REAL ESTATE WEEKEND
Realtor grateful to be ‘lottery winner’
By Janis Fontaine
Special to The Palm Beach Post
When he was 27, Dermot OBrien won the lottery. It wasn’t a megabucks lottery for a cash prize, but for something equally valuable: His mother had entered him in a lottery for a green card that entitled him to live and work in the United States. That’s how the 54-year-old Irishman landed on American soil in 1990.
OBrien didn’t have an American Dream, per se. Honestly, he says, “I never thought that big, but I always want to make a success of myself. “I left Ireland to go to London to work when I was 21 and that was a very big deal to me at the time.” But once he assimilated to the roiling American culture, he could see a bigger picture, for the world and for himself. “Seeing the world through the eyes of an American, it’s a melting pot of people. You get a very different, a much bigger, perspective; a global perspective. I’m very grateful to be able to see the world like I have.”
OBrien took advantage of his green card and earned an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. He loved marketing, fascinated by why people buy things, and how he could improve his chances of selling them the things he wanted them to buy. He got a job in marketing with Unilever, a well-known food and health/body care company.
Then, OBrien became a web entrepreneur. He set up an Internet business running a popular Irish website (www.celtic. com) that yahoo.com ranked in the top three Irish websites, right behind Guinness and the National Irish Tourism Agency. The Irish phone company said they were interested in buying OBrien’s company. The future looked bright. “I was getting closer and closer to a deal when the dotcom bubble burst. It was not good. We went through tough times,” he said, and not for the last time.
But another American tenet came into play: It’s okay to fail. Or there’s no shame in failure as long as you’re in the game, competing hard.
“We were living in East Hampton, Long Island, and I had to sell our house. I hired the best Realtors, but they had no luck. I decided I would sell it myself, so I got my real estate license and
I sold the house within three months at close to the asking price.”
The family moved to Singer Island in 2004. “I became a Realtor here. I started with Prudential, then I moved to Illustrated Properties and then to Corcoran.” He was busy with his family and building a new career.
Then the market changed. “In 2007 and 2008, that’s when things got really bad and I really learned to sell,” OBrien said. In fact, OBrien received the platinum award for sales at Illustrated Properties in 2008-2010. In 2012, he won the Ritz Carlton Residences Power Broker Award and in 2013 he won the prestigious International Property award for best Florida Realtor.
“I told myself, ‘I’m going to become an expert on Singer Island, and I did. Now 95 percent of my business is on Singer Island in condos and waterfront homes.” Nine years ago, OBrien set up his own brokerage, based at the Resort at Singer Island. To date, he has sold 230 properties valued at more than $250 million.
Twice the age he was when he left Ireland, OBrien is still actively learning. He’s currently taking a one-year, Google-approved diploma course in digital marketing. He is doing all the assignments on his own company.
Along the way, OBrien realized that marketing houses is very similar to marketing at Unilever – they’re both consumer products. “It turns out in real estate I’m doing more marketing than ever.”
Where were you during the Great Recession?
Having just stopped working for a developer on Singer Island, I was starting back out on my own again. It was really challenging, but again I learned so much from the adversity. I really came to understand what the phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” means.
How do you balance career and family?
I’ve been married for 21 years, and our son just turned 20. He’s been in college in Los Angeles for two years studying new business development. My wife is a writer and a public speaker and she got to travel a lot for her work, so circumstances were such that I had to be able to pick up our son from school. I was so lucky because it made me be more involved with my son’s life. He has just been nominated for an entrepreneurship award and we are so proud of him.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I think coming to America, finding my wife, having our wonderful son and making a life and a successful business here. Life in Ireland would have been totally different. I wouldn’t have the same broad perspective I have now. I really am grateful to live in this amazing cultural melting pot where you take responsibility for your own successes and failures.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be afraid! Go for it!
What’s your personal philosophy?
“Feel the fear and do it anyway.”