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Secrets of Success: Kelly Hager

There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.

Meet: Kelly Hager, the CEO of Kelly Hager Group Real Estate Services and Kelly Hager International. Kelly is also a national speaker and the author of Building a Dream Team: Battling From One Foot in the The Grave to Creating an Innovative and Collaborative Company. In 2010, a mysterious illness suddenly caused her to go into a coma. When she miraculously awoke weeks later, she couldn’t see or walk. Despite these catastrophic circumstances, Hager battled through extensive therapy and recovered, determined to see past what she had experienced and focus on what she could make of the future—specifically taking care of her son and creating a thriving and unique, team-based real estate firm.

While Kelly was incapacitated her team not only held the company together, but its revenue soared. From that experience, Kelly realized being a phenomenal leader isn’t about the leader–it’s about the team. She believes being driven, capable and focused isn’t always enough. To create a successful and innovative team, you need to be flexible and able to collaborate with team members who may be your complete opposite. It’s about finding their strengths and focusing on how to leverage their unique talents to improve the entire team—especially in the real estate industry.

Live Team Life is the leadership approach Kelly uses to describe her organization. “We work together, and more importantly, we do life together. We take care of each other,” she says.

Today Kelly leads a more balanced life, enjoying two successful businesses and an encouraging family (and work “family”). Through her leadership, The Kelly Hager Group has received a variety of awards and recognitions, including the Award for Excellence for Real Estate Services from real estate mogul and business expert Barbara Corcoran for three consecutive years. You can connect with Kelly on Twitter at @KellyHagerGroup and @LiveTeamLife.

Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Kelly Hager: I always thought I would be a veterinarian. I loved animals as a child and I thought I would have my own office. Once I realized part of the job was putting dogs to sleep…I knew that was not for me.

Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?

Hager: I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be my own boss. My family owned one of the top independent bookstores in the U.S. The store started as a 3,000-square-foot bookstore, and when they sold it 30-plus years later it was 58,000 square feet with a full restaurant and events every day from Jack Buck to Martha Stewart to Hillary Clinton to Colin Powell–who loves chocolate chip cookies, by the way!. I learned a lot about work ethic, drive and the thought process of running a business.

When I worked in corporate America, I marched to a bit of a different drummer. My thought process was different. My mantra was “Why not me?” I wanted freedom and knew that I needed training and development. I sought out the skills I was lacking so I could have the freedom I was looking for!

Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Hager: You bet I did. I was driving really hard…really, really hard. I was a “my way or the highway” personality, worked 12-16 hours a day, and was out of balance. I got sick—in a coma, on life support, organs shutting down sick. The day I got out of the Intensive Care Unit, my husband told me he was filing for divorce. It took me about 15 months to get functionality back and another year to truly be able to engage at 85 percent. I am thrilled to report I am back to 100 percent. I am more balanced than I have ever been and I am now the CEO of two corporations and manage the U.S operations of a third brand. My life is more fulfilling today than it has ever been!

Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

Hager: The best advice I can give people is BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Hire people who have the same set of values and different skills. I am a visionary, and many of the people who work with me are tactical and detail-oriented. Attacking the critical activities with a sense of urgency every day to drive the results you are looking for is essential for success.

Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Hager: Push-Pull Communication is paramount. I believe in self-management and hire leaders who have the capabilities that each role requires. I set up timelines with deliverables through quarterly strategic planning sessions with the big one in the fourth quarter. Instead of me constantly going to my people and saying, “I need…” I know every Monday I’ll get the sales reports and updated forecasting. I get a project update and I expect progress to be delivered based on the strategies we are discussing. So, I am not constantly hounding my people and my people are giving me the key performance initiatives with scheduled delivery.

Lesonsky: Do you have a 2015 small business prediction?

Hager: Many people in our world today buy on attributes, which is different than the previous generation that buy on brand and the generation prior to that buying on availability. Small business is extremely important and is [becoming] a larger and larger presence every day. 2015 will continue to see exponential growth. The titans are built in tough times and the businesses that made it through the last recession are here for a reason. It is invigorating!

Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?

Hager: There are so many. I read all of the time. Shark Tales, by Barbara Corcoran—I really like her storytelling approach of her rise, and her sense of humor is outstanding!

Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Hager: “The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance—and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.”

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Author information

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.