Optimism propels Canada’s largest brokerage forward
Bridgemarq's Phil Soper has overseen the steady and consistent growth of the company during his 20-year tenure as CEO.
- Bridgemarq Real Estate Services owns and operates Royal LePage, Via Capitale and Johnston & Daniel, which collectively include nearly 21,000 agents in over 700 offices.
- Maintaining an optimistic approach has helped Soper steer the company through turbulent times.
- The company’s focus includes supporting team leaders on the business side while improving retention rates.
Editor's note: Each year, the Swanepoel Power 200 recognizes the most powerful and influential leaders in residential real estate. In this series of SP 200 Inside Look interviews, we're diving deeper and learning about these top leaders' aspirations and accomplishments, and the opportunities they see in the year ahead.
Phil Soper has been through his share of real estate cycles, and he's come to realize that while being honest and open is important during challenging times, staying optimistic can also do wonders for a company.
This year marks Soper's 20th year as CEO of Bridgemarq Real Estate Services, Canada's largest real estate brokerage. The company, headquartered in Toronto, has grown throughout the pandemic and now has more than 20,000 agents. This growth and other factors earned Soper the No. 10 spot on the 2023 Swanepoel Power 200 list. Soper ranked thirteenth last year, and is the top Canadian on the list.
The Great Recession following the financial crisis was the most challenging period in Soper's career. But his learnings from that time have served as a useful template for managing what has, so far, been a less severe down market.
"During times of crisis, I think it's critical for leaders, in particular senior leaders, to be optimistic. You always have a plan, no matter how dire things are," Soper said in a Jan. 13 interview.
"And there's lots of reasons to be optimistic about North American real estate. It's important that we do the heavy lifting of understanding why we are where we are in the cycle, then explain it simply to clients."
Canada's housing market doing reasonably well
While Canada's real estate market bears many similarities to the U.S. market, it fared somewhat better following the 2008 collapse — and that appears to be the case in this cycle as well. Canada has fewer banks and lending institutions to work with, so mortgages tend to be more tightly managed than what you see in the U.S., Soper said. That's led to far fewer foreclosures over the years in Canada, creating less chaos in the market.
Overall, 2022 was a reasonable year in Canada, Soper said, with transaction levels below 2021 but near pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Nationally, prices were down year-over-year in the fourth quarter, but Soper believes most of the price correction has already occurred in Canada. In the coming year, he's expecting transactions to increase while prices remain relatively flat.
"We're moving from an environment, just like America, where interest rate increases are constantly in the news to one where interest rates are no news," Soper said. "As soon as they flatten out, we anticipate the market will pick up."
And, despite the market slowdown, Bridgemarq grew last year, adding 750 agents across its brands in 2022.
Having weathered previous downturns, Soper is able to take the long view — and he understands that a bit of patience is necessary. In a market where buyers and sellers are both wary to act, he encourages selling agents to consider only modest price changes.
"If the market isn't moving, it isn't moving," Soper said. "Don't try to force it."
Bolstering team leaders, retaining agents priorities for 2023
The company, which operates multiple brands including Royal LePage and Via Capitale across more than 700 company-owned and franchised offices, has a variety of initiatives on tap for 2023.
Along with rolling out new operating platform technology upgrades, Bridgemarq is focusing on ways to help team leaders.
"What we want is to help our team leaders become better business people," Soper said. "We know they are good salespeople and we want to help them with their human resources strategies, to retain people."
Retention is a key outcome of the company's efforts to bolster team leaders. "The main reason people leave a company… is because you don't get along with your boss," Soper said.
"If you can improve retention at the real estate team level, you've improved retention across the entire organization."
Culture and community
When it comes to unplugging from his CEO responsibilities, Soper said Bridgemarq offers a big community where people with shared interests can connect outside of work. Family is his first priority, but he also enjoys participating in company challenges that raise money for good causes.
The company's Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, which is focused on violence prevention and helping women and children flee violence, is one such cause. The company organizes a "shelter challenge" each year, which can be in the form of backpacking trips or motorcycle rides to other parts of the world, raising money based on how much is accomplished. These events typically raise more than $1 million. Other events include scuba diving clubs and golf events.
"It's absolutely a cool, interesting way to meet people," Soper said. "What I've found is ways to work these into the fabric of the company because there are so many amazing people in all the different walks of life."
Write to Dave Gallagher.