Those who break the mold and take the road less traveled

I’m never quite sure how to describe an entrepreneur. It can mean a founder who disrupts an industry, or a second-generation owner who finds new ways to operate. When you read about the winners and finalists from the Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2018 East Central awards, you’ll find both, and more.

One entrepreneur, for certain, is this month’s cover story: Howard W. “Hoddy” Hanna III, chairman of Hanna Holdings Inc. He and his family helped Howard Hanna grow into the largest privately owned real estate company in the U.S.

We spoke mainly about the company’s acquisition strategy because that’s where Hanna is focused today.

He says, before a deal, the price is usually an early decision. However, the company spends time learning about the organization’s people, culture and mission. This includes understanding the reason they want to sell and how they run their business.

“You’re not going to get that on the financial statement a lot of times. You’ve got to talk it through, talk it through, talk it through. So, we seldom do a deal that doesn’t take six, eight months from start to finish,” he says.

This is critical, because the easy part is buying, Hanna says. The tough part comes after the sale: integration.

So, why did I easily see the spirit of an entrepreneur in Hanna? One story, which didn’t make it into the article, perfectly demonstrates it.

In 1972, Hanna took a five-week residential broker course. As he was in Los Angeles finishing up, he took the opportunity to learn about branch office locations. The only places where this was common in real estate was California and Chicago.

So, he called up Forest E. Olson realtors and asked for the owner. That afternoon, Olson took him to a couple of offices, invited Hanna to dinner and asked him to change his flight so he could learn more.

“I told my wife I was coming back Sunday, and spent the next Saturday looking at offices with him and learning his whole system,” Hanna says. “I came back to Pittsburgh and I said, ‘We’ve got to open up branch offices.’”

A desire to learn more, be better and strive for the next great thing — now that’s an entrepreneur.