Leaders that invest in employees dare to see a future where their employees are an essential part of the business growth. When you fail to prioritize your employee’s development, you may not feel it immediately, but you will see it in the long term. Today’s guest is Gregg Cohen, CEO at JWB Real Estate Capital. Inc Magazine ranked JWB Real Estate Capital #1841 on the 2020 Inc 5000 list. They have been honored with this eight times. They provide high-quality single-family rental homes to thousands of residents in Jacksonville and have over five years of experience and 3300 properties under management. Gregg believes leaders must invest in employees, so they grow. However, it is more than growth. When you invest in employees, they feel like the organization is taking care of them. Join us for today’s interview with Gregg.
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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
So I mean, one of the things that we do to make sure we reinforce our core values is, we do a team meeting every single week. And to kick off our team meeting, we do what’s called a core value, call out our CVC. And so we encourage everybody on the team to come prepared with their core value call out. And so what they do is they recognize another teammate who over the past week, exhibited a core value, and they take it upon themselves to stand up, or we’re doing it virtually like we are now to raise their hand. And they call out that other teammate and say, you know, this person exhibited this core value. And this is what how it affected me and this is how it affected our clients or residents or our vendors. And this act, number one, it reinforces the core values, but it’s that team camaraderie, and one person speaking glowingly about another person everybody loves to get recognized.
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host, my name is Gene Hammett, and I help leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth, are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [1:09]
You invest in your employees actually signal to them that you care about them? You know that investing in your employees is critical if you want to create a kind of culture where over time, people are loyal people are growing people are really contributing to the future growth of the company, and the impact you’re making. When you think about investing employees, what comes to mind? Is it training classes is it you know, giving them free snacks. But what we’re going to go through today is some unique ways to invest in employees. When you invest in employees the right way, you have a culture that is undeniable. When you think about culture, and you think about growing a company. What I know after hundreds of interviews is it’s well worth that time and investment of money and energy into the people. Today we talk about investment and employees. Our guest is the co-founder of JWB Real Estate Capital his name is Gregg Cohen. And Gregg shares with us some of the unique ways that they have looked at that investing employees, whether it be their time off their PTO, or whether it be how they give back to the community, or how it be training or anything going on inside the organization. We will talk about lunches, but what you’ll be surprised about how early they started this and when they actually started buying everyone lunch every day. So when you think about your growth as a leader, I want to make sure that you understand that you have to continuously evolve, I got a free training if you haven’t already accessed it, make sure you go to genehammett.com/training will teach you how to lead a team of a players. In that training, you will learn the three mistakes, avoid these three mistakes, and you will be further down the road to building the team that you’ve always wanted. Go to genehammett.com/training . And now here’s the interview with Gregg Cohen, where we talk about investment in employees.
Gene Hammett [3:08]
Gregg, how are you?
Gregg Cohen [3:10]
Doing great, how are you doing?
Gene Hammett [3:12]
Fantastic. We’re going to talk about the leadership and culture that have made your company so successful. I’ve already let our audience know a little bit about you and a personal level your leadership style but tell us about JWB Real Estate Capital.
Gregg Cohen [3:27]
Well, we started in 2006 when you mentioned JWB Real Estate Capital name of our investments since name of our company, you think of the perfectly wrong time to be investing in real estate as a as a 23 year old kid. It was 2006. And and that’s when we started. But it started with really just a love of an understanding and a love of income-producing assets. And for me that was rental properties. And it started with, you know, the idea that I just needed to figure out how to acquire income-producing assets. And the challenge for most people in real estate is that it’s really hard to do that they might not live in the right market, they may be busy professionals, they might not have the experience to do it. They may just be scared and professional to help them. And that’s really what JWB Real Estate Capital does.
Gregg Cohen [4:14]
We help those folks build a real estate portfolio for them. These are all single-family rental properties. They’re all here in Jacksonville, Florida, because we believe that’s the best market to be investing in for rental properties. And we do all the property management for those individuals as well. So it’s really meant to be a passive income stream. And, you know, we started in 2006 It’s crazy to think it’s 2020 and all the ups and downs and now we’re in Coronavirus time I wonder what the next challenge is going to be. But it’s been it’s an incredible ride. And the reason why we’re we believe we’re successful is because of our investments in the team which I know you care tremendously about looking forward to to being a resource for your listeners.
Gene Hammett [4:53]
Well, I think every company knows they have to invest in their people but I’m always somewhat surprised when when That investment is not what I would traditionally expect, you know, they’re not giving any training, they’re not giving anything. So when you say investing in people, what is it? Do you really mean?
