Trustee Profile: Motivated by Results

On an ice rink or in the real estate market Ron Peltier '73 M.A. has always "wanted to compete"

When Ron Peltier starred as the center for the St. Paul Johnson and Minnesota Gopher hockey teams, he had a simple goal every time he laced up his skates: He wanted to win.

When Peltier, fresh out of graduate school and three years of teaching, decided to try his hand at real estate, he had a simple goal every time he met with customers: He wanted to buy and sell houses.

And when Peltier became chief executive officer, and later chairman, of what now is the nation’s second-largest residential real estate brokerage firm, he had a simple goal when faced with the opportunity for growth: He wanted to make the right deal for the right reason.

Sports and real estate may be different in many respects, Peltier acknowledged, but they also share common traits, and they both have a certain “rush” to them.

“When you drop the puck, you aren’t sure where it will go but you hope you have the right strategy and people in place,” he said. “You don’t win every time, but you learn from losses what you can do better the next time.”

The same philosophy applies to business.

“There’s a real sense of satisfaction in developing client relationships from beginning to end,” he said. “You want a positive outcome, whether it’s selling a house or acquiring a company. Taking on a challenge – and there is no shortage of them – such as finding a strategic acquisition, establishing a rationale and a value and then bringing it to a conclusion … it can be a rush.”

Peltier has had a lot of rushes in his lifetime, whether they were on neighborhood rinks on St. Paul’s East Side or in the board room of HomeServices of America, which has 22 real estate brands in 20 states, including Edina Realty here in the Twin Cities. Those rushes meant hard work – and success.

“It’s putting your talent on the line every day,” he said. “You’re judged, in effect, by if you can sell. It’s not about going through the motions, but getting results. You get paid for results. I liked that. If I wanted to work harder than other guys, I might be successful. I wanted to compete.”

Peltier’s competitive streak was honed on the East Side, where he grew up in a family of seven, with three sisters and a brother. His dad worked in marketing incentives for Brown & Bigelow, a calendar and playing cards company, and his mom was a head nurse for what now is Regions Hospital.

She would take the kids to hockey rinks when they were 4 years old “to burn off energy,” Peltier said. “She’d bring us up there, help us put on our skates, and we’d go at it. We’d spend Saturdays, Sundays and weeknights after our homework was done, skating. We’d play baseball, too, but we were always thinking hockey.”

Among Peltier’s early coaches, as a Pee Wee and a Bantam, was Herb Brooks. Lou Cotroneo coached Peltier at Johnson, where he played center on three state tournament teams from 1965 to 1967. At Minnesota, he played for Glenn Sonmor, Lou Nanne and Brooks again, and they reinforced core values such as commitment, responsibility and teamwork.

“I always had really good coaches,” he said. “They stuck with you in terms of how your personality was shaped and how a sense of competition developed. Their message: Whatever you did, you could do more, and 100 percent was not good enough. You had to give 110 percent.”

Peltier majored in history and political science at Minnesota and intended to go to law school but instead earned a master’s degree in education from St. Thomas in 1973. It fit nicely with his first job as a history teacher and hockey coach at the new Blaine High School. He had dabbled in real estate – buying, renovating and selling a duplex – and decided to change careers in 1977.

“Once I got the hang of the real estate business,” he said, “I thought, ‘Boy, is this empowering!’ I knew how to sell, and I knew I could do it anywhere.”

Edina Realty knew it, too. After 18 months as a sales associate, Peltier opened a Maplewood office, was promoted to regional manager for the east metro area a year later and moved up to president and CEO in 1992. Edina changed hands several times before it evolved into HomeServices of America and became part of the Berkshire Hathaway empire in 2000. His new boss? Warren Buffett.

“Whether in sports or business, you want to interact with successful people and learn from the best,” Peltier said. “You won’t learn from losers. You won’t learn from bad actors. So how would I not be excited about Berkshire Hathaway? He (Buffett) has all winners.”

HomeServices thrived and used acquisitions over a decade to expand around the country. The real estate crash hurt sales volume and revenue – they dropped from $64 billion and $2 billion in 2005 to $33 billion and $1 billion in 2010 – and HomeServices survived only by trimming costs and laying off employees and sales agents. It wasn’t fun, Peltier said, but it was necessary.

“We never saw it coming – and neither did anyone else,” he said of the recession. “I’ve been through good times and bad, but nothing like this. It took on a life of its own.”

Peltier believes the market has stabilized, even though there is little job growth, and he is eager to acquire more firms as HomeServices pursues a long-term goal to have the No. 1 or 2 brand in 60 prime markets. His “real estate is all local” philosophy remains the same, and he has no intention of trying to create a national brand.

“To put an Edina Realty in Iowa would be foolish,” he said. “We acquire companies that are well-established in their markets.”

Peltier relies on loyal employees such as Barb Jandric, another St. Paul native, to get the work done. He hired her 28 years ago as sales manager for Edina’s office in Highland Park, and today she is president of the firm.

“Ron never told me what to do,” she said. “He always allowed me to choose my own solutions, to figure things out, and then we’d talk and he’d ‘fine tune’ my ideas. I learned how to solve problems in a really good way, on my own, and I developed into a stronger leader.”

Another employee who has learned from Peltier is his wife, Arlie. They were high school sweethearts at Johnson, and after working as a Montessori teacher she went into real estate. She directs Edina’s Exceptional Properties division. She calls her husband a “smart, warm, caring, sincere, honest, direct” man who is driven to succeed.

“He’s passionate about absolutely everything he does,” she said. “Business, pleasure, family, whatever. He always said you could not be a great hockey player unless you gave your heart and soul. It’s the same in real estate. It’s the same in anything he does.”

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