Cast the vision in everything you do. This is one of the most important things a leader must do, every day (even better if it’s woven into every conversation or email). In order for you to delegate effectively, and for anyone else to follow, you need to know where you are going and why. Your team members need to buy into the vision and be clear on how they can specifically contribute. When you have that long-term, end result in mind, it’s time to get to work, delegating projects and tasks and positions to make it come to life. It all starts with the vision.
In the world of business and within every industry, there are forward-thinking leaders who go against the status quo and find success. Their courage to take risks, embrace innovation, and inspire collaboration separates them from the competition. Until 2002, Apple’s famous slogan was “Think Different”. This attitude likely helped them become one of the most successful organizations in history. This interview series aims to showcase visionary leaders and their “status quo-breaking” approach to doing business. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Hergenother.
Adam Hergenrother is an entrepreneur at heart. He is the Founder & CEO of the thriving $1 billion organization, Adam Hergenrother Companies, which includes several organizations ranging from a national real estate company to an award-winning development and construction company to leadership coaching and training. He is passionate about using business to transform lives and believes that when you focus on leading yourself first, the business results will follow. When he’s not leading and growing his organizations or working on his inner growth, you can find Adam in the Vermont mountains with his wife, Sarah, and three children, Sienna, Asher, and Madelyn.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
My story starts when I was a teenager. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd, dabbling in drugs, smoking cigarettes heavily, and using food as a way to escape from life. I was more than 100 pounds overweight, failing classes, and driving a piece-of-crap car. In short, my self-worth was nonexistent. One day my dad found me like that in my room and said, “You have two choices. You can accept where you are or you can change.” That was the day I told myself “Screw it. No more.” And I decided to change.
One year later I was a hundred pounds lighter — physically, mentally, and emotionally. I had shed everything that wasn’t serving me, and I was no longer letting other people dictate who I should be. It was only a couple of years later that I got my first taste of business. I flipped a car with a friend and doubled my initial $500 investment. That was such a powerful lesson for me that within six months I made another $40,000 using the same strategy. I was hooked on business, so right out of college I got a great job. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized my relentless drive to create the biggest life possible would not happen if I was employed by someone else.
Real estate piqued my interest when I took that $40,000 from car flipping and invested it in a condo. I had to sell unexpectedly, and it was just enough of a taste of real estate to realize that it was a good match for my relentless drive. So in 2006, my then-girlfriend, and now beautiful wife, Sarah Ostiguy Hergenrother, and I started the Hergenrother-Ostiguy Group. Our slogan was, “Hard to pronounce, but easy to work with!” Those days were awesome. We borrowed $8,000 to start our business and in the first 30 days spent half of it going to an industry conference. It was the first time I learned that investing in yourself and your own education would provide the biggest return.
I then met Gary Keller at a private event in Austin. After about five minutes of listening to him speak, I was sold. I immediately came back to Vermont and opened a Keller Williams Realty market center. It would prove to be much more challenging than I thought, but I had chosen to step off the sidelines and into the arena, and it was time to fight for the vision I had.
Fast forward and here we are over a decade later. I have built Keller Williams Vermont to one of the top real estate teams in the state, Livian is one of the top real estate teams in the nation, BlackRock Construction is a dominant force in the development space, and Adam Hergenrother Companies is a $1 billion organization where personal growth and work-life integration come first.
Now, I spend my time leading these organizations, writing books, creating podcasts, speaking, and training, so I can teach others how to use business as a conduit for their personal growth. I believe business can show you how to find the gift in all of life’s experiences and help you discover your authentic self — a spiritual being having a temporary physical experience. Once you really understand that and apply it to your business and the rest of your life, you have the power to play at the highest level possible in everything you do.
Can you give us a glimpse into your journey into this industry and share a story about one of the most significant challenges you faced when you first started out? How did you end up resolving that challenge?
Yeah, there have been several really difficult times over the years. One of my first significant challenges was when I got fired from a cushy corporate gig when I was in my mid-twenties. That eventually led me to start a career in real estate, so it was ultimately a good thing!
