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Marvin Alexander: Canada’s top agent tackles new challenge with Keller Williams

Spending months criss-crossing the country was among the first items on the agenda for Marvin Alexander of Newmarket, Ont., who as Keller Williams Realty’s newly appointed director of Canadian operations will lead a growing team of more than 2,400 associates in two dozen offices across Canada.

By all accounts, this kind of share-the-vision-tour is a time-tested Keller Williams strategy. The idea is that Alexander’s trips across Canada visiting the company’s local leadership teams and associates will help build awareness, share best practices and promote expansion.

Seems like a good plan, although it certainly added an element of challenge to the process of setting up a REM interview with Alexander via his public relations rep. (“He’s travelling right now….”)

Such is life. Alexander, who is president/owner of Keller Williams Realty Centres in Ontario, last year was Canada’s No. 1 agent by individual ends, according to the independent American company Real Trends.

Now he has a mission. His plan as the new director of operations in Canada involves “unifying the company from coast to coast” and ensuring that Keller Williams’ vision is spread to all associates, he says. But first, the vision had to be crystal clear to Alexander.

“Part of my agreement to take on this role was predicated on the company having a sound plan,” he says.

It does – a very ambitious one. For starters, Keller Williams, which is currently in a world-wide expansion mode, is gearing up to double in size in Canada within two years and more than quadruple in five years. This growth is expected to come both from the opening of new offices coast to coast and the expansion of existing ones.

The “big three” focus areas for expansion in Canada will be Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, Alexander says. Last year, Keller Williams Canada associates handled more than 21,000 transactions and closed more than $8 billion in sales, the company’s stats show.

“We have an army of people out there and they are coming to me,” says Alexander. “We have had a great quantity of interest and a great quality of interest… Since June I’ve already had over 80 franchise inquiries in Canada.”

That’s a lot. In Alexander’s opinion, Keller Williams “is actually under developed in Canada… the best-kept secret in Canadian real estate.”

Another reason Keller Williams is able to attract franchisees and expand in Canada and elsewhere falls somewhere in the spectrum of “build it and they will come” (the famous line from the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams).

To put it in Alexander’s words, “The chassis we are built on allows for great results.”

With 125,000 sales reps, Keller Williams is the world’s largest franchise by agent count. It says it achieved historic productivity, profit gains and recruitment with a business model that delivers through profit sharing and a culture of independence and shared decision making that rewards agents as stakeholders.

Alexander, with close to 24 years in real estate, was initially attracted to Keller Williams because the company’s philosophy of “creating an environment that brings out the best in people,” matches his own, he says.

“Keller Williams is a company with a caring culture.”

Alexander joined Keller Williams as a franchisee in 2008, attracted by the company’s “multiple value propositions,” which besides the financial incentive of profit sharing include strong training systems. “We are ranked as the No. 1 company for training in the world,” he says. The company’s technological tools, a revenue-capped model especially appreciated by top producers, residual income opportunities and a culture of good corporate citizenship were also appealing to him.

In particular, Alexander likes that Keller Williams cedes significant decision-making authority to its associates and “is not just a business model based on ‘what’s in it for me.’”

The company has an open book policy and “is probably the only franchise in North America with no debt,” he says. “And we teach our business operators how to do so too. It’s a very sound business model – and very Canadian too, as Canadians are debt adverse.”

Alexander stresses that part of Keller Williams’ mission is to attract the best in the business.

“A Keller Williams franchise is the most difficult to be awarded, I’d say. It needs to be a good fit” and involves a multi-layered screening process for the operating partner, including a behavioural assessment, multiple interviews and several days of research and training at the company’s Austin, Texas, headquarters.

Having a long track record of success before and after joining Keller Williams, Alexander was contacted “by virtually every franchisor in Canada,” when he began to search for new opportunities not long ago. Not bad for a guy who admits that before he got into real estate he attempted to sell his own home privately but failed.

At first the offer from Keller Williams to head up the Canadian division seemed too good to be true, he says.

“I feel honoured to be appointed and I don’t take it lightly,” he says. “I’m excited about solidifying the foundation our operating partners have built… I’m looking forward to growth with great new people and also fostering those we already have.”