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Real estate heavy hitter leads company with focus on vision

In her over three decades in the real estate industry, Judy Green has helped grow several successful companies — all while staying true to her vision and herself.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. May 18, 2018
Stefania Pifferi. Judy Green is the CEO of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty.
Stefania Pifferi. Judy Green is the CEO of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty.
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Growing up with four older brothers helped shape the leader Judy Green is today.

“I always had to work hard, and I always had to take care of myself,” Green says. “In today’s world, I know there’s a lot of conversation about women, and I don’t even think in those thoughts. The fact is, being a woman has never gotten in my way. I’ve never been pushed aside because I’m a woman, I’ve just worked hard and done what I’ve needed to do to accomplish what I felt was right.”

Her career accomplishment list, meanwhile is long. A real estate industry veteran, Green served as senior vice president and chief administrative officer for real estate brokerage giant NRT LLC. From 1997 to 2004, she was CEO of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate of Florida. In 2008, Green founded Signature Sotheby’s International Realty in Sarasota. Two years later, the company merged with Premier Properties in Naples. In 2017, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty’s sales volume was $4.1 billion, making it one of the largest brokerages in the state. 

For over 35 years, Green’s real estate career has been marked by success measured in several ways, from growing sales, offices and agents to staying true to a vision — and to herself.

Win the race

Green, 68, didn’t grow up wanting to be a real estate agent. She went into the industry out of necessity – her husband was a builder. “Every home he built, we had to sell,” she says. “It just made sense for us to get our real estate license.”

Selling those homes was the way Green learned real estate, she says.

The couple opened a company, Charter Realty, in Oviedo, northeast of Orlando. They owned it for 15 years before selling to Coldwell Banker in 1993. That’s when Michael Good met Green. He was running Coldwell Banker operations for Florida and helped acquire Charter.

Since then, Good, executive champion of Ascend: The Executive Leadership Experience, has been Green's mentor. “She was so responsive and wanted to grow,” Good says. “She really became one of the finest leaders that I’ve ever worked with in my 41-plus years in the business.”

That’s saying something — from 2004 to 2013, Good was CEO and president of Sotheby’s International Realty. “I think it was just kind of a natural relationship that developed because I think she learned from me, she did well, I respected her and the job she was doing,” he says. “At one point she thanked me for the opportunities. I said, ‘No, you earned them.”

After Green began managing for Coldwell Banker, she took a turn in the political arena. She campaigned to be Mayor of Oviedo, running against an incumbent. Green says it wasn’t a narrow victory — she beat him two-to-one. She thinks the race was lopsided because people valued her long-time roots, growing up and raising her children there. “I truly was dedicated to the city and felt very passionate about doing what was right with the city," she says. "It was important to me. People knew me and knew my heart was in the right place.”

In 1993, she served as the first female mayor of Oviedo. “It helped me understand how some decisions were made,” she says. While Green says the experience also opened doors for her, it taught her a valuable lesson, too — she didn’t want to be a politician.

A few years later, Green moved to Sarasota to be CEO of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate of Florida. That’s also when she started working with Budge Huskey, who she’s worked with on and off since. He’s now president of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. “A lot of us in life and business, we accomplish things because others have a belief in us, sometimes greater than our belief in ourselves,” he says. “She had that belief in me. To be able to work for her, to me, is a real privilege.”

When Green assumed her position there, she oversaw 19 offices and about 1,100 agents. In 2004, when she left, she had grown the company to 200 offices and about 8,000 agents. She says many people there today are people she brought in. “I still have a lot of respect for them,” she says. “They are great people.”

During Green’s career steps up the ladder, Good continued to be not only her boss at times but a key mentor. “I never will forget him saying to me one time, ‘Okay, they love you — now let’s make some money,’” Green says. “And he was right. He taught me how to tighten the ropes when I needed to and make some tough decisions when I needed to.”

Green’s next move was a big one — up to New Jersey to work on a national basis for NRT. She was there until 2008, when she decided to come back to Sarasota.

Set the Vision

In November 2008, Green opened Signature Sotheby’s International Realty in Sarasota, at a time when the economy — particularly Florida real estate — was struggling.

“Everybody told me I was nuts,” Green says. “But the beauty of it was I did not have contractors or vendors that I had to break those contracts with. So while other companies were closing doors and consolidating their companies and breaking those contracts, I didn’t have to go through that because I just began then.” 

The business came into being because the existing Sotheby’s affiliate in Sarasota was in foreclosure. Green was asked if she would consider acquiring a franchise and opening up her own company in Sarasota — an opportunity she didn’t see coming, “I had already owned my own company before,” she says. “I did not envision doing it again.”

But once Green took the reins, the company grew by bringing on agents from the previous franchise as well as through acquisitions. Two years after starting it, Green merged with Premier Properties of Southwest Florida in Naples. She oversaw the transition to Premier Sotheby’s International Realty and became a partner and CEO of the company. Premier Sotheby’s International Realty is a division of the Lutgert Cos., a Naples-based firm that also has units in insurance, development and construction, among other industries.    

Today it has 38 offices, 126 full-time employees and 1,100 sales associates in five regions — Naples, Sarasota, Tampa Bay, Central Florida and North Carolina.

Good says Green leads by example, like he aimed to do. “If there were gifts I had as a leader, it was being able to lay out a vision and develop a plan to achieve that — and being able to surround myself with people who were as good as or stronger than I was,” he says. “I was never intimidated by having people who reported to me that were better than I was at different aspects of the business.”

That ability to lay out and adhere to a vision — as Good did — has been one of the keys to Green’s success. She created a vision for the company 10 years ago that includes aspiring to be the No. 1 luxury real estate brokerage in every market it serves and making a difference in each community it works in.

“Every Monday morning at 10 o’clock, all of my department heads and executive team come together and spend as much time as we need to reviewing our regions — all the needs and all the opportunities before us,” Green says. “We write out what each of us needs to do during the week to accomplish whatever we deem appropriate to meet our overall goal.”

Those specific tasks aren’t just items to fill a to-do list. They are strategic decisions meant to drive the company toward greater success.

Huskey says that’s the most important thing he’s learned from Green, “Never underestimate what you’re able to accomplish with a vision and incredibly hard work.”

Keep Good Company

For Green, an average day involves, as she puts it, “Phone call after phone call after phone call.” Plus about 500 emails.

She also spends time working with associates on issues that arise and traveling to the company’s offices throughout Florida. Unlike some executives who dread spending time in the car, Green has a different approach. “I cherish that time because I can catch up,” she says. It gives her the chance to call clients, vendors, acquisition candidates, associates and branch managers.

“Balancing my time between work and personal — that’s probably been my biggest challenge,” Green says. “I’m still learning.” The main way she maintains that balance is through the company she keeps. “What I’ve done is surrounded myself with extremely talented professionals who work with me each and every day to run the company.” Having those people in place, she says, gives her peace of mind.

Today Green splits her time — three-quarters in Sarasota, one-quarter in Naples. Some of her three children and nine grandchildren live near Sarasota, and her free time is for family. “Whether it’s a cookout, going out for a dinner or simply talking on the phone with them, just spending time with them is the most important thing to me,” she says.

Huskey describes Green as genuine, warm and unpretentious — “the girl from Oviedo” who never lost her roots. “She’s a person who would go to meetings in a St. John Knit, but the very second she could, she would be in flip-flops.”

Good says Green’s genuineness translates into actions, too. She wouldn’t expect anyone to do anything she hasn’t done or doesn’t still do today, he says. That goes from taking out the office trash to meeting with one of the wealthiest people in the community. Says Good: “She is strong and proud but still humble.”

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