When the Kidder Mathews office opened its doors July 23, 2003, in Portland, its seven founding employees vowed to craft an ideal workplace culture.
They collectively had decades of experience working in the area's real estate brokerage business. So they had a pretty good idea of what would work and what wouldn't.
Collaboration would be key, no matter what specialties they pulled together in the ninth-floor office of the Umpqua Bank Plaza Building overlooking downtown's Tom McCall Waterfront Park. From brokerage to property management to appraisal to construction management, each discipline would need a working familiarity with the others.
That would be accomplished through meetings. Far from generating groans, weekly staff-wide meetings have encouraged the sharing of information and opinion from every corner of the office. And when the specialty teams have met, typically on a weekly basis, anyone else from the office has been welcomed to attend.
"When you leave the room," said Steven Klein, Kidder Mathews' senior vice president and managing partner, "you think, 'wow, I feel so much smarter than when I walked in there.'"
Klein was among the core that started that Portland office for Seattle-based Kidder Mathews. In the ensuing decade or so, the seven-employee office has grown to 57 and become one of the six largest real estate brokerage offices in the city. The office also has been recognized as one of The Oregonian's Top Workplaces, the second time it has earned that designation.
The Portland office is among nine for the company, along with others in Washington and Northern California. All told, it has 450 employees - more than 220 of them brokers. As the office branch manager, Klein said he knew he wanted to create an openness in the culture from the beginning.
Four others from that initial core remain: Monte Haynes, senior vice president; Cini Apostol, vice president; George Slevin, vice president; and Colleen Colleary, vice president.
"I just thought there was a better way to do it," said Klein, whose previous employers had included Insignia ESG and Trammell Crow Co. "Sometimes it's difficult if you're with an established company to change their patterns and thinking."
Not so much when you're essentially starting from scratch.
"Every person you hire, you say, 'This is our vision, do you buy into it?' They say 'yes' and it makes it easier."
So, keeping employees happy in the larger office is clearly important.
One way to do that is to encourage them to be active outside the office. Kidder Mathews employees commonly serve on boards and other volunteer roles within the real estate community, said Gerard Mildner, academic director at Portland State University's Center for Real Estate.
"I've had over the years a number of their brokers serving on my committees," such as those that judge scholarship applications, Mildner said.
Klein concurred that the Portland office encourages volunteer activity. He also said the office supports its employees' volunteer endeavors financially, contributing money for purposes such as sponsoring annual banquet tables.
Another way Klein said he promotes that a collegial atmosphere is through two of his favorite things in life: golf and food.
Each summer the office sponsors a nine-hole golf tournament that attends to the skill levels of a first-time duffer as much as a handicap golfer.
After that, the employees descend on Klein's home in Lake Oswego for a barbecue. This year, Klein and his wife spent days preparing a pulled-pork feast for about 50 guests.
Klein raises the stakes by inviting employees and their significant others for a holiday dinner party at his home, a 100-plus-attendee undertaking
Klein said the approach adopted more than a decade ago has caught the attention of other Kidder Mathews offices. He tells his colleagues the approach is simple.
"Treating your staff with the utmost respect is important," he said.
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