My next really difficult time came when I decided to leave the brokerage I was working at to start my own Keller Williams Realty franchise. I had given my notice and communicated my plan with the owner and we had worked out a 30-day or so transition plan. And then the Thanksgiving holiday weekend arrived and I was suddenly told that that would be my last day, to get my things, and vacate the office. That was definitely not the plan! So, with nowhere to go, no agents or staff to assist, and a long weekend stretching in front of me… I got to work. Well, first, I had a long, long night of wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. But, like everything in life, I saw this as a challenge, an opportunity, a chance to see what I was really capable of. It was another moment when I realized that business is nothing more than a conduit for your personal growth.
Look, when you choose to step into the arena of life, you’re going to get dinged up a time or two. But that’s all part of the journey of business and life! I was clear on the vision I had for my life and I wasn’t going to let anyone else stop me from achieving that. When you are completely committed to what you want to create, then you don’t let any hard times, excuses, or roadblocks stop you, you just keep going. So, that’s what I did!
There have been a lot of other hard times over the years, from wondering if I would be able to make payroll that week, to making the wrong hires, to layoffs and lawsuits. But through it all, I persevered. Because what would the alternative have been? Giving up? Not going to happen. The first thing I focus on now anytime a challenge comes up is the fact that ”I can handle this.” That’s always my starting position.
Who has been the most significant influence in your business journey, and what is the most significant lesson or insight you have learned from them?
When I first started in business, making an annual income of $500,000 was my big goal. To me, that number meant that I had “made it” and was “successful.” Like most people, I had defined “success” as the ability to have money, leverage, power, authority, etc. because I thought if I had all those things, I would be happy and nothing would really ever bother me again. That’s what we sell as the idea of “success” in our culture — if you reach your big goal, everything in your life will be great. But I’ll never forget the moment I learned that wasn’t going to actually work.
In my first few years in real estate, I was breaking sales records and winning both local and national awards. I had an assistant, built a lake house, and had my dream car. I had hit my “dream big” annual income goal, and I wanted everyone to know. So I was at a holiday party at my mom’s house, and I told her I had made over $500,000 that year thinking it was going to really impress her (and of course, I said it loud enough for other family and friends to hear). But instead, she said, “That’s great, honey. Can you pass the ketchup?” I realized at that moment that my mom didn’t care (her love for me had nothing to do with how much money I made), and likely no one else really cared either. And if no one else really cared how much money I made, then I asked, did I even care? And I realized I didn’t.
I only cared when I wanted people to see me as successful, but that’s like writing on water — it takes so much time and energy to keep the letters visible to make sure people see it. And when my mom said that to me, I realized that was a waste of my time and energy and I was done with it. I wasn’t done with business because I loved playing in the business world, but my motivation for why I was doing it shifted. I went from being in business for myself and what I could get from business to being in business for how I could contribute, serve others, and raise up the moments that pass before me. That changed everything.
Can you share a story about something specific that happened early on that you would consider a failure but ended up being a blessing in disguise or ended up being one of the most valuable lessons you had to learn on your own?
So, I used to have this weekly YouTube series I did, called Mind Spark Mondays or something like that. Every week, I’d have a professional videographer create this perfectly edited content with graphics and music, so I could share a quick mindset tip or expound on an interesting business topic. I had on my suit and I was prepared with a script and a smile. And, I felt like a fraud. When I look back at those videos now, I think, who was that guy? The funniest part of the videos was actually the blooper reel — that was me. The guy who messed up his lines made up a new word and didn’t take himself too seriously. It wasn’t until a couple of years later when I swapped that suit for a hoodie and that script for just showing up and serving the moment (and people) in front of me, that my businesses really started to take off.
