COEUR d'ALENE - It was a newspaper ad that caught young Ben Fairfield's eye.
Just 14 years old, he read about a job fair at The Coeur d'Alene Resort.
"I told my folks, 'I'm going to go get a job and they kind of gave me the old, 'OK,' thinking it was going to be good for me, but not expecting I would get job. I got all dressed up and went down and I came back with a job. I ended up working there for about eight and a half years. Started off filling tee divots, worked my way up through maintenance and ended up working at the pro shop."
Ben Fairfield's work ethic, his dedication to detail and eagerness to excel, hasn't changed.
The Coeur d'Alene native went on to earn a degree in aeronautics from the University of North Dakota. Later, he became sales manager for Century 21 Butler and Associates, and was featured in the Inland Business Catalyst Magazine's top 20 under 40. During his time with Century 21, it was the No. 1 office in the world for the Century 21 system and he spent the last two years managing their Liberty Lake office.
This year, on Jan. 12, he accepted the position of CEO of Keller Williams Realty Coeur d'Alene. His business card adds the titles of team leader and associate broker.
And he is 28 years old.
The 2000 Coeur d'Alene High School graduate leads 110 agents here and an office staff of six from their office at 1450 Northwest Boulevard.
The job demands travel. Ten trips in 11 months? No problem.
Think the economy is tough and success is unlikely? Not so for Fairfield.
"That's the beauty of my job. I get to jump on board as the train's leaving the station and the momentum is building. It's a great place to be," he said.
But Ben Fairfield is not all business.
He loves his hometown. (He had a chance to move to Chicago for work, but opted to stay in the Lake City.) He enjoys fishing, hunting, skiing, making home-brewed beer and being a home group leader for his church.
The best is at home.
He and wife Bonnie have one son, 1 1/2-year-old Noah, with another due in July.
"They're a blessing," he said.
What does it feel like to be CEO at 28?
It's pretty exciting. It's been a goal for about eight years. I was born and raised here. I went away for flight school, certified traffic controller or a pilot. Sept. 11 happened when I was in the middle of school and so those jobs kind of went away, or the pay went way down, so I came back here and decided I wanted to stay here. That's what got me into real estate. From that point forward, that's when I really decided I wanted to be in this role with a company.
Are you surprised you're already a CEO?
Yes. I was shooting for it by 30. This opportunity just found me. I wasn't looking for it. It was just the right opportunity at the right time and the right people. The culture and the model here, the unique system and the values lined up well. There were lots of stepping stones to make sure it was a good fit.
How have you done so well?
Hard work. Especially in a town like this, where it's such a small town. Reputation is everything, your name is everything. It's just persistent hard work, dedication.
What do you enjoy most about being CEO at Keller Williams Realty in Coeur d'Alene?
The ownership here consists of young guys my age, so they give me a lot of autonomy to really do what I think we need to do to get where we're going. Not without oversight from them. It's just an exciting time to be with the company. Keller just took over the second-largest real estate franchise in the world this year. Internationally, the company is growing. It started in the late '80s, started franchising in the early '90s. So it's gone from nothing, not even in existence, to second-largest that fast. So it's a really upward trend for the national company. Same thing here. This ownership has owned this company for four years. In that time they've gone from nonexistent to No. 4 in the market place and we see the trajectory continue to go up.
Can you outline your typical day?
Lots of calling. My job is relationships, working with our agents, making sure they have everything they need, working with our staff. Today we had a staff meeting, we're going through staff development. And then it's just standard communication with people in the industry. Our vendors, our mortgage people, our title people. Just staying in contact with them to make sure we have as good a relationship as possible.
What's ahead for you?
No. 1 in the market here. The company is growing, they're young. We've got our five-year growth plans for other markets. This company and this job will grow to the extent we want to take it because of the model. It works.
How do you think the real estate industry is doing these days?
It depends. It depends on where you are, what your price point is, what you're looking for. The lower end of our price point, zero to $200,000, fairly stable. We're seeing quite a few sales there. If you're a high-end seller or buyer, it's taking a little bit longer. But financing with the rates, as everyone has continued to say, 5 percent money is ridiculously cheap. Now that we're getting our price more in line with the average income of our workforce, we're opening more opportunities for people to own versus rent.
How are you recruiting top talent to real estate?
One of the initiatives we're pushing, we know there's a lot of very talented individuals who are graduated from college, they're entrepreneurial-minded who just flat out can't find a job. So we're starting to connect with some of those people and starting to build some relationships with some of the local universities and see if maybe we can find some people, this might be a good fit for them. They might not have thought about this as a career in real estate, but you find those people with the right mindset and who are willing to work for it, it's a great career.
What would you recommend to others looking to achieve similar success?
You've got to roll your sleeves up. It doesn't come easy. It never will. You have to work hard for it. Networking is huge, especially in a town like ours where relationships are everything. You have to be out there. You have to be in relationship with people to find these opportunities. Then it just comes down to putting your nose to the grindstone and proving it. You can't expect it. My generation is spoiled. When I got out of school, I could put an application into a bunch of different places and get lots of offers. The market's not like that anymore. A lot of us are spoiled coming out of school thinking it was going to be easier than it was, and now we're getting a little taste of reality. It comes down to results. You've got to have a track record and you've got to be able to prove yourself.
Any final words of advice?
I've heard a lot of people tell me I can't do things because of my age. You just find a way to do it. Work hard, show the results, and you get there. Anything is possible.
Date of birth: August 1982
Family: Wife Bonnie, one son
Education: Bachelor's degree in science and aeronautics, University of North Dakota, graduated in 2004.
Number of hours on average you work in a week: 50-55
Number of hours on average you sleep in a night: 8
Favorite book: The Bible
Favorite spectator sport: Football
Hobbies: Airplane pilot, fly fishing, home-brew beer, skiing.
Best advice you ever received: Make yourself indispensable and you'll be moved up. Act as if you're indispensable and you'll be moved out.
Quality you admire most in a person: Honesty
One person who most influenced your life: My parents, Rex and Peggy Fairfield. They have gone through quite a few difficulties in life. Just watching their perseverance, not taking no for an answer, putting your head down and working through it. They always come out smelling like a rose. Just keep pushing forward.
One thing you consider your greatest accomplishment: Our son, Noah.