Gregg Cohen [5:10]
Man? I think, you know, it’s easy to say that. But I think it really just has to be a culture and atmosphere and environment of investing in your people. And, you know, because let’s face it, when most employees come in an organization, they may hear their leaders say, we want to invest in our people, but it’s met with a lot of cynicism, right, it’s met with a lot of well founded cynicism, because it’s really just, it’s just talk for most companies. But at JWB, we say it over and over and over again, we believe the reason why people come and buy rental properties from us, when they could choose to do it a million different ways is because of the team, the team that that experience is what was lacking in rental property investing, making it easy working with a team of professionals who has your back. And so we just looked at instead of we really believe that is the thing that separates us from our competition, that’s also the thing that our competition cannot replicate, then it makes a ton of sense for us to look at this as best marketing expense, or whatever we want to justify it, right.
Gregg Cohen [6:11]
So we do a whole lot of things that you probably, you know, may have not heard of, or are a little bit different. And definitely, if we were run by a big public company would be flashed, because it’s hard to justify the return on it. You know, if you’re just looking at the expense, you’re just not looking at this culture of investment that we want to make in our team.
Gene Hammett [6:32]
But you can’t just leave us there give us some ideas of some of these crazy investments.
Gregg Cohen [6:37]
Yeah, you know, so we started in 2006. And I have, I have three business partners. And myself, as I mentioned, we were, you know, 23 years old, or right around there, and really do not come from come from money to come from a real estate background. And if you think about the wrong time to invest, as I mentioned, 2006 was probably it. So we didn’t start start out with just a hugely successful business that could support additional expenses. But we started to buy lunch for our team. From day one. In the beginning, we looked at it it was it was a very small team, it was basically four or five of us, and it was easy to justify that. But even in 2007 2008 2009, as the market crashed, we experienced some hard time, we continued to buy lunch for our team, we call it family lunch. And those folks who many of them are still a part of our team today, as we we now have over 80 employees, they remember those times, they remember that in that investment. And they just know that the relationships that were built over a meal, and the early days mattered.
Gregg Cohen [7:39]
So that’s something that we’ve always continued. And now family lunch is a little bit different. It’s not four or five individuals. Now it’s 80 plus individuals, but the same tenants apply. You know, when you spend time eating with folks, you build a relationship, and then your client at the end of the day here that relationship that your team has, because somebody picks up the plaque for somebody else. And, you know, that’s how we see see the payoff. But I’ll go through a couple of the things that may be unique, and maybe maybe some of these a little tidbits that other folks might want to explore implementing. So we do something called ownership, PTO, ownership, PTO means that there is no limit on the amount of paid time off as an employee of Jay wb. And, you know, Jean, as you were talking about, you know, one of your passions, it’s I believe it’s about how to, you know, bring employees into a team that care and that own their role. Without tech, they don’t all own the business, right? I mean, that’s a that’s a really tough nut to crack, right? Yeah. Well, that’s, that’s really where ownership PTO comes in for us.
Gregg Cohen [8:45]
So the way we we went about this with our team is we said, you know, as owners or as managers, directors on our team, the last thing we want to be worrying about, is having to manage how much time you’re taking off. And we don’t ever want to be in a position where it’s like, well, are you really sick? Are you just trying to get that extra day off, right? We don’t want to deal with that. But what we also want is for you to fully Own your role. So you’re going to think about your role just like your boss does, or the owner of the company does, which means that you know what, I just went on a three day vacation last week, I took Friday off, I have responsibilities that I need to do on Friday. Well, if I’m going to take that time off, I’m going to figure out how to handle those responsibilities, so that I’m not putting it on to my team. So when somebody takes a day off, we have maybe that’s one day or a week or two weeks, right?
Gregg Cohen [9:37]
The rules for ownership PTO is there’s no limit to it. But you have to be make sure that your goals are hit, and that you’re not putting your team in a bad spot. If you’re if you’re not, if you don’t have your goals hit and you’re causing more work for your team and it’s not in a good spot then you can’t take those days off, but it’s within your control. You really have to own your role. And so it increases the ownership of the role in the behaviors that we want exhibited by our team. And then there’s a reward there because they can act like owners, right? as an owner of the company, if I want to take a long week, if a week vacation or a long weekend, I can do it. But at the end of the day, I know I just got to handle my responsibilities. So it’s been something that’s really, really successful and, you know, has led to attracting really top-quality talent that just kind of get who we want to be surrounded with on our team.
