Designated Driver

Find the right people and give them the keys

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

adam_Hergenrother1016Adam Hergenrother launched Hergenrother Enterprises in 2006 when he opened Vermont’s Keller Williams Real Estate franchise. He has since launched five additional companies, with no end in sight.

My attorneys hate me because every three months there’s a new LLC. We have about 50 LLCs now.”

That’s Adam Hergenrother, CEO and chairman of the board of Hergenrother Enterprises, a broad reach that, right now, encompasses Keller Williams Realty Vermont, Hergenrother Realty Group, BlackRock Construction, Hergenrother Capital, Hergenrother Foundation, and Adam Hergenrother Training Organization.

  • Hergenrother Industries
  • Hergenrother Capital
  • BlackRock Construction
  • Mind Spark
  • The Adam Hergenrother Team
  • KW Vermont
  • Universal Properties Network

It’s tempting to call him simply a serial entrepreneur — he’s built all this in only nine years. But there’s nothing simple about Hergenrother.

When he was a freshman at Colchester High School, he says, he weighed about 300 pounds, was failing classes, and into drugs. “I was just stuck with my back against the wall: overweight; girls weren’t dating me; embarrassed for my life. My parents went through a divorce. I was depressed. I came home one day and started crying: ‘What am I doing with my life?’

“I just stopped caring what other people thought,” he continues. “At that moment, I decided I wasn’t going to let anybody else dumb up my life, and money was a key component. Fast-forward, I believe that money is awesome; the secret to living is giving.”

Hergenrother began to turn his life around. He lost 100 pounds in a year and ended up captain of his football team. When he applied for The University of Vermont, he had to enroll in the GAP (guaranteed admissions program) because of his bad grades as a freshman. He applied himself, having decided to have the fortitude to be what he wanted to become.

In college, he and a friend who owned a car dealership invested $500 each to buy a used vehicle, which they sold the next week for $2,500. “This was the first time I had a chance to understand leverage,” he says.

He kept reinvesting the money, and by 2003, the year before graduation, had enough to buy his first property with his brother, Tom. It was Eastwood Commons in South Burlington, a pre-construction buy for which he paid approximately $165,000 and sold, serendipitously, at the peak of the market in 2005 for $220,000.

He interned in his senior year on Wall Street, and after graduation, went to work at Chittenden Bank as a commercial underwriter. “Six months into that,” he says, “Michael Seaver fired me.” Ironically, three years later, Seaver, as president of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce, was the one who presented Hergenrother with the Rising Star of the Year Award.

After leaving the bank, Hergenrother spent a year with Ferguson Waterworks, a national piping supply company in Essex, but in mid-2006, faced a critical moment. “I was two years out of school, making about 44 grand a year, had my own office, my own secretary, a great job, and decided to go into real estate. I remember thinking, ‘If I can go out and make money doing what I want, I don’t care.’”

The time at Ferguson did produce an introduction, through his assistant who was buying a new home, to Sarah Ostiguy, a real estate agent and his future wife. Hergenrother earned his real estate license and borrowed $8,000 to start a team with Ostiguy at RE/MAX, the Hergenrother-Ostiguy Group, working from their apartment in Burlington.

“Our slogan was, ‘Hard to pronounce, but easy to work with!’” he says with a grin. They married in 2009.

He was seeking something, he says, which he couldn’t then put into words, but that he now knows was the desire to be in a place where there was “nobody to limit my thinking. Then, I just knew I wanted to be free.

“What drives me every day is freedom. I’m training for an iron man, have hiked Kilimanjaro, I meditate two times every day for 20 minutes, have social freedom to hang out with friends, in Alaska or wherever it is, and the financial freedom to bless the people I can bless.”

He not only meditates twice a day, he starts each day “at about 4:18 every morning, seven days a week.” After a period outside “to shock my body,” he meditates, then sits down for a time, journaling: in his gratitude journal, followed by journals for each family member — for his wife and one for each of their three children (daughter Sienna, 4; son Asher, 2; and Madelyn, his infant daughter).

He finishes with his own journal, which includes “everything: negative thoughts, positive thoughts, music — writing gives you that clarity on things.”