What did I learn? I learned that everyone is craving authenticity and the best way I can support others to show up as they are and share their unique gifts with the world is to show up as my authentic self first and lead from the front. I learned that you don’t need expensive video production and a perfect script to make an impact on those around you. It’s about the vision, the message, how you make people feel, and how you can inspire them to step up, take action and grow in their own lives. That is what I strive to do every day as the leader of multiple organizations and in turn, I work with my employees and leaders to help them do the same for their teams.
Leading anything is hard, especially when grappling with a difficult situation where it seems that no matter what you decide, it will have a negative impact on those around you. Can you share a story about a situation you faced that required making a “hard call” or a tough decision between two paths?
As my company started to really scale (from 300 people to over 800 and growing daily), I realized that the people that I had alongside me were no longer the people I needed to unlock the next level. They had been with me for years and were great people and there were many people who appreciated them, but they were just stuck in their thinking and holding the company back.
The new leadership team that I started to build alongside them was frustrated with me for trying to keep them. So here I was, in a tough situation: A new leadership team that wanted more seasoned executives were likely to leave if I didn’t make the right next hires, and I had a current team (or a few team members) who meant a lot to me and many people in the company.
So if I did nothing, I would lose. If I let go of the current team members, I’d lose. And if I kept the current team, I’d lose credibility and people from the leadership team for not making the tough decision. It was really a no-win situation.
I knew the right decision, got out of my own way, and made the decision that was best for the company while consciously taking care of the people who were affected.
Let’s shift our focus to the core of this interview about ‘Successful Rule Breakers’. Why did you decide to “break the rules”? Early on, did you identify a particular problem or issue in how businesses in your industry generally operated? What specifically compelled you to address this and want to do things differently? Please share how you went about implementing those changes and the impact they had.
One of the first big rules I broke in the industry was starting a real estate expansion team. Up until that point, real estate teams were mostly local and stayed in their geographic markets. But I wanted to keep growing my business but I had done all I could do in my Burlington, Vermont area and didn’t have the resources available to start a second team elsewhere in Vermont.
So in 2011, I expanded to Portland, Maine, duplicating models and systems that helped us grow in Vermont with a joint venture where we teamed up with an already high-performing team in Maine. A competitor called me once we made it official and told me that I was going to go to jail, to which I said “No, I am not.” But immediately after hanging up the phone, I turned to my wife and said, “Am I going to jail?” To which, Sarah assured me that I wasn’t.
And Sarah was right, thankfully. That year we took a $4 million producer and made them a $60 million producer in a very short period of time. There was a big need to streamline real estate brokerage from the consumer side to make it more consistent so that the customer experience was the same anywhere they went. We took what worked in one location and duplicated it in another location by partnering with a local real estate expert who could benefit from the consulting services that we could provide, models, systems, tools, accountability, training, and marketing. We then hired more and more people to own each one of these categories and expand the same model around the country. Now we have 64 locations in 33 states — we are truly one real estate team without borders.
In the ever-changing business landscape, how exactly do you decide when to adhere to industry norms versus “breaking the rules” and forging your own way? Can you share an example?
I like to think about building a business by standing on the shoulders of giants. You take industry norms that are still applicable and apply them to your business by modeling or copying others who have successfully implemented these for years. Then you innovate and break the rules on top of where everyone is. You don’t need to iterate a company from scratch, you iterate from where the last company left off. We didn’t need to create another brokerage company, we created a platform that helped agents become more productive through training, systems, tools, and tech stack, (a.k.a. a business-in-the-box solution) which was built on top of successful brokerages.
Now our expansion model has evolved into Livian. At Livian, our purpose is to provide an all-inclusive platform that supports high-performing real estate teams from end to end. From hiring to training, to day-to-day operations, we’ve created a new model that delivers. Ultimately, the idea is to create the “Amazon of real estate” that will allow us to directly enhance the future of the consumer experience, while also helping agents and teams accelerate their business.
What guidance or insight can you offer to new entrepreneurs trying to follow existing and accepted industry norms while at the same time trying to differentiate themselves in the marketplace?
