50 years in real estate, O'Conor is retiring

`I am by no means going to go fishing'

October 01, 2002|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

A prominent Baltimore real estate executive known for his guiding hand in the growth of one of the area's largest brokerages is retiring after 50 years in the industry.

James P. O'Conor will step down today from his post as senior vice president of NRT Inc., leaving behind a 4,500-employee firm that he helped start with just three principals and one agent in 1960.

The 73-year-old O'Conor said that he was ready to try something new.

"I've been at this a long time now, so it's time to move on to some other things," he said.

In a company memo, NRT Executive Vice President Michael R. Good described O'Conor as a trailblazer and pioneer who helped expand the reach of the company.

"He is a leader in every sense of the word," Good said. "Jim has had the great foresight to anticipate many changes in our industry and the vision to innovate."

O'Conor grew up in a political family - his father, Herbert, was governor from 1939 to 1947 - but said he always was drawn to real estate. He said he liked the feeling of helping people find one of life's basic necessities - their home.

"It's just a very satisfying field to be in," he said.

At age 19, he got his start selling homebuilding supplies. He received his real estate license in 1953 and honed his skills at a local agency. In 1960, he and a partner branched off on their own and opened O'Conor, Byrnes & Flynn real estate.

The firm became well-known over the years as it underwent several mergers and expanded its prominence.

In 1984 the firm joined with four others to create O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, a merger that received coverage in the Wall Street Journal.

"The morning the story ran I was to attend a national Realtors meeting in Chicago," O'Conor said. "When I walked in the room everyone wanted to talk about what we were doing in Baltimore and not the subject that was scheduled."

NRT acquired the company in 1998 and a year later took it public, making O'Conor the first stock-traded real estate firm in Baltimore. Earlier this year, the firm went through its latest merger and adopted the Coldwell Banker name. NRT remains the parent company.

O'Conor said he is happy with the direction of the company. He said he'll miss some parts of the industry, but that it won't be hard to walk away.

"What I'll miss most is the people I've had the honor to work with over the years," he said.

Others in the business lauded O'Conor's accomplishments.

"He's just an incredible leader and enjoys a tremendous amount of respect in the industry," said Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

Pat Hiban, an associate broker with Re/Max Advantage Realty in Columbia, said O'Conor agents are some of the best.

"It's an excellent firm with many strong agents in it," he said. "Their agents seem to be very computer savvy, very much on the cutting edge of technology and how they go about business. Whenever I have to deal with an agent from O'Conor, Piper and Flynn, I know I'll get somebody professional."

O'Conor said his success has come from following a simple business philosophy: "Work hard, work honest and keep in touch with your customer."

He plans to remain active in the community. He will continue to serve on several boards, including those at Maryland General Hospital and Towson University, and said that in the next couple of weeks he will announce a major project that he will chair. He will also chair the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's $6 million annual fund-raiser this fall.

He said he'll do some real estate consulting and help out his son Sean O'Conor at his new firm, O'Conor & Associates.

"I am by no means going to go fishing," he said.

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