Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 22, 2017

Shipleys adds ‘new vision,’ CEO to practice

Sheila Shipley, co-owner and principal broker of ERA Blue Key Properties, and John Horne, ERA’s new CEO. - Photograph by David Laprad

The Shipleys are well-known throughout Chattanooga, Sheila Shipley and her son Aaron having made a name for themselves years ago as co-owners of RE/MAX North Properties.

In 2014, the company became ERA Blue Key Properties (ERA). Since then, a second son, Travis, and two grandsons, Skylar and Taylor, have become been a part of the company’s legacy, as well.

Now there’s a newer name at ERA Blue Key Properties – and it’s not another Shipley. John Horne has joined the company as CEO.

“We have a new vision at ERA,” Sheila says. “So, I decided to bring in a CEO to coach us and get us to where we need to be.”

The new vision includes growing ERA, which has offices in Hixson, Cleveland, Spring Field and Dayton, from a $4 million company to a $40 million operation in five years.

Horne, whose first day was Sept. 9, believes that goal is within ERA’s reach. “Looking at the research I’ve done, it’s feasible,” he says. “We have the right people and the right vision to get there.”

Horne’s plans include expanding the team from the current roster of 63 agents to 100 by the end of 2017 and providing one-on-one coaching.

“I’m meeting with our agents and developing individualizes plans,” he says. “We want to take our agents to where they want to be.

“We have some that want to sell two properties a month; we have others who want to develop a team. So, we’re putting mechanisms in place that will allow both kinds of agents to meet their goals.”

Horne says his recruitment plans are based on attraction marketing. Instead of cold calling agent after agent, he plans to make ERA so attractive, agents will come to him.

“We’re sending out recruiting videos via social media and email this week,” he says. “They tell our story.”

Horne also plans to open a real estate school at ERA that will offer pre- and post-licensure courses. The CEO will draw on his experience as a real estate trainer with Realogy to get the school up and running.

“We believe training is a big part of every agent’s success,” he says. “Having a school here will also allow other agents to experience our culture.”

Horne is also considering launching a property management division. Office expansions and company acquisitions are also on the table.

“There’s only so much pie to share in Chattanooga,” he says. “We want to capture as much of that as we can and then grow to the outlying areas.”

Horne’s plans are part of an effort to set a fast pace of growth at ERA. “Some companies can grow only so much before they need to bring in new blood that can push them past that barrier,” Horne says. “My job is to put new systems in place that will allow us to grow.”

The trick will be implementing those systems without changing the culture at ERA. Since the days of RE/MAX, the Shipley’s have maintained a carefully cultivated family-style atmosphere that eschews the big business feel.

This was a concern for Sheila as she considered bringing in help. But her encounters with Horne during his visits to ERA to train its agents convinced her he would not only be a good fit for the culture at the company but that he would also help to preserve it.

“John was easy to talk with,” Sheila says.

“We have to be careful to maintain our company culture. It’s critical to who we are and who we’re going to be,” Horne says. “We don’t want to have the culture of a big corporation; we want to maintain the family feel while growing as large as we can.”

Preserving the company culture is so important, it’s the first thing Horne brings up when interviewing potential agents. “If they aren’t going to be a good fit, we move on,” he says.

Not only does Sheila believe Horne is the right person for ERA, Horne feels as though ERA is the right company for him.

An experienced real estate practitioner who turned a 14-person company in Charlotte, North Carolina, into a 950-agent behemoth with multiple offices in five years, Horne is no stranger to growth.

But for the past several years, he’s been a stranger at home as he’s taught across the country for Realogy.

Horne was already looking for a way to be with his wife and their two children when Sheila asked him to join the company as CEO. It was the right offer at the right time.

“Being in different places all the time was starting to bother me,” he says. “So, I was looking for a place that would allow me to settle in.”

Horne will be commuting for the first year from his family’s home in Florida, where his son and daughter have already started a new school year. But the Hornes plan to make Chattanooga their home.

The new CEO has already fallen for the city. “I love Chattanooga. I’m impressed not just with its beauty but also with its people. Folks here have been good to me,” he says. “Other than the traffic in the mornings, I can’t think of a single negative.”

The agent loyalty Horne saw at ERA was another factor that convinced him to give Chattanooga the nod. “Everyone here loves Sheila. That tells me a lot about this company,” he says.

Typical of an executive, Horne’s mind circles back to growth. “Chattanooga is an up-and-coming town. It’s booming. That was part of my decision, too” he says.

Horne is looking forward to tapping into that momentum and translating it into growth for ERA. “I love the challenge of helping a company grow,” he says. “All of the pieces are in place. They have the people, technology and wherewithal; they just need a little push from me.”

Sheila hopes the addition of Horne will change the misperceptions those outside the company have about ERA being a closed system. “I hope people see that ERA is bigger than the Shipley name,” she says. “I hope they see we have a lot to offer.”

While Sheila is eager to see the company grow, she’s also looking forward to a well-earned vacation.

“Have you ever tried to take a family vacation when everyone is an owner of the company?” she says. “I’m glad we have someone to help us run the place so we can get back to the family life.”