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Front Page - Friday, February 15, 2019

Hays the prize her boss eyed

Craig’s search for ‘rock star’ assistant stops with 1-person search committee

Sally Hays and Jay Craig, team leader at Keller Williams Greater Chattanooga. - Photo by David Laprad

When Jay Craig took the position of team leader at Keller Williams Realty Greater Chattanooga in 2017, the company was poised to experience explosive growth. That year, KW Greater Chattanooga hired 118 agents. In 2018, Craig and company hired 139 additional agents, bringing the total number of agents at the company to 316.

At that point, Craig cried, “Uncle!”

To be able to effectively spearhead the company’s leadership team and shepherd the agents he says “work arm-in-arm” alongside it, Craig needed help.

He didn’t have to look far. When he asked Sally Hays, the team leader at Keller Williams Realty Cleveland, if she knew anyone who could fill the role of “rock star-level assistant team leader,” she raised her hand and said, “Me!”

Hays didn’t know it at the time, but she played right into Craig’s hand. “I’d had my eye on her for a long time,” he says, smiling at Hays, who’s seated beside him in a conference room at the company’s East Brainerd branch.

Craig was impressed with Hays’ history of success with Keller Williams. Hays joined the company in 2011 as the director of career development at KW Greater Chattanooga, and in 2013 transferred to KW Cleveland to be its team leader. While there, she grew the agent pool from 38 to 80 and led the charge to $205 million in revenue in 2018. The company’s closest competitor crossed the finish line with $140 million.

Hays suggested Craig chose her because she saw the position as an opportunity for growth and a chance to impact more people.

Her mandate looks simple on paper: pour into the current agents and recruit new ones. But she has a Herculean task ahead of her, as Keller Williams has become something of a beast in Chattanooga, having cornered 33 percent of the market, and it has no intention of backing down in the face of ambitious local competition.

Fortunately, KW Greater Chattanooga has a number of systems and models in place to help agents grow their businesses and achieve their career goals. Also, Craig is “a black belt team leader who goes a great job of attracting talent,” Hays points out. So, she’s optimistic as she begins serving in her new role.

“I’m here to help Jay bump our agent count to 400 as well as love on, retain and coach the 316 we already have,” she says. “I did that in Cleveland, and I loved doing it, so I’m excited.”

The key to the company’s ongoing success will be to keep the members of the leadership team (12 people who serve in roles ranging from compliance broker and agent services coordinator to technology director and productivity coach) “working in their strength zones,” Hays says, sounding a little like an NFL coach. This, in turn, will ensure the company’s agents are provided with a suite of premiere services.

“We want our agents to be well supported,” Hays adds. “We want to lift up their businesses, and we have a lot of ways to do that. We don’t leave them to their own devices after they earn their license.”

Returning to work for a Chattanooga business was a homecoming of sorts for Hays, who’s lived in the Harrison area all her life. She revealed her leadership qualities and keen business sense early in her career as she worked her way up to head teller at a local bank and then became a co-owner of a retail uniform shop in Brainerd Village.

In 2002, Hays took the advice of friends and family and became a Realtor. “People said they could see me selling homes,” Hays recalls. “I’ve always been a people person, and I have an entrepreneurial spirit, so it made sense.”

Hays was also a single mother who wanted to spend as much time as possible with her two elementary school-age sons. Freed of the constraints of a 9-to-5 job, she became a home room mom, a band booster, and joined the Parent Teacher Association board of East Brainerd Elementary.

Hays also tried to make ends meet, though she found it difficult due to a lack of sales. That changed when she joined Ben and Karen Kelly’s Realty Center, which at the time was operating under a GMAC franchise on Shallowford Road. Hays credits her broker at the time, Robin Matthews, for the accomplishments that followed.

“Robin’s guidance and influence are behind most of the success I’ve experienced in life,” she says. “I aspire to be a mini-Robin Matthews.”

Hays was struggling financially when she made the switch, so she took a part-time job as a bank teller on Mondays and Fridays. Matthews told her those were her days off from real estate, and that she would be spending the rest of the week – including weekends – focusing on her real estate business.

Hays did well enough to attract the attention of George and Grace Edrington, who were getting the now-formidable Edrington Team off the ground at Realty Center. She says they provided a tremendous boost to her career as well.

“They saw me working in the office and knew my work ethic matched theirs, so they invited me to join them,” Hays continues. “I learned a lot from them as well. Success often comes through the people you meet.”

When KW Greater Chattanooga team leader Marie King presented Hays with the opportunity to serve as the company’s director of career development, Hays was reluctant to leave the comfortable nook she’d carved out for herself at Realty Center. Not only would she be leaving the Kellys, she had no experience in that kind of role.

But it was an opportunity for growth, so Hays took it. Her mindset was the same when she left Cleveland this year to return to KW Greater Chattanooga. “Leaving Cleveland was hard because I make family wherever I go,” she says. “But one of my coaches told me my family wants me to succeed and grow. Now I have the opportunity to grow this place, just like I grew that place.”

The picture of Hays’ life is very different from when she first become a Realtor 17 years ago. She no longer lists and sells homes, but she does “pour into” and “love on” those who do.

At home, her sons have grown, and her husband is keeping her company. They enjoy riding motorcycles, participating in obstacle course mud runs, and attending services at Clear Creek Church of Christ in Hixson.

There, as well as the office, Hays gathers her ambitions under a single umbrella: being a good person. At KW Greater Chattanooga, that will involve linking arms with her colleagues and climbing the stairs ahead of them.

“This is not going to be the Sally or Jay show. It will take everyone working together make this place run,” Hays says. “I’m grateful for everything everyone does.”