Friday night at the Holiday Inn and Suites, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce will officially name John McEnearney its Business Leader of The Year for 2006. Twelve days later, Nov. 8, the founder of McEnearney Associates Inc., Realtors, will celebrate his 80th birthday.
That lifetime has spanned both a successful career in the U.S. Navy and a second in Northern Virginia real estate. Both were based on one core philosophy. "A good leader plans for the future and has a second generation in line," McEnearney said sitting in his Old Town Alexandria office overlooking King Street.
Following graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy, McEnearney spent 27 years on active duty with the U.S. Navy. But, following his philosophy of planning ahead, he knew that he was going into real estate even before completing his military career.
"Near my last tour of duty, while stationed in Hawaii, I met this Air Force Lt. Colonel who convinced me how interesting it was to be in real estate. He was doing both at the time," he said.
"My last tour of duty brought me to the Pentagon where I was working for Rumsfeld when he was Secretary of Defense the first time. I was in the Office of Legislative Affairs dealing with Congress," McEnearney said.
"While I was doing that I got my real estate license but never participated in any real estate sales until I was officially out of the Navy. I retired on a Friday. Started in real estate on Sunday. Sold my first house on Monday, and never looked back," McEnearney recalled in an earlier conversation.
At that first job in November 1976, John McEnearney worked as an agent for another Alexandria real estate firm. After four successful years he acquired his broker's license and opened McEnearney Associates.
That was May 1980, and, as he described that timing, "Everything was going gangbusters in the real estate world." It was so good he signed a 10-year lease for an office in Old Town that was still under construction.
Then came October and the bottom fell out. "I was ready to cut my throat. But, in the long run, it taught me a very valuable lesson. It taught me how to operate in a bad market," McEnearney said.
THAT FIRST year in business his firm grossed $21 million. This past week McEnearney Associates, Inc., grossed $17 million, according to John. Last year they grossed approximately $1.6 billion, although John McEnearney has always insisted on quality over quantity.
His goal from that first day was "to gain the respect of the public and have them realize we are the best." As he has stated from the outset, "If we are the best we will be the biggest by default."
McEnearney Associates has been Alexandria's leader in sales for the past two decades and has been the top real estate office in Northern Virginia for nearly one of those decades. During the recent boom period McEnearney agents averaged $7.5 million in sales per agent.
Presently McEnearney Associates has a staff of 350 people counting both sales and administrative personnel throughout its three office in Northern Virginia dealing with both residential and commercial real estate. The Alexandria office accounts for 125 of those.
In addition, they have both a property management division and a relocation department as well as their own mortgage company named Signature Mortgage Services. The relocation department works with corporations nationwide enabling relocating personnel to be connected with real estate agents known to McEnearney Associates in the area to which they are relocating. They are a member of "ReLo," Leading Real Estate Company of The World.
In keeping with his core philosophy, McEnearney has created a "management team" that virtually insure "a second generation in line." In addition to himself, who remains owner, president and CEO, it is composed of his daughter, Maureen McEnearney Dunn, who serves as the firm's Chief Operating Officer with day-to-day management oversight, based in the McLean office, and the managing brokers from each of the firm's three offices.
In the Alexandria office, which John considers his flagship, the managing broker is Dave Hawkins with Glenn Lewis serving as the assistant managing broker. Julia Criss is the managing broker in the Arlington office with David L. Howell in that role for the McLean office.
"It's a family firm in the sense that everyone in it is part of the family," McEnearney said. That was buttressed by Hawkins. "John has always invested in his agents rather than bricks and mortar," he said.
JUST AS in that initial October of 1976, after a "gang busters" market, John began to see "a softening of the market" last October. This time, however, he was both philosophically and organizationally prepared to deal with what he envisioned as a more realistic realignment of the market.
"There has been an explosion of real estate agents in recent years with people leaving other careers. One out of every three in the business today in most firms has less than three years experience. But, as the market softens, both buyers and sellers are going to be looking for experienced agents. That's where our agents' experience and training is going to prove to be even more valuable," he said last year.
But, John McEnearney is far from the doom and gloom naysayers filling the air waves and print media about a "real estate bubble burst." Just the opposite, to him this is reality and a re-establishment of fiscal strength.
"I see the market getting back to normal. What we've had over the last five years is not a healthy market in the long run. If you have too much of a rapid run up its going to come to grief eventually," he said.
He also noted that Alexandria sales are holding up much better than the outer suburbs. Loudoun is down 50 percent, Northern Virginia overall is down 35 percent, while Alexandria sales are down only 23 percent, according to McEnearney.
"What most people don't understand is that a 15 percent drop in sales volume doesn't mean a 15 percent decline in prices. There is no direct relationship. It just means it takes longer to move property not that its value is depreciating," he said.
As an example McEnearney cited a property his firm recently listed in excess of $2 million that was on the market for only two weeks. He also predicted the market will bottom out between now and spring.
"The Alexandria market will be strong well into the future. I do not see values dropping at all over the next decade. All my offices have been opened inside the Beltway and we concentrate on properties inside the Beltway because of the shorter commutes. That factor will increasingly impact property values," he said.
McEnearney also believes that there is no magic age bracket to become a real estate agent. "You can start a real estate career at any age. I was 54 when I started," he said.
"You can be successful if you are willing to work hard and its a labor of love as it has been for me. It also helps if you can attract really good staff as I have been fortunate to do," McEnearney emphasized.
An example of that was exemplified by Criss last year in discussing their 25th Anniversary. "It's (the firm) is a very open operation. We all want to keep the core things that built this company," she said.
Married for 57 years to his wife Virginia, the McEnearney's have six children, three of whom, Maureen, Michael and Kathleen, are in the firm. Sean is with CTX Mortgage Company in Fairfax County, Mark is an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Sharon recently sold her hardware business, Highland Hardware, in Atlanta, Ga.
Friday night John McEnearney becomes the Chamber's 12th Business Leader of The Year. This past May he marked 30 years in real estate.
When asked about his plans for retirement last year on the occasion of the firm's anniversary he gave the following response: "Sometime in the future I suspect I'll fade into the distance on my favorite horse. Right now I'm still very much enjoying things. Except maybe I pay more attention to who's car I walk in front of with the engine running."