As president and chief executive officer of Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc., Kathy Korte ensures that the name Sotheby’s stays synonymous with quality.
By Stephanie Wilson
“When I started with the Manhattan brokerage in 1984 we had probably fifteen brokers. Now the Manhattan group alone has about one hundred-sixty agents. It’s been an incredible ride.”
Real estate is about your local expertise as an agent as well as the company you work for, and the values and ethics that company upholds,” explains Kathy Korte. Expertise as an agent she has down. Korte, who began her real estate career with Sotheby’s International Realty in 1984, was recently appointed as the company’s president and CEO. Her offices are headquartered in Manhattan, where the brand has established dominance in what is widely considered the world’s most competitive real estate market. With the world-renowned name of Sotheby’s guiding her way through an industry known for sensitive values and ethics, Korte now leads a network of thousands of agents in close to 60 offices worldwide.
Sotheby’s International Realty opened its doors in 1976, launched by the auction house to support the real estate needs of clients who had long relied on Sotheby’s for access and discretion in the rarified domain of one-of-a-kind objects. Since its founding in 1744, Sotheby’s has been the auction house of choice for the world’s most unique and coveted items, from fine and rare jewels to exquisite wines and priceless works of art. Sotheby’s International Realty was a natural evolution in the Sotheby’s brand, offering a powerful marketing and referral program and connecting auction house clients with real estate expertise and a global portfolio of fine properties.
Now owned by parent company Realogy, Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc. operates 56 wholly owned brokerage offices in the United States and a flagship office in London. These offices are an integral part of the Sotheby’s International Realty network, comprised of affiliates throughout the United States and select locations around the world, including Anguilla, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, France, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, St. Barthelemy, St. Martin, Switzerland, Thailand, and Turks and Caicos Islands. Having joined Sotheby’s International Realty near the beginning, Korte played an essential role in the company’s dramatic growth and reputation for record-breaking sales.
“When I started with the Manhattan brokerage in 1984 we had probably fifteen brokers. Now the Manhattan group alone has about one hundred-sixty agents. It’s been an incredible ride,” Korte says. Her career took her through virtually every department, from assistant to the manager, to assistant brokerage manager, to corporate operations and planning. “Now I’ve been here almost longer than anyone!” she laughs.
Her love for the brand has grown exponentially as well. “The Sotheby’s brand precedes everything we do. It opens doors and sets the stage from day one-we provide world-class service to our clients, we exceed expectations on every level,” she explains. “We can always hold our heads high and be proud of the brand behind us.”
In a like manner, Korte tries to surround herself with others who are driven to excel, helping her and the company reach the next level. “My advice is to always hire people that are better than you,” she says. “Do whatever you can to find people you want to work with, that you laugh with, that you share a sense of humor with, because that’s how you really make the best effort. You can become visionaries together and create something altogether new.”
Such thinking has led to a plethora of high-end sales across the country, with Sotheby’s International Realty receiving several qualified offers on a $155 million ranch near Santa Barbara on the California coast. The offers came as a result of innovative marketing strategies that featured helicopter rides over the property’s expanse with a break for champagne-assisted picnic lunches. The company ensured that buyers were qualified on the front-end by asking them to finance the private helicopter tour of the 24,000-acre holding. Similar strategies led to successful sales at the Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole. Korte formally introduced the elite Wyoming property to a New York audience with a wine tasting in the boardroom of Sotheby’s auction house, inviting 100 of Sotheby’s best auction and realty clients. The networking evening was a success, hosting some of the biggest names in New York real estate, and generating several qualified leads. With Sotheby’s International Realty’s Jackson Hole office managing the local marketing and sales effort, all available units in the resort quickly sold out. The firm is now handling resales.
Korte has in fact prepared for her role as president and CEO since day one. From the beginning, she has known what is expected of the company: “Our brand is venerable and our legacy is service-premium service and expertise in the valuation of property, and in the marketing skills that secure the best price for any kind of treasured asset, whether it’s a work of art or a real estate offering. The most important part of my job is to uphold the integrity and quality that the Sotheby’s brand promises and that we continue to provide that every day.”
Korte describes a two-fold vision, one based on growth in new markets and on targeting a new generation that may not be as familiar with the Sotheby’s name. “We’re always assessing opportunities to open new offices-new frontiers where our brand and premium service can make a difference,” Korte says. “At the same time, we realize that even in our most successful markets, we have to freshen our approach, making the Sotheby’s name as meaningful to younger buyers as it has been to longstanding clients who we’ve worked with for decades.” To that end, Korte was very involved in the recent revamping of the Sotheby’s International Realty website and all related “e-marketing” initiatives currently in place and planned for weeks, months, and years ahead.
“Sotheby’s works across all levels,” she explains. “Our idea of luxury service is based on who we are, rather than what a client’s budget may be. We deliver premium service and expertise at any price category, whether it’s the $155 million ranch in California or a $700,000 condominium.” Korte is still very much involved in the field, and names her current favorite Sotheby’s properties as Donald Trump’s $125 million home in Palm Beach, as well as a 200-year-old authentic barn in Bridgehampton, listed for $16.3 million. “This barn has all the Old World charm of a Tuscan farmhouse with a huge, magnificent loft with cathedral beam ceilings, fast-forwarded into modern times with an entertainment center and every possible amenity,” she says. “It’s timeless and contemporary, a mix of the old and the new.”
This powerful combination of old and new is something that Korte creates every day, combining the traditional values of the Sotheby’s brand with the technology of a new century. In the end, Korte is ready for whatever the marketplace has in store. “It’s been an amazing ride for me, and the journey continues.”