Leading Women: Lola Audu
An international background has been one key to the success of Lola Audu, CRS, GRI, associate real estate broker and owner of Audu Real Estate in Grand Rapids, MI.
Audu grew up in West Africa, attending an international missionary school in which the student body came from more than 50 countries.
She then immigrated to the U.S. to attend Calvin College in Grand Rapids, where she established an international student program, before transferring to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to pursue double majors in food service management and dietetics.
After graduation, Audu returned to western Michigan and began making her way up the corporate ladder with a food service corporation. At the time, real estate wasn't on Audu's mind. As she points out, it's one profession that tends to be specific to a community; even different regions of a country can have different norms, lingo and regulation.
However, as Audu and her husband began their family – they now have two grown sons – she wanted a career that would allow her more time with her children. Audu began by selling home accessories and then moved into real estate sales. Along with flexibility, her new career helped Audu fulfill a life-long goal: funding her mother’s college education. “Mom got her degree!” she says. “Real estate provided income to assist with this goal.”
To be sure, Audu faced an even steeper learning curve than many new agents. A number of basic real estate terms, such as bi-level or ranch, were foreign to her. Audu took seriously the advice of another broker who told her the most important step a real estate professional could take was to get a good education. "I understood education because that's why I came to this country."
Audu joined a Century 21 office, where she took advantage of the company's formal training program, as well as many opportunities to learn through conferences, seminars and simply by accompanying more experienced agents as they worked with clients.
After about nine months at Century 21, Audu moved to Five Star Real Estate. Along with handling real estate transactions, Audu developed a training program for new agents, she said, designed to help them "go from $0 to $100,000 in commissions within 24 months." The program combined Web-based lessons – a new idea at the time – with weekly in-person coaching sessions that she conducted.
"It helped agents understand how to be proactive, what it means to be productive and how to set goals and follow through." Audu notes that many of the newer agents had previously only worked as employees, rather than as bosses or managers. They needed to know how to set goals and manage their fledgling businesses.
The training also discussed the ways in which agents could build a life outside of real estate. This was prompted by Audu's observation of a few REALTORS® who experienced strained marriages and financial setbacks even as they succeeded in their careers. "We needed to provide a framework to build a life."
Late in 2005, Audu decided to start her own company. She has owned Audu Real Estate, a boutique firm with five people from a range of backgrounds, ever since. The firm "embodies the diversity that is part of the national experience," she adds.
Because Audu has been surrounded by individuals of varying ethnicities and backgrounds for most of her life, she learned early on how to work with all different types of people. "I learned that what was far more important than nationality and religion was who you are as a person," she says.
Another key to Audu's success has been her skillful use of online media. In 2006, while Audu was housebound for a month with a back injury, she began reading online articles related to health and wellness. Audu realized she also could use the Internet to share her knowledge of real estate.
She began blogging and within a few months, the power of the medium became clear: Audu met with a young couple who told her they initially were going to try to sell their house themselves. Reading Audu's blog, however, helped them remember the reasons for working with a real estate professional. "A lightbulb went off; I knew this was an incredibly powerful medium," she says.
In fact, her blog has captured more than 1 million hits annually, she says. "It helped people learn who I was," Audu says. "People could read and know what I knew about real estate."
Deciding to share knowledge she gained, Audu approached the state of Michigan to inquire about offering a continuing education class for REALTORS® in social media. Although the state twice denied her request, saying social media wasn't relevant to the practice of real estate, they agreed when she asked a third time. Audu continues to teach and also is president of the Western Michigan Chapter of Women's Council and director of District 3 of the Michigan Association of REALTORS®.
Another goal of Audu's is establishing a leadership academy within the local real estate association to attract and prepare younger industry leaders. The objective is "to understand how to position the industry to survive and thrive as the millennial generation begins to ascend."
Karen M. Kroll is a freelance writer from Chanhassen, MN.
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