Ross McCredie, President, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada

Ross McCredie, Sotheby’s | BCBusiness

Pride of ownership is everything to the entrepreneur, but if the business is successful, most can only take it so far alone

Seven years after founding Sotheby’s International Realty Canada in Vancouver, president and CEO Ross McCredie found himself at a crossroads: “What I recognized is that we had grown quite a bit and I wasn’t going to be able to take it on my own to what we believed we were going toward.”

Giving up ownership of a company that you gambled your life savings to start is not an easy decision, but it’s ultimately what McCredie decided to do when he sold his “baby” to Montreal-based real-estate company 360 Vox Corp. in November 2012. Admitting that on paper the deal was a straightforward acquisition, McCredie says that internally it was viewed much more like a merger, with McCredie remaining president and CEO, but also taking over as COO of 360 Vox, creating a partnership between himself and Vox CEO Robin Conners.

What was your first leadership position?
I started my first business when I was 15 and by the time I sold it—when I was 24—we had 300 employees.

Is leadership learned, or something you’re born with?
Both. If you don’t learn as you’re going, your leadership will fail you. But you’ve also got to rely on your instincts. Whenever I’ve gone against my gut, that’s when I’ve screwed up.

How do you ensure your continued growth as a leader?
Listening. I also don’t waste time on things. If I see a red flag and know it’s not going to work, I move on to the next thing.

How do you help ensure buy-in to your company’s corporate culture?
I expect everybody, including myself, to walk the talk. A lot of people talk a lot but don’t take any action.

What is the biggest challenge to corporate leaders today?
Finding dedicated, hard-working, intelligent, ethical people who are going to get up every day and believe in something as much as you do.

What qualities do you look for in up-and-coming leaders?
Energy level. You can see it right away when someone walks in the room. And how well they communicate—that’s incredibly important in our business.

Convincing staff, some of whom had been with Sotheby’s since its founding, of the necessity of the sell was a challenge. The key, McCredie explains, lay in open, straightforward communication, ensuring that everyone felt secure in their position, knew the plan moving forward and didn’t have to worry that their boss was going to cut and run. “I just had to tell them… we’re doing this for the benefit of the company; it’s not as if I’m taking some big cash settlement and I’m gone,” he says. McCredie’s focus on communication trickled all the way down to the clients and developers: “Everybody wanted to hear from me,” he reports. The CEO spent six months making phone calls and travelling to company offices across the country to explain the buyout.

After years of operating in the hard -and-fast world of real-estate acquisitions and sales, it makes sense that McCredie sees things in black and white. He notes that “either someone is right, or they’re not. A lot of people talk about ethics and values, but they’re not actually living them.” Honesty is the first quality McCredie demands of Sotheby’s 315 associates working across the country.

Always keen to trust and empower his employees to make decisions, McCredie has had to relinquish even more power since dividing his time between Sotheby’s and 360 Vox. Stepping back from Sotheby’s day-to-day operations forced him to depend on staff more than ever, and he says that his biggest lesson “is that I have to listen to people and I have to give them time and space, and then I can make my decision.”

Never afraid to fail, McCredie hopes to nurture a fearless attitude in his employees and colleagues. “I love letting people make mistakes, as long as they’re not going to kill us. I’ll watch someone walk into a signpost if I have to.”