Did you catch what Greg just said about owning your role? What would it be like if everyone in your company knew what was expected of them, and they own their role, not just showing up out of responsibility, because the paycheck that you’re giving them, but because they want to own it, they want to feel like owners, they really have that sense of loyalty, and the sense of drive and innovation to be like owners? Well, when you have that, as a leader, you have something really special, you’re able to connect with them, you’re able to have them think for themselves feel truly empowered, and you trust them to the highest level possible. This sense of ownership is critical. If you want your company to continue to grow from where it is today. If you’re missing this ownership culture, make sure you reach out listen to a few of my episodes here. I love to give you some more resources, you can reach out to me, [email protected]. Now, back to the interview with Gregg.
Gene Hammett [11:21]
I can see how an unlimited PTO attracts a lot of people.
Gregg Cohen [11:26]
Gene Hammett [11:28]
How do you sort through people, because you’re probably creating a very intentional, great place to work. Is that fair to say?
Gregg Cohen [11:37]
It is, and this has led to us being ranked as one of the best places to work, I think we’ve won the award seven times, both locally. And nationally. the magazine also recognized us in addition to the Jacksonville Business Journal. So it’s created this sort of this flywheel effect, where we’re attracting top-quality talent. But we have out of, you know, an 80 person organization, and we hired, you know, I don’t know dozen people every year with a new spots and backfilling old positions, right, we get over 1000 applications every single year. And these don’t just resume. These are people, they actually have to write an essay to be able to apply for j wb. And from that point on, there’s about six or seven hoops that have to be jumped through, we do a testing called predictive index, which basically matches their, the way that they work and certain elements of how the working relationship is going to work for them. And for JWB matches them to the right roles.
Gregg Cohen [12:37]
So there’s a little bit of customization and strategy. And then there’s a whole bunch of team buy-in and I won’t go into all the different six or seven hoops to jump through. But it is a very long process. And we’re able to do it with one half of one role, our HR person’s role is basically half of that is the hiring process. So we’ve really got to this to this scalable process where we can attract an incredible amount of highly qualified people who buy into our core values and the way we want to work, and then through systems be able to work it down to making it very efficient. And at the end of the day, having our team gets really the final say, of bringing that person into our culture.
Gene Hammett [13:18]
I love the process you have around this, you haven’t mentioned one thing that I would, I know it’s probably a part of it, I’m just gonna go ahead and say confidently, but tell us a little bit about the values and how you use them inside the company.
Gregg Cohen [13:32]
So our core values mean everything to us. And again, you know, a lot of companies will say that they may put them on a wall somewhere, maybe once a year that the owner of the company may stand up and talk about it. But for us again, it’s just beings that culture that atmosphere. So I mean, one of the things that we do to make sure we reinforce our core values is we do a team meeting every single week. And to kick off our team meeting, we do what’s called a core value, call out our CVC. And so we encourage everybody on the team to come prepared with their core value call out. And so what they do is they recognize another teammate who over the past week, I exhibited a core value, and they take it upon themselves to stand up or if we’re doing it virtually, like we are now to raise their hand. And they call out that other teammate and say, you know, this person exhibited this core value, and this is what how it affected me and this is how it affected our clients or residents or our vendors. And this act number one, it reinforces the core values but it’s that team camaraderie and one person speaking glowingly about another person everybody loves to get recognized. And to know that, you know, it’s a focus, it’s intentional, and it just truly makes people feel good, has created this just kind of a wonderful feeling for our team meetings. It goes a long way.
Hold on for a second. Greg just talked about the core value call out. He talked about it in detail, but I want to make sure that you understand how this really gets you used and why it’s so important. I’ve been using this with my clients for years, I really smiled hard when Gregg talked about what it is and how to structure because this is exactly the way I envisioned it when I mentioned it to clients years ago. And the way it’s being used, I call it honoring the core values, you start off every meeting with your team, small teams, big teams, and you just give people a chance to voice their own recognition, peer to peer recognition is amazing. But even for leaders to share and hear what’s going on inside the organization, around the core values, you’re basically telling stories, or you’re telling moments that allow people to understand what’s expected of them. The real powerful element here is, it’s something that does over time, it’s a ritual, you do it, like a ceremony, there’s, there’s some laughter, there’s some, it really kicks off the meeting in the right place, it puts everyone in the frame, to we’re here to work together as a team. Now, hopefully, this happens for you, if you try to put in your organization, if you ever do use it, make sure you reach out, let me know how it’s going back to Gregg.
