Chris Coile, President & CEO, Champion Realty

It's as true today as it was any time in our past. You want something? Go for it," says Maryland real estate icon Chris Coile, who prefaced his words of wisdom with an apology of sorts. "This sounds kind of preachy," he began, "but we are in the land of opportunity. Any person, anywhere, can do anything they want to do if they're willing to just do it. If you want to work hard enough, no one is going to be standing in your way."

Inspiration, says Coile, has come from his mother, Peg Wallace. "The best thing about her is she has always had a great attitude and I, fortunately, inherited that from her---an optimistic, enthusiastic attitude. I wake up happy. I do."

Coile has always enjoyed sales. "From the time I was a little kid, I was selling Christmas cards. I sold subscriptions to the Maryland Gazette newspaper. I sold shoes at Franklin Simon in the evening." After graduation from Glen Burnie High School, Coile attended Penn State University where he met his wife Susan. They married at the end of their sophomore year in 1964. After graduation, the couple moved to Florida, and Coile got a job managing a music company. After three months, they both realized how much they missed the northeast. They were headed for Maine when their car broke down. "The only guy I knew in the world that had $300 he could loan me to get my car fixed lived in Annapolis," Coile recalls.

They got the car fixed and drove it back up to Maryland where Coile took a job selling business machines for 30 days so he could repay the $300. "Then," he says, "I quit and went into real estate. We were stopping [here] on an interim basis, but once I got into real estate, I thought, 'Hey, this is where I belong.'"

Coile opened Chris Coile and Associates in 1970. Over the next 10 years, the company expanded to 22 offices, 10 in Anne Arundel County and 12 around Baltimore. In early 1980, Coile's became the second company nationwide to join with Merrill Lynch Real Estate and, in so doing, sold the company name. "It was really a good move," he says, "because I needed a break. I was tired. I had been working incredible hours for 10 years." Coile joined Merrill Lynch knowing that he wouldn't stay long. He wanted to do something different.

In 1982, Coile bought a 6,000- acre ranch in Montana and left Maryland to raise cattle and, in his leisure time, to fly fish. "It was really like cowboy country," he says, "really unspoiled and beautiful, a million miles from nowhere. We were 75 miles from town, 13 miles from a paved road. During that time, I started an outfitting business and took people fishing and hunting. It was great. We stayed there five years." Coile admits that, despite his many western ventures and adventures, he missed the activity of the real estate business and he missed the people back home.

Then came the phone calls. Merrill Lynch was getting out of real estate and looking for a buyer. "I got about a hundred calls from agents and managers who said, 'Come back,'" Coile recalls. He couldn't buy back his old company because Merrill Lynch was looking to sell the whole, rather than segments, of the business. Furthermore, Merrill Lynch was suing him over name infringement, so he couldn't re-open Chris Coile and Associates.

Coile returned to Maryland and, in January 1987, opened Champion Realty. Ultimately, more than 200 agents who had formerly worked for him came back.

Thirty-year friend and business partner Dixie MacMurray remembers it well. "He started right were he left off," she says. "He didn't miss a beat."

MacMurray relates an occasion during the Merrill Lynch matter when Coile smiled at one of the men who was suing him. One of the partners was heard to say, "Don't smile at him; he's not your friend," to which Coile replied, "Oh, he'll be my friend again some day." MacMurray adds, "That's the compassion and deepness he has for people. He's such a real person---very natural---and honest as the day is long."

Coile takes pride in the operating style of the company. "We do a tremendous amount of business," he says, "but we really think of ourselves as a family. When you're in real estate, it becomes pretty all encompassing and so the people we work with become our social life as well as our professional life and we are all friends. It's personal, not corporate."

The main attraction to the field for Coile is the people. "It's always interesting because people by their very nature are different, divergent. It's never boring because it's dealing with people, and people are not boring."

The role of the real estate agent, as Coile sees it, is not to sell a house but rather to help identify what is available and help customers expand what they are looking for. Most people have a list of requirements in mind. However, in Coile's view, "If they only look at properties which exactly match their criteria, they will never find the house they want. They know it when they see it. But, in a lot of cases, they don't give themselves the opportunity. So, my job is to help, say 'Let's go look at a bunch of stuff,' and then it'll all work out."

While many successful associates have started in real estate part-time as a "dual career," more professional people are now choosing real estate as their sole career, in lieu of working for a company such as ARINC or Xerox. They recognize that real estate offers many of the same benefits and job security. "It's transportable," says Coile. "You can move to another state once you have the skill and training and immediately go to work and be successful. Everybody wants you and you can work wherever you want---best job security there is. Your success is based on what you do, not on what someone else does."

The challenge, Coile explains, is to stay on top of things, to adapt to a rapidly changing business. "We have a huge focus on technology," he says. "Our web site, we think, is world class, state of the art. You have to constantly keep aware of the changes and decide which ones are going to be permanent and whether you're going to embrace it or chase it, whether or not you're going to be following it through. It's never static."

Neither is this man. He says, "There are still new things to accomplish in the real estate business and it's an every day deal. It never stops. I'm okay with what I've done, but I'm not finished."


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