After checking his personal financial situation and doing some affirmations, he spends time with his family and gets to the office around 7:45.

“Adam is one of the most driven and positive individuals I’ve met,” says Loren Voyer, a trader for Champlain Hardwoods in Essex Junction, who sees him at the gym every day, and hikes and bikes with him. “Anything new, he jumps in with both feet. And if he’s not good today, he’s going to find a way to make himself good at it tomorrow. In his entire life, whether it’s business, athletics, or personal, he’s very focused to be the best that he could possibly be.”

In 2009, Hergenrother attended a presentation by Gary Keller, the co-founder of Keller Williams, who would become a seminal figure for him. “It was the most freeing moment of my life, because I thought everything I had been thinking was wrong, and I realized there were other people who thought the same way that I did. Gary started working with me, for a while on a daily basis. I turned to Sarah and said, ‘We’ve got to open up Keller Williams.”

Hergenrother had been looking to have his own real estate business — had tried to buy RE/MAX from the existing owners but the asking price was too high. He garnered details about Keller Williams, then flew to Texas to learn what it took to be awarded a franchise.

He informed RE/MAX and was told he’d have 30 days, but was asked to leave two days later. “It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” he says. “I had to cancel my hunting trip. I lay in bed that night, and it was the dark night of the soul. But when you’re forced to fly, you find your chute.”

Obtaining the franchise required opening up an independent company and recruiting 40 agents. “I needed $250,000 in cash, but didn’t have that at the time. We did it in a month and a half — the fastest launch ever in New England history. We launched in January 2010, and now we’re the Number One office in the state. Growth is over 30 percent every year since we launched.”

Keller Williams Vermont has two offices and over 125 agents and associates throughout northwestern Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom.

In 2011, he worked with Keller on creating Hergenrother Realty Group, a franchise within the franchise. “I’m more of a visionary, a creator,” he says. “Once they’re up and going, I’m done with them. I got bored and wanted to expand.”

Out of more than 100,000 KW agents, he was the first to expand in this way. As with his other endeavors, Hergenrother lit the spark, found the right people, and turned them loose.

“Human capital is the important thing,” he says, “so you always create a culture of growth.” He now has teams in eight states: Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, North Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, New York, and Florida.

Bored again, he decided to start a construction company in partnership with his brother. “My father is a builder, a sole proprietor, so my brother was into it for a couple of years before I approached him.” They named it BlackRock Construction. The company does both residential and commercial construction and development.

“The first year and a half in BlackRock, I put almost a half million dollars into that organization,” says Hergenrother. “And the reason was, fast-forward three and a half years, I never wanted a job, but wanted to hire the best people on the planet, and they are expensive. Then I allowed those people to run the organization. Now we’re extremely profitable — have over 700 units in our pipeline: homes, senior care facilities, apartments, luxury rentals.”

One project is building a new headquarters for Hergenrother Enterprises in South Burlington, planned for completion in January. The new, 20,000-square-foot headquarters sits on 3.5 acres, which features a pond, a walking path, and room for another 12,000-square-foot building.

Hergenrother launched a capital firm in 2013, “mainly because we didn’t want to use our own internal funds for BlackRock,” he says. “Then we created Hergenrother Foundation in 2012 as a way of giving back to our community.”

This year, he created the Adam Hergenrother Training Organization. “From 2012 to 2014, I found I would try to leave an organization and realize I didn’t have the right people on the bus. I realized that one of the best ways to find talent is through training.” His chief of staff, Hallie Warner, is part owner of that company.

“I will tell you I don’t think I’ve ever met a more driven young man in my life,” says Kim Negron, a loan originator and branch manager of HomeBridge Financial Services, which shares office space with Keller Williams.

“But he also is super kind and very generous. He’s very good at what he does. I have no doubt that whatever Adam does is going to work out.”

Hergenrother admits that he thinks readers in general might tend to initially want to discredit his success, assuming that “‘Everything he touches turns to gold.’ But I started purposely investing in myself at age 15. The goal is understanding that every day is a gift.

“I believe that death is our greatest teacher. It makes life precious. So understanding that death is always there and that any moment it could come and take us away, living a life of mediocrity is a waste.” •