Again, I’d say focus on standing on the shoulders of giants. Take what’s already working and find a way to deliver more value to the industry you’re in. Also, your success ultimately comes down to why you are in business in the first place. Are you in it to get something (i.e., money, power, recognition) or do you see your business as one way to grow yourself and help others grow to new levels of inner and outer growth? Business is nothing but a conduit for personal and spiritual growth. We use business as a playground for our inner work and overall growth. As we work to let go and surrender to the moments in front of us, we are able to lead our team, our clients, and our communities from a place of clarity and strength. Decisions become easier. Productivity increases. More lives are transformed.
To make an impact, you have to champion change, get creative, and take risks. Please think back about the decisions you’ve made that have helped your business get to where it is today, and share your top 5 strategies or decisions that helped you succeed by doing things differently.
The one thing that is the foundation for our business is knowing that business is a conduit for personal growth. This is what I call The 200% Life — when you are working on the external world (running a business, leading a team, meeting with a client, growing a family, meeting your financial goals, going on vacations, etc.,) at the same time working on your inner world (learning how to calm your mind, learning that you’re not your emotions and thoughts, understanding what it truly means to be clear and centered, etc.). You can call this inner world personal growth or spirituality or whatever resonates with you, but ultimately it’s about knowing who you are beyond your roles, ego, etc., and learning how to serve something much larger than yourself. When you have a whole entire company that is oriented toward growth and service, your team is unstoppable.
From that foundation as the starting point and sharing that with our entire team (as Zig Ziglar said, You don’t build a business — you build people and then people build the business”), these are the other things that have been key to our company’s success:
1 . Know you can handle anything. Ultimately, what will set you up for success is believing you can handle anything — and you can! This means knowing that no matter what happens in the external world (a lawsuit, losing a client, a huge commission, layoffs, etc.) it doesn’t have to define or disturb who we are inside, who we are at the core. If you can stay centered amidst the noise of the business world you become a fierce competitor who is more effective in all areas of business. Knowing you can handle everything will ensure that you’re the right person to handle whatever challenge or situation comes before you. You will have lots of challenges come up as your business grows, so make this your starting point for everything you do!
2 . Cast the vision in everything you do. This is one of the most important things a leader must do, every day (even better if it’s woven into every conversation or email). In order for you to delegate effectively, and for anyone else to follow, you need to know where you are going and why. Your team members need to buy into the vision and be clear on how they can specifically contribute. When you have that long-term, end result in mind, it’s time to get to work, delegating projects and tasks and positions to make it come to life. It all starts with the vision.
3 . Go to great lengths to make the right hire. You can’t effectively delegate if you don’t have the right people to delegate to. And you’re certainly not going to be satisfied with the results if you have sub-par talent on your team. Years ago we made a hire and one of our leaders was still doing half of the work! Why? Because she was afraid to delegate as she could not trust that the work would get done. That was on us. We made the wrong hire and had to pay the price. Lesson learned. Since then, we have mastered the art of recruiting and hiring. We use an extensive vetting process that includes a behavior assessment, life story, group interview, and more. We make it our mission to match the right person with the right opportunity in our organization. When you hire the right person, delegation becomes much easier!
4 . Set extremely clear expectations. Clarity is power. Team members need to know what you expect from them from day one. This goes for the big targets — like their monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals — all the way down to specific expectations around their schedule and communication. You can’t expect team members to show up and deliver the way you want them to if you haven’t clearly articulated those expectations first. Here’s an example: Let’s say you expect your new assistant to answer all emails on your behalf. Seems simple enough, right? And a huge time saver for you! Well, did you clearly outline your expectations for your emails? Did you share that you want everything to be replied to “on behalf of” you? Did you tell your assistant that you expect emails to be answered within 3 hours? Did you explain which emails you want to answer and which ones your assistant can? Exactly. You can’t expect to be satisfied with the results if you aren’t clear about what you want in the first place.
