With the heritage profile as a guide, Buffini hired people to coach agents to become better people. Coaches do one-on-one sessions with agents twice monthly by phone. The cost is $5000 per year. Buffini eventually expanded the coaching system to focus on the five elements, as he calls them, of his clients' lives: business, financial, spiritual, family, personal. Buffini's coaches advise clients to set goals (lose 25 pounds, save $10,000, find more time for family activities or spiritual practices) and then hold them accountable to those goals via their phone sessions.
The Irishman's rise to fame is richly dramatized in the promotional DVD, "Coaching the Good Life." It begins with rock music blaring and the Stars and Stripes waving, cuts to Buffini and family barbecuing at his Rancho Santa Fe home, after which he's driving his Lexus, hitting the golf ball, boarding his private jet, and leading, with a soft-edged Irish brogue, power seminars like "Mastermind" and "Turning Point," in which he stokes the fires of "personal growth." Buffini is, as his company members say, "huge," addressing packed halls twice monthly. In the video we hear the voice-over, "Brian Buffini may just be the happiest multimillionaire in San Diego. In 15 years he's made a fortune, lost a fortune, and then made another fortune teaching people how to make a fortune." At a rally, his throng cheers when he intones, "I believe a far-mel education can make you a living. But a self-education can make you a far-chin." (I asked a Buffini employee about attending a "Turning Point" seminar in San Diego and was told the event was sold out and reporters were not allowed in. I asked about interviewing a Buffini coach, but none responded.)
Buffini pushes his employees and his clients toward personal fortunes and company goals. In staff meetings, it's not uncommon, said several employees, to hear him or one of his brothers rouse the cadre. "What are our core values?" To which 100 supplicant voices recite, "Excellence is our minimum standard. If it's not excellent, don't do it. Always take the high road. Exceed your expectations, and win!" Followed by the big cheer. Another element is prayer. Buffini met his wife Beverly at Bible study, and Christianity is the de facto faith of the enterprise, as Rich Brennan told me. Brennan is the director of corporate wellness. I asked the superpositive, superfit Brennan whether Buffini or people in the company were drawn to any particular research in motivational or organizational psychology.
"Brian's research is so vast and he's such a book reader," Brennan said, "that he'll pull from all different styles of motivation. But the number-one motivator for Brian would be Jesus Christ. When you talk about referral, Jesus Christ was the number-one referral king of all time. He had 12 disciples, and He said, 'Hey, go get Me some referrals.' He's the most famous person in all history, and He built His entire business off of referrals, the largest referral network ever created off of 12 people." The people who work at Buffini and Company are called "servant leaders, yes, a Christian-based term," Brennan added. Byron Vardilos, the coaching business manager, who said he is also a Christian, told me that "the more people you can serve, the more you're gauged as a leader. It's like Jesus washing the disciples' feet -- doing the mundane task of showing them how to serve each other." The company recognizes its servant leaders with monthly, quarterly, and yearly awards. Julieann Billings-Riordan, marketing communications manager, who agreed that the company has its Christian adherents, said that Buffini does not "discriminate against non-Christians." Bowed heads and group prayer do begin some meetings; a large flock of employees, many of whom are married to each other or are siblings, attend the same church.
In the lobby of the Carlsbad office, one of two statements painted in big letters high on the wall reads: "Our Mission: To Impact and Improve the Lives of People." On the DVD, we see this purpose apparently being put into practice as audience members file out of Buffini's presentations awakened and stunned. After his talks, Buffini says on the video that he will routinely hear someone say, "You've changed my life." "When I'm speaking onstage," he continues, "I'm able to relate to everybody. People will say, 'You were talking just to me.' And there were thousands of people in the room." It's probable that the people to whom he ministers motivation already believe that a sales guru can change their lives. This aptitude for change is key. Brennan drew a profile of the real-estate-agent personality whom Buffini is looking for and who is open to personal transformation: "They are free-spirited, relational, and people-oriented; not as introspective as others. They like the freedom to make their own schedules. They enjoy competition; they're good sports. They like to be part of a team," which sells houses and collects referrals.
Selling real estate is competitive and cyclical. Market ups and downs are common: currently, Southern California faces sluggish sales that will remain constant, some experts predict, until 2008. Too many will compete for a limited share of home sales. But the variable seasons of selling seem not to matter. Buffini gathers the survivalists: the competitive independence of the agent's work favors those who like living on the edge, without a steady salary or company-paid benefits. Buffini and his coaches stir the real-estate-agent type to succeed. You would think that such enterprising sorts would need no motivation. But they do. According to Brennan, as the market cools down, "This is the time when the true business professional rises to the top because he follows the same system whether the market is up or down. Buffini and Company will do better over the next few years with the market low than when it's high."
Has Buffini found a way to motivate agents to be more productive? According to a study by the National Association of Realtors, members of the association who had 26 years of experience selling homes averaged $92,600 annual income. When Buffini's Mike Lopez, director of coaching and events, tallied the score of their Buffini-coached agents, he found that those with 4 years' experience selling homes averaged $172,691. Has Buffini found a way to motivate agents to be happier in their personal lives and wealthier in their profession? Perhaps. One thing is clear: an agent needs to be of the real-estate-selling ilk -- one who balances taking advice and making sales, seeking spiritual ends and making money -- before he or she rides Buffini's system to the end of the rainbow.