Jack Gillespie and Jim Van Zanten
Brokers, Community Leaders, Friends
Photography by Aaron Bush
For the past 25 years, Jack Gillespie and Jim Van Zanten have been running one of the most successful real estate agencies in the South Bay. And what makes their agency thrive, even after a few difficult years for the housing industry, is not just their more than 30 years of experience as agents, but their deep involvement in and love for their community.
When you look at the accomplishments of these two men, both personal and professional, it’s easy to see how they’ve built a business that grosses more than $1 billion in annual sales. When they first opened the office in Manhattan Beach, they had five brokers. Today, South Bay Brokers employs 125 agents, all living in the South Bay area, and has a second office in Redondo Beach.
In the beginning, the idea was to build a place with more professional agents and a more professional atmosphere. “I always wanted to get people in the office who were cordial and professional rather than just bringing in anybody,” said Jim. And that harmonious atmosphere remains a focus, knowing that good relationships among employees are just as important as agent relationships in the community.
“We’ve grown slowly, but we feel that the people we choose or that choose us should have a strong reputation,” added Jack.
Jim and Jack have a strong attachment to the South Bay. It’s where they’ve chosen to live, work and play for more than 25 years. “When we started off, Manhattan Beach was the entry to the South Bay,” said Jim. “The 405 was new and Rosecrans was the closest spot to the ocean from the 405.” For them, the South Bay was the perfect spot to get a small town feel while remaining city-accessible.
Another long-standing foundation for South Bay Brokers is the sense of giving back to the community. Both CEOs encourage employee involvement in local schools, religious institutions and business affiliations to make the job more personal and enjoyable. Perhaps one of their largest focal points is local schools. “The schools maintain the reputation of an area,” said Jack. “Schools have been a huge driver as to why people are in the South Bay.”
South Bay Brokers’ dedication to volunteerism includes employees participating in the recent Richstone Pier-to-Pier Walk, helping build an education building for a local church, participating in the Rotary, and advocating for causes such as Down syndrome, pediatric cancer and autism, just to name a few.
“However their lives are touched, we encourage employees to take an active role in charity or the community. If they have an event, we tell them to run with it,” said Jack. “That’s what makes them multi-dimensional. Just selling real estate itself is not satisfaction enough.”
In honor of 25 years, South Bay Brokers recently underwent a re-branding to update their logo and look to match their professional achievements. The company conducted a survey and discovered that 95% of their clients would recommend their services, but getting this word out to the masses was the missing piece of the puzzle to increase South Bay Brokers’ reach in the marketplace.
“Many people are depressed about the market on the whole, and so you can either buy into that attitude or decide you’re going to exist 25 years from now,” said Jack. So the re-branding allowed the company to show the strength of its agents and how hard the company is willing to work to help clients through tough financial times. “You have to address these issues, head on. Some people need a fresh start. So we negotiate with lenders, help them downsize to houses they can afford, if need be,” said Jim.
And the personal relationships the agents have with local banks have helped them in turn help their clients. According to Jack, local banks with special relationships are often more willing than a big-box bank to help a recommended individual. “Sometimes a personal recommendation makes the difference of somebody getting through a jam or not,” he said.
The company’s success also hinges on communication. The agents meet several times a week to talk about what’s going on in the industry, and Jack and Jim are always there. “Our strength is that our people communicate well and respect each other,” said Jack. “And that’s important from a real estate point of view.” The average agent has worked for South Bay Brokers for more than 15 years and some have worked for as many as 37. Plus, they are cultivating and bringing in new agents all the time, trained personally by Jack and Jim.
But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the pair, beyond their business philosophies and dedication to the community, is their desire to sell houses after all these years. While many CEOs take on a strictly managerial position, these men are activity hitting the pavement. Jim typically sells more than 40 properties a year or about $20 to $25 million in gross sales. Jack personally sells in excess of $25 million per year.
“It’s the best feeling in the whole world to be able to help people get into homes and have them be happy about it,” said Jack. “You help them in all phases of life from deaths, divorces, loss of jobs, to elation such as marriages, new jobs and raises.”
“The trust that they have to have in you is a real big factor,” said Jim. “If you don’t respect the job and how you affect their lives, you shouldn’t be in it.” Recently, he helped a man buy a house for his family. It took seven months and 80 houses, but they finally found the perfect fit.