Strong Female Leader: Julie Leonhardt LaTorre “Do fewer things, better”

Our very own Chief Operating Officer for Sotheby’s International Realty, Julie Leonhardt LaTorre was featured on Thrive Global for their strong female leaders series and we’re so happy to share! Read her interview with Yitzi Weiner below.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Leonhardt LaTorre. Julie serves as Chief Operating Officer for Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC. In this role, she is responsible for overseeing the global servicing and operations functions for the Sotheby’s International Realty® brand. With an extensive background, working across various sectors of the real estate industry, LaTorre has gleaned an invaluable global business acumen. She has experience as a transactional attorney, as well as having worked closely with auction houses and luxury brands and has a keen understanding of an affiliate-based business model. LaTorre’s focus for the Sotheby’s International Realty brand is to drive strategic growth globally, expand top-notch services initiatives, and develop business-changing tools for affiliates to better serve their clientele. Prior to joining Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC, LaTorre was senior vice president of affiliate services and head of operations, EMERIA region, for Christie’s International Real Estate. She has also held positions as a commercial real estate finance attorney at two leading Wall Street firms: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP. Before earning her law degree, LaTorre worked in education serving as a high school teacher in the Greater Los Angeles Area and then managing the Medicaid Choice Education Project for the State of New York. While at Cadwalader, LaTorre served as co-founder and chair of the Women’s Leadership Initiative. She is an active supporter of Something New, formerly known as the Freedom Foundation, a non-profit organization in Selma, Alabama that empowers young people to find their voice and expand their opportunities by providing extracurricular activities and mentoring, as well as providing a sense of community. Along with her many career accomplishments, LaTorre is a graduate of Westmont College, holds a Juris Doctor degree from Fordham University Law School, and is fluent in Spanish.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Julie! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

The thought, “I’ll just stay put,” was never part of my mindset. I began my career teaching in California and while I loved my students, I was itching for something different. I ended up moving to New York City after falling in love with the city’s fast-paced energy. I didn’t have a job yet or an apartment — I just showed up. I started off at a non-profit and then enrolled into law school. While at law school, I was drawn to the property classes and became interested in all aspects of real estate — city planning, architecture, and how the industry shapes our lives.

I became a commercial real estate finance attorney during the peak of the global financial crisis, but I persevered and became a junior attorney to one of the law partners at my firm. Soon after, I assumed the senior vice president role at Christie’s and moved to London. From there, I moved back to New York for my current position with Sotheby’s International Realty. It was a no-brainer for me to make the change. Sotheby’s International Realty is one of the strongest brands in the world — in luxury and real estate — and I wanted to be part of something unmatched in the market.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of the things that I love most about the Sotheby’s International Realty brand is our global presence — we have a global footprint that spans nearly 1,000 offices located in 72 countries and territories worldwide! On a recent trip to India, I took part in the Global Luxury Conclave and sat on panels with ministers of finance and the arts, developers and hoteliers, such as Oberoi. During my time there, I appeared on a local news station alongside a prominent Indian anchor, interviewed with a national financial newspaper, and appeared in a full-page ad in Mint. In addition to being part of the conversation with leaders in development in India, I was able to spend time with our local colleagues, enjoying their culture, food and rituals, which helped to build trust, rapport and solid relationships with the team.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Thankfully, my previous positions prepared me for my current role, and so far, so good! Looking back, one of my biggest key learnings happened during a meeting in London with my former company. I wanted to be cognizant of everyone’s time, so I came in to meetings with an established agenda and got straight down to business, but quickly learned that I wouldn’t gain any traction until I acknowledged the established cultural code of engaging in tea and pleasantries before attempting any business discussions.