Gene Hammett [16:05]
And it probably only takes a few minutes to go through that. And a lot of people would probably put up roadblocks, say, Hey, we’re there to get work done. We got you know, we’re gonna we’re trying to make meetings shorter. But how long do you spend on this? And why is it so important to the way the team works together?
Gregg Cohen [16:20]
You know, it’s not that much time. So our team meeting is about 45 minutes long. And we spend about five minutes recognizing birthdays, anniversaries, and core values in the beginning. And, you know, we encourage everybody to do it in a team of 80. There may be three core values, four core values that that are there that week. So what we don’t want is it to be a requirement for everybody and 10 people have to show up and it becomes this rote, you know, just mundane saying we want people to really speak from the heart. And it’s just kind of organically been the right amount of time invested to where it’s really meaningful. But it doesn’t need to take up a 15 minute or 30 minute time slot, because I think if you do anything like that, then it just becomes less authentic. You know.
Gene Hammett [17:04]
I love it. I’ve had one of my clients use this. I think I mentioned to him one time. And his first response was, yeah, I don’t know about that. It seems a little bit kind of, you know, contrived, as well, why don’t you give it a try, because what you’re having one of their core values was around trust. And he just kick off the meeting with your whole concept of trust. And it worked out really well. So I want to get back to this investing in your employees. Greg, you’ve I don’t know how you look at it from an ROI standpoint. But you know, what is that? How do you look at it financially, when you’re investing in employees?
Gregg Cohen [17:44]
Well, you know, I think the best. Sometimes the best investments out there are a little bit hard to track. Right? You know, I’m a marketer by heart, and, you know, you know, some of the marketing strategies that we’ve employed, it’s really hard to justify with numbers when you’re starting out. And that’s a tough thing to do, being in real estate and having three business partners, like I have no the numbers, you know, but I just really believe that sometimes when you do things, there’s going to be a large payoff somehow down the road. And it’s okay to make that leap. You know, that’s kind of how we felt early on, when it came to investing in our team. We looked at this and we said, we’re gonna spend a lot of money here, we’re gonna spend money on lunches, right, we’re gonna spend money. So one of the things we also do is, is we every, every other month, we take a day away from the office, as a team all at people, we, we get everybody out of the office for a day. And we go and either do a charity activity or a volunteer activity, or just a team building act tivity. You know, one of the last ones that we did was we did a team scavenger hunt in downtown Jacksonville. And so we’re like, you know, I work spend a whole lot of money.
Gregg Cohen [18:51]
And again, this was 2006, when we were starting 2007 2008 2009. You know, what was the economy like in 2018? It was rough. It was rough, right? And there weren’t a lot of young companies like us doing these things. But we just said, Listen, we have a different take on rental property investing, we believe in the team as being the reason why people are choosing us. And if we make this authentic, genuine, you know, really, from the bottom of my heart investment in our people, and they believe that, then three years, five years, 10 years down the road, we’re going to have this incredible culture that nobody can match. And I’m very thankful I feel very blessed. That that was a bet that we made that has turned out to be such a smart investment. Because when you actually get people that trust you that you have their best intentions, and they want to be in your workplace. You’re going to create an environment where your company is going to be better served, but you’re just going to enjoy your business so much more. So you don’t have a direct correlation to this payoff.
Gregg Cohen [19:56]
I don’t know the answer to that one. All I know is that if you can commit It for a number of years, and it’s truly how you feel, and it’s authentic and genuine people are going to believe it. And when you can do that you create, again, this flywheel of the type of people that you want to bring in your organization, who are then going to, you know, take your company to greater heights.
Gene Hammett [20:16]
When you think about allowing your employees to pick them, you know, skills they want to develop, or any other kind of investments that are training, you put boundaries on it, or do you put some kind of support structure around what you’re going after? And what you’re allowed to do and not allowed?
Gregg Cohen [20:34]
You know, that’s a great question. So certainly, we don’t put boundaries on it. You know, one thing we encourage our team another thing that we do, that you may or may not have have heard about is, we have something internally called the dream manager program. And the dream manager came from a book called The Dream Manager, by a gentleman named Matthew Kelly, who details the story about companies who you purely just put resources in place to help their teammates to help their employees become the best versions of themselves, even if that didn’t mean that it was in the business’s best interest. And so that’s a program that we have internally, and we devote our resources. So many times people may have a goal of buying a home, or they may have a goal of improving their credit score, they may have a goal of losing weight, they have a goal of saving up for their next vacation, or maybe they have a goal of learning something new, and maybe a different field. And you know, maybe that field leads them away from AWB Well, we’re gonna encourage, the action of them being the best version of themselves will actually take resources from our team or from our network, to help put those that in front of them.
