Scott Phillips Jr. didn’t set out to be boss; he worked hard and was asked to take role

It may sound counterintuitive, but Scott Phillips Jr., CEO and operating principal at Keller Williams Greater Cleveland, thinks the best way to become the boss is by not setting out to become the boss.

“Don’t set out with a position in mind. I never applied to be the CEO of Keller Williams,” he says. “What I cared about is the purpose of the company. My advice is find something you are super passionate about, and don’t set out to become a boss.

“If you set out on that journey, you’re going to find yourself the boss, but you’re not going to find anyone who really wants to follow you.”

Phillips feels passionate about growing and promoting Cleveland.

“Selling homes was how I made my money. I was really passionate about growing and marketing the region.

“If you care about it, people are going to be attracted to your enthusiasm. And then they will probably want to follow you, and you don’t have to apply to be the CEO. Someone will actually come to you and say they want you to replace them, and that’s what happened in my case.”

When transitioning to the CEO job, Phillips wanted to make sure that whatever he did, it would represent the company. That meant meeting with the top 20 percent of sales people and asking them to evaluate the company and its direction. With that information, he was able to prioritize his initiatives versus coming in like a bull in a china shop and making radical changes.

An early start

Phillips started developing his leadership skills early in high school and college, especially as president of his Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at The Ohio State University.

“I became really comfortable with facilitating a group of people. It is the same situation that I am in now — just with higher stakes.”

Grizzled veteran is not a term that applies to Phillips, 31, who received a Top 30 Under 30 Award in 2012 from the National Association of Realtors.

“I won an award and no one really knew my age,” he says. “It’s not something you wear on your business card. Someone says to me, ‘I didn’t know you were under 30.’ That was sobering.”

Phillips succeeded John Ludwick, who had several decades of real estate experience. Phillips says Ludwick provided many great insights and helped him in countless ways, but he also believes youth sometimes has its advantages. Phillips describes himself as energetic, upbeat and optimistic.

“As a business person, I am very forward thinking,” he says. “People kid me about that all the time. They say ‘Scott is already planning for the year 2019.’”