I learned to be sensitive to their style of communication and their understated nature. I adjusted my habits accordingly, which gave me credibility to win over the team and reorganize some of the office functions, create greater engagement with the corporate team in New York, and increase productivity.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Sotheby’s International Realty was founded in 1976 as a real estate service for clients of the Sotheby’s auction house. Today, Sotheby’s International Realty is a luxury real estate brand with a rich history that has stood the test of time, and what makes it stand out from the rest is our relentless focus on continued innovation and growth around the world. We are dedicated to providing tools to help agents drive their business. We pioneered 3D and virtually reality tours on our website and were the first real estate brand to launch an augmented reality app — Curate — to allow homebuyers to virtually envision décor and furniture in a home. In 2018, Sotheby’s International Realty reported more than $112 billion in global sales volume, the highest annual sales volume in the brand’s history. We can achieve this because we have a strong brand, a powerful global network, innovative culture and the best real estate professionals in the business.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are constantly looking at ways to innovate the real estate business in the best interest of our affiliated companies, agents and clients. Launching Curate was one of those important launches that helps agents, homebuyers and sellers. We also have a cloud-based ad building tool that helps affiliates and agents quickly create digital and print marketing materials and an exclusive partnership with Facebook to create targeted marketing campaigns from an agent’s phone. These are two tools that help agents connect more and create new ways with buyers and sellers of real estate to view properties in new, exciting ways.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

The counsel I would give any leader to help their team thrive is to first and foremost, hire well. Hire people who bring different skills and experience to the table. Listen to your team and empower them to do their job. It’s okay to ask for help and to bring in others who have a different perspective or experience to help you solve challenges. It’s also important to stay close to your clients and customers so that you are in touch with their needs and challenges and are aware of their sentiment towards your company and changes in the industry. I encourage all leaders, once they have understanding of what is needed, to make bold moves, admit when something isn’t working, and change course quickly when required to create real impact.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

My advice is to identify the people in your company who are respected and have influence. Learn from them, and then enroll them in the importance of your priorities and goals so that they become advocates on your behalf and drive alignment with goals and priorities among the larger team.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am grateful for a variety of people in my life. I have been supported and helped by dozens of people along the way, inside and out of work, from colleagues who reviewed documents for me when I was a new lawyer, to neighbors and friends who picked up my son from school and kept him for dinner so that I could show up for a work event. A strong support system benefits everyone and makes us all better in the long run. The small acts of kindness and encouragement I received from others throughout my life and career have strengthened my ability to lead. I believe that anyone can show up and make a difference. Ask for help when you need it, accept it when it’s offered, and then pay it forward.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have found my success has become a tool to empower and encourage women to take risks and be confident as they move forward in their careers. When I’m traveling or speaking at conferences, women often approach me and thank me for doing what I do, telling me it inspires them to go bigger. However, it’s not just women that are taking notice, men have also become advocates and supporters of women in leadership roles. On a recent trip to Vancouver, a male colleague told me that he believed my career trajectory and the fact that there is a woman in this role would have a positive impact for his daughter.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Put people first. A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected of them. Show people that you are invested in their interests and in their growth, and they will invest in you and your company. Talented people don’t quit companies, they quit unrewarding managers.

If I am the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find another room. It’s so important to become acquainted with better and more powerful people to grow professionally.

Lively debate breeds the best ideas. The biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet. There are certain people who work for me who have become a litmus test, my gut check. When they withdraw or go quiet, I know there is something that needs my attention.

Leverage the wisdom of the crowd. I hire people with different experiences than me and then get out of their way. We should recognize what everyone brings to the table. Surround yourself with people that bring different backgrounds and opinions so that you are not stifling creativity.

Finally, do fewer things, better. Find out what moves the needle and focus on that. Figure out where you are spending most of your time and come up with a plan to ensure you are sufficiently focused on the most important things.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want to inspire people to embrace their most authentic selves. I try to foster an environment where I encourage the people I work with to be present as who they truly are. I also make a point to bring my whole self to my job every day. When we aren’t true to our identity, we feel incomplete and like something is missing. Embracing what is uniquely ours rather than what we believe we are supposed to be leads to the best ideas, positive energy and increased engagement that is authentic and real.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I like the quote “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage” by Anais Nin. I believe in showing up and saying “yes” to new experiences — you never know what doors can be opened for you if you have the courage to take that first step.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to have lunch with former Pepsi Co CEO, Indra Nooyi. She has a unique, authentic leadership style and truly understands what is necessary to inspire others and create meaningful change in the world.

I also would not pass up an opportunity to go skydiving with Richard Branson. He is an entrepreneurial wonder and overall, unashamedly unique, honestly owning his challenges and differences as creating, not hindering, his success.

— Published on July 16, 2019

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