Keller Williams' agents make education pay off

The employees of Keller Williams Realty in their Philadelphia office. (Colin Kerrigan /

Four words are painted on a meeting room wall in Keller Williams' Center City office: "Learning for earnings sake."

It's an approach that has served the company well.

The real-estate firm was ranked as the top large company in the Philadelphia region for the second consecutive year based on an annual survey of Philadelphia-area employees by Workplace Dynamics.

Workers credit Keller Williams' focus on training and education for the office's success.

"I feel like I'm in university all the time," said Danielle Lawless, an agent in the Center City office. The Austin, Texas-based company puts a high priority on professional development, and regularly offers classes to agents in all aspects of the industry - from business development and time management to technology and follow-up on a done deal.

Stacks of flyers about continuing education and upcoming Temple University and Kaplan real-estate classes are prominent in the lobby of Keller Williams' bright, sleek, fifth-floor office on Walnut Street. A board lists the times and locations for courses being offered that day.

A slide at the franchise's monthly meeting in late February showed a packed training calendar for March, with at least one course offered nearly every day.

Nationwide, the company has a strong reputation for its training programs. In February, Training magazine ranked Keller Williams as the second-best company in the country for employee development.

All that learning really does yield extra earnings for employees: Last year, $75 million went back to agents nationwide through the company's profit-sharing program, with Center City agents getting about $250,000 in shared profits, said Ted Mucellin, the franchise's team leader.

Courses are often taught by top-producing agents in an office. Many are free, or employees are reimbursed after the course is completed.

Agents describe the office as collaborative, and say workers are enthusiastic about sharing their skills with others.

Teaching colleagues is "something I really take pride in," said Kevin Barmann, who started at Keller Williams by working at the front desk and worked his way up after finding the real-estate industry was a good fit for him.

The company is growing, and tries to recruit real-estate professionals with a similar mindset, placing a premium on education.

"We want to build a community where nobody wants to leave," said Antonio Atacan, the operating principal at the Center City office.

Keller Williams employs 80,000 workers in 690 offices across the United States and Canada, with 2,220 employees working out of 35 locations in the Delaware Valley. The company hired 1,500 people last year, with 70 new agents joining the Center City office, Mucellin said.

At the February team meeting, the group gave warm applause to eight new agents joining the 216-employee office.

Keller Williams agents say they're taught to work smarter, not just harder, which has helped their personal lives. One new agent said her interactions with Keller Williams employees while working for other real-estate companies in the Philadelphia area drew her to the firm.

"Every time I did a deal or worked with Keller Williams agents, they were happy, they were motivated," Kim Perri-Medini said after her first two weeks at the office.

Agents say they believe the company's development-focused mindset will keep it well positioned in an era of ever-changing technology. In late February, the staff was learning about a new app which enables prospective clients to save properties so agents can see what types of homes they are interested in seeing.

"It's allowing you to keep tabs on them and what they're looking at," Mucellin, the team leader, explained to the group.

Agent Skye Michiels said he expects continued success for Keller Williams, in part due to the embrace of such technology.

"I think this company is on the growth edge, instead of being protectionist," he said.