People in Real Estate: Richard Courtney
By Mary Umberger, Monday, March 28, 2011.
Who are the great "thought leaders" of the business world -- the ones whose experiences on the job and in life serve as guideposts for others who aspire to professional greatness?
Bill Gates, perhaps? Warren Buffett? What about John, Paul, George and Ringo?
That's what works for Beatles fans Richard Courtney, a Nashville real estate broker, and George Cassidy, a recording engineer, who see the Fab Four's success as the "ultimate business case study."
They've written "Come Together: The Business Wisdom of the Beatles," which uses anecdotes from the musicians' careers as springboards for lessons to aspiring business people.
Image courtesy of Turner Publishing.
From making the hard decision to jettison bassist Stu Sutcliffe from the group in its early years ("Be prepared to be ruthless in your assessment of what needs to happen to move your business forward," Courtney and Cassidy write) to rejection by Decca Records (some failure is an integral part of any enterprise) to substance-abuse interludes (avoiding negative influences), the writers turned 100 moments in the Beatles' careers into 100 do's and don'ts of business.
Much of it was written with the real estate industry in mind, according to Courtney, who is the managing broker for Fridrich & Clark Realty in Nashville. He said in the course of 33 years in the business, he has seen real estate agents repeatedly make the same mistakes.
"What Realtors do is they market, market, market; then sell, sell, sell; then close, close, close," he said. "They don't do things that set themselves apart from other people. They never brand themselves, they never work hard enough to make an image.
Hardly any of them have a business plan.
"Almost all of us don't have a rainy-day fund -- we earn our money, we spend our money, and the next thing you know, your career has gone by," he said.
"Many years ago, I had the same issues that others in real estate seem to have," he said. "I saw the person who seemed to be doing the best -- he wore a certain kind of suit, drove a certain kind of car -- and I thought that was what I needed to do.
"But somewhere along the way, I decided I was going to do Beatles events instead," Courtney said.
He organized several Beatles festivals in Nashville, bringing in various Beatles friends and families to make public appearances.
"I'd make sure I was photographed with them," he said.
He began incorporating what he terms "Beatles-ness" into his ads, featuring photographs of him with his Beatles memorabilia or incorporating song lyrics into the copy.
"They'd say things like, 'I'll work eight days a week for you,' or 'I'll work a hard day's night for you,' " he said.
It stuck, he said.
"People would walk into my open houses and say, you're the Beatles guy, and the next thing I knew, I'd have a new client," Courtney said. "My business quadrupled and my visibility is unfathomable."
The lesson for others in this, he said, is to "find your tree" -- his term for defining one's passions, a la John Lennon and Paul McCartney early in their lives -- and sticking with them.
Although he isn't in real estate, Cassidy said one of the principal business lessons he took from researching the book is "location, location, location" -- that is, establishing a base where customers can find you easily.
"When the Beatles came back from Hamburg, Germany (early in their careers), they didn't start playing around in regional ballrooms like the other bands," he said. "They took a lunchtime gig in downtown Liverpool, playing in the Cavern Club.
"Initially, it was a letdown to them, but it turned out to be crucial," Cassidy said. "It was a short walk from (future manager) Brian Epstein's office, and it elevated them to the 10 or 12 bands who were working regularly in Liverpool's city center.
"It gave them a place where fans could find them, and it was a pivotal factor in their career," Cassidy said.
Tying their book concept to the Beatles brand posed surprisingly few legal obstacles, they said.
"We did get a clearance from Apple (Records, the Beatles' label), and we licensed the photo on the cover," Courtney said. "They were surprisingly easy to work with."
Besides promoting the book at numerous Beatles-related events, their next goal is to develop a course for real estate agents, based on the concepts in the book.
"We're working on 'Be Bigger Than the Beatles,' and it will be good for six hours of continuing-education credit," Courtney said. "We're soliciting trainers from all over the country."
This isn't Courtney and Cassidy's first brush with publishing. Cassidy, who is also a songwriter, has a background as a technical and business writer for several large corporations.
Courtney has written weekly real estate columns for several Nashville-area newspapers, and in 2006 wrote a real estate book, "Buyers Are Liars & Sellers Are Too: The Truth About Buying or Selling Your Home."
A former president of the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors and the 2007 Tennessee Realtor of the Year, Courtney said hiring a publicist was an early lesson in career boosting, and it paid off further when launching the Beatles book. After the Sunday business section of the New York Times devoted the better part of a page to the duo and their book, they had a hit on their hands: "Come Together" shot to a high spot on the Amazon.com sales list; last week, it was in the top 50 titles on entrepreneurship.
But why the Beatles? What was it about the group that fascinated them so?
"I know a hundred reasons," Courtney said. "One thing is that they were always doing something that was so different from what everybody else was doing.
"But the main thing is their constant search for knowledge, for lifelong learning," he said. "They never stopped growing, and they were open to influences from everywhere."
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.