5 . Hold your team members accountable for the results and be willing to have tough conversations. Once you’ve clearly outlined your standards and expectations, you have to inspect what you expect. Make sure your team members know that you are going to be checking in regularly on where they are at with their goals and objectives. Weekly one-to-one meetings are a great place to start. The key here is to have a clear consequence for not hitting the target, otherwise, it’s just a suggestion. When you delegate a task or project and you’re not satisfied with what you are getting in return, you need to have a clear and actionable plan in place to either get that team member up to snuff or to part ways with them. The only way you’ll be able to continue to delegate effectively is if you hold your employees accountable for the result.
As a leader, how do you rally others to align with your vision? Also, how do you identify those who may not be fully committed or even silently sabotaging or undermining your efforts? What steps do you take to address these situations?
When you cast the vision, you don’t just want people who are excited about the vision, you want people who are going to get up out of their seats and run with you. These are the people we look for. Once you have the right people in the right seats on the bus, then it’s all about making sure everyone in your entire organization is clear on the vision and how it relates to their specific role. In our organization, we have regular communication and accountability at all levels.
Because our hiring process is so extensive, we have a lot of tools in place to help us make sure we’re bringing the right people on board to start, but even still, tough conversations are a part of doing business. If you have a situation that needs to be addressed, the first step is always to address it inwardly first. What do I mean by this? You need to get clear before you actually engage the other person. So know whatever it is you can handle it. Then relax, and let the emotion or disturbed energy move through you until you’re clear. Then once you are no longer in a reactive or defensive place, go have that tough conversation. If you go in clear and with an open heart and mind, then you will be able to handle whatever comes up and lead your team through it. The right action will always become clear if you can get your personal self out of the way.
Imagine we’re sitting down together two years from now, looking back at your company’s last 24 months. What specific accomplishments would have to happen for you to be happy with your progress?
At Livian, we have successfully 10x the size of the company from 800 team members to nearly 10,000, while making agent productivity the north star of the company. We are building and leading through a new president (recently hired) and the new leadership team that he leads.
As CEO of Adam Hergenrother Companies, I’m moving into a training and coaching role in the organization and sharing and implementing The 200% Life model into not just our organization but with people who are willing to look at leadership and business differently. I don’t only think that business and spirituality can coexist, but that they must coexist moving forward. The business leaders of tomorrow are going to have to be just as concerned with their inner growth as they are with the bottom line in order to thrive in our new global economy. And when spirituality and business collide, great things happen — instead of spirituality being “too soft” for business, inner growth makes you clear, conscious, empathetic, creative, and energized. You become the ultimate fierce competitor working to create great companies and employees. That’s the future.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Definitely sharing The 200% Life model with others. My vision is that this becomes a foundation of how the next generation of leaders approaches business so that when people learn about business, KPIs, profit, boards of directors, etc., they are also learning about how to have self-leadership, the knowledge that they can handle anything, how to grow personally and spirituality while building businesses. I think the most good will happen in business and we’ll be best prepared for future challenges when people understand that business is a conduit for personal growth. With that understanding, anything is possible.
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Thank you so much for sharing all of these insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
About the Interviewer: Chad Silverstein is a successful entrepreneur with more than two decades of experience as a successful founder and CEO. He started his first company, Choice Recovery, Inc. a third-party collection agency, out of his apartment while going to The Ohio State University. He grew the business nationwide and represented more than 10,000 clients before he sold the company on his 25th anniversary. Chad’s second venture [re]start, a career development platform that helps people find new jobs, launched in 2013 as a division inside his agency. [re]start was a catalyst to Chad’s team becoming an industry outlier after connecting thousands of people sent to collections with new career opportunities so they could afford to pay their bills and get out of debt. His team was nationally recognized for their social impact, while twice being ranked the #1 business to work for in Central Ohio. Chad sold [re]start in 2023 and is now a writer and thought leader for Authority Magazine’s Entrepreneur and Sports Editorials. He also offers an exclusive executive leadership program inside his online community at Authentic Authority.