned 40, I made the decision to allow myself to be the hippie I never got to be when I was a kid and took two years off to travel,” she said.
WANDERING TO TUCSON
The two years Koberlein spent traipsing the globe taught her who she was when she wasn’t employed — especially those four weeks in a VW pop-top camper cruising central Mexico.
“I think I’m probably more compassionate about people’s life experiences, and I think that I’m more open toward differences,” she said regarding her travels abroad. “I’m more aware that there is more than one way of doing something.”
She brought those new perspectives with her to Tucson in 1990, when diminished funds drew her stateside to work again. The San Francisco Bay Area, where she had lived before, was too expensive, and she had never lived in the Southwest. She thought she would give it two years.
She never left.
Koberlein moved to Tucson during a real estate slump and hung her license with Long Realty Co. in 1991.
“I had to literally start over from scratch and I didn’t know anybody in town, so it was a very humbling experience,” she said. “I came from California, where I was earning six figures and moved to Tucson and had to start all over. But what that taught me is, you can always start over. You can always re-create yourself, no matter what happens.”
And re-create she did.
Every morning, Koberlein wakes up at 5 a.m., makes coffee and checks her email. After about an hour, she and her pups, Sadie and Lucie, get some fresh air.
Sadie, about 7 years old and a pit bull mix, and Lucie, a 2-year-old Shih Tzu-Maltese mix, stroll the golf course near Koberlein’s home.
Goodman, the executive vice president of Long Realty Co., remembers one walk gone wrong, resulting in a fall and an injured nose.
“She was bruised and looked horrible, but came to a meeting looking like that,” Goodman said. “She went to the doctor after and found out she had broken her nose. But she continued on in that meeting, and we said, ‘You should go have that checked out.’”
That is to say, Koberlein does not let obstacles stop her.
Since becoming CEO in 2004, she has led her company through the recession and housing-market crash.
Jon Coile, the CEO and president of Champion Realty Inc. in Annapolis, Maryland, another HomeServices company, has known Koberlein for about 15 years.
“It’s hard to describe how incredibly scary that whole time was because we saw people who were working hard and doing their best and losing everything,” Coile said. “While you feel your own angst and pain off that, as a leader, you have to be able to tell people it’s going to be OK, and here is the path to the future.”
Koberlein set the example of compassionate straight-shooting, even as Long Cos. implemented layoffs and closed offices, Coile said. Long Realty started making cuts in 2006, Koberlein recalled — about a year before most real estate companies. Between 2006 and 2012, Koberlein had to close about 50,000 square feet of office space and cut the staff by about 60 percent.
Still, they managed to do it in a way that had minimal impact on Realtors, buyers and sellers, Koberlein said.
“Probably the most difficult thing I did, and the most productive thing I did, was I brought the employees together and told them, ‘We’re in for a terrible time, and I will always tell you the truth, and the truth is not going to be good and it’s not going to be easy,’” she said.
Coile remembers sitting down with Koberlein privately in the midst of a quarterly meeting of HomeServices CEOs. They needed to find a way to make the business fun again despite the challenges, Koberlein told him.
LEADING A LEGACY
“That doesn’t sound like much, but it was empowering to me to come back and stop being sad about the economy, but focus on how we get through this,” Coile said. “Sometimes with a few words to somebody, she can change your whole perspective.”
Under Koberlein’s leadership, Long Realty has expanded with offices throughout the state and in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. The company now has 37 offices, 22 of which are affiliates, said Kevin Kaplan, the vice president of marketing and technology. Industry publications have repeatedly dubbed Koberlein one of the most powerful women in the business.
Koberlein noted that numbers the company crunched two months ago indicated Long to be the largest real estate company in Tucson and the fifth-largest in the state.
Even with her goal of growth throughout the state, Koberlein still makes Tucson a priority.
Marc Lebowitz, the CEO of the Tucson Association of Realtors, moved to Tucson about 18 months ago. On his first meeting with Koberlein, she gave him her cellphone number so he could her when she was at national industry meetings.
“She said, ‘I want you to be able to talk to me,’” Lebowitz recalled. “She had only known me for 20 minutes, but she knew the job I had here and wanted to cultivate a good, strong relationship.”
Nancy McClure, the first vice president of CBRE Tucson, a commercial real estate company, was one of the nominators of Koberlein for Woman of Year because of her community involvement.
Koberlein’s active community résumé includes board membership in the Pima County Real Estate Research Council, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the YWCA.
“She is involved in things that affect positive change,” McClure said.
“She is accessible, and I think she reaches out to people to be able to learn more about areas she is not familiar with to make good decisions.”
The relationships Koberlein builds now are not with clients hunting for their dream house, but with fellow leaders and sales associates.
“Having a lot of life experiences and a lot of travel experiences has made me a better person,” Koberlein said, “probably on the emotional intelligence side of just being able to connect with people and have a relationship and be engaged.”