Gregg Cohen [21:38]
If they tell us this is where I want to be. And we’re going to help them. So we definitely don’t place limits on how to help people grow, we’re going to surround them with resources. But if we’re talking specifically about, you know, one role to another role, you know, you can create organizational challenges by taking one person here and moving them over here. And you know, we’re at people strong. Now, so wasn’t it easy to be flexible as it was when it was, you know, four or five of our buddies, you know, started this thing and in our condo back in the day, so you know, and in terms of just having a general awareness, knowledge resource, we’re going to supply those. But we usually are very, very cautious about taking people from one role and letting them go to another role unless it is absolutely the right move. Now, I should say, when people jump in to our team, there’s an incredible cross-training program. So people get a general awareness of how they fit in within the bigger piece of the puzzle, or how their piece fits within the bigger puzzle here at AWB. But, but we’re pretty cautious about taking one person from one role putting them in another role after they’ve basically kind of solidified kind of the cross-training.
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Gene Hammett [23:06]
I want to give you a little bit of an open-ended question here. Greg, anything else that we haven’t touched on, that you feel like has been a factor to your pace of growth, your best places to work, or just the culture that you’re you’re creating there?
Gregg Cohen [23:22]
You know, one thing that, you know, so we actually asked our team about this, we just did a deeper dive on our core values recently, we had had our core values created over 10 years ago, and many of the people that were on our team, when we created the core values are that they are not on our team. Now our team has grown tremendously. And so we want to take a deeper dive and understand are these core values still representative of who we are 10 years later. And we were very lucky and very happy to find out that they were and that was that was a great time. Just experienced kind of go through that. But as a part of that, we asked people what were the experiences, the stories that they had that most kind of correlated to what they thought the core values should be at AWS. And so the reason I bring this up is because by and large, a lot of the stories came from what are sort of seminal moment is each year for our charity efforts.
Gregg Cohen [24:19]
So three years ago, we started our, our, our nonprofit foundation, JWB cares. And the first year we host our charity golf tournament and we raised over $30,000 to donate to canines for warriors to help our veterans. And it was an incredible, incredible experience. The next year which was two years ago, we decided to do something a little bit more concrete and a little bit bigger and a little bit more the way to basically kind of take this ambiguous like everything we do everything we kind of share or volunteer or donate and put it towards one kind of seminal moment and that became building a home. together. We With our team and our vendors and our network, and giving that home and donating that home to a veteran, we did that two years ago, we did it last year as well. And so when we went back, and we looked at some of those stories that helped make concrete what our core values are, the vast majority of the team referenced something to do with that house donation that house building and donation.
Gregg Cohen [25:22]
So I guess if there was one thing that that may help, you know, building a home, maybe you’re saying, we build homes, and we, you know, do property management, so it happens to be our thing. But maybe you could find something within your realm that you’re really passionate about that may come naturally or easily within your network. And try to create one moment that people can really just kind of latch on and your team and say, Yeah, I know why I come to work every single day. It’s because I’m going to be changing somebody’s life, because I’m going to build on the house and donate it every single year. You know, if we do a really good job this year, might be two houses next year, you know, so that is really, again, just kind of solidified why we do what we do here at JWB?
Gene Hammett [25:59]
Greg, thank you so much for sharing some of these unique and different approaches to investing in employees. I really appreciate you being here.
Gregg Cohen [26:08]
My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.
Gene Hammett [26:10]
I love interviews where leaders are very clear about the purpose of them creating a great place for people to work. When people really feel connected to the work. They’re going to be more loyal, more creative, more innovative, they’re going to bring their whole self to work. And what you’ve seen here in this interview is a chance for you to look at how you’re doing inside your company. are you leading this kind of growth? are you investing in their employees the right way? Well, if you keep listen to my programs, you’ll get picked up a lot of information. What’s even more valuable is a chance to really connect with me about what’s going on. If you want to reach out to me just go to [email protected]. That’s my email address. And you can get on my calendar, we can talk about your business. When you think about growth, you think about leadership, make sure you think about Growth Think Tank, as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
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