Does the Service Sector Really Serve?

posted in: Values-Based Business | 6
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Jonathan Keyser

In the film, Meet the Parents, Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Ben Stiller) experiences a series of service nightmares when he travels to Long Island to meet his fiancé’s family. One of the most hilarious moments is when he tries to board the plane back to Chicago on a late night flight. Having arrived at the gate, the ticket agent informs Greg that he must wait given they are boarding rows nine and higher. Greg stands in front of the ticket counter in utter shock since there is absolutely no one else in the airport at such an early hour. This scene is so relatable because these types of experiences are becoming more and more commonplace as the level of basic customer service seems to be falling exponentially.

Service industries now account for more than 68% of the US GDP and eight out of every ten jobs. The manufacturing sector manufactures. The agricultural sector engages in agriculture. You would think that the service sector would serve, but we all know that is largely not the case. One incredible exception is Jonathan Keyser, Founder of Keyser, a commercial real estate company.

I recently, received a prerelease copy of Jonathan’s new book Disruptive: Creating Extraordinary Success and Wealth Through Service, in which Jonathan shares the secrets of how he and his team are transforming their industry through a passionate pursuit of selfless service.

Jonathan Keyser did not start out life with such a love of service. In fact, he started his commercial real estate career just like most people, scratching and clawing his way to the top. And Jonathan was good, but he confesses, “It was standard practice for me to try to manipulate clients into choosing options that were the best solution for me financially instead of the best solution for them.” Jonathan began to wonder if there was another way to do business. He asked tough questions, but most every one in the industry seemed to accept the status quo. That all changed when Jonathan attended a conference in Miami and heard about Dave Marino, a broker in San Diego who was pioneering a helping-others-first model.

Jonathan tracked down Dave Marino, eager to hear about his unique approach to real estate. After a half-day of sharing his secrets, Dave gave Jonathan a warning:

No one had ever actually replicated what he had built. ‘The reason’ he said ‘is because how hard it is to do so. You’ll have to start all over’ he said…’financially you will be in the hole for at least four years, maybe five, before you start making any kind of profit,’ he emphasized. ‘And that’s if you work at this relentlessly. People will criticize and question you, and it’s going to be frustrating and hard. But if you stick with it and don’t give up, eventually you will start reaping the benefits.’

That day, Jonathan Keyser vowed to approach his business through the lens of service. Instead of focusing his time on standard sales activities, Jonathan began to get involved in the community and to earnestly search for ways to add value to the people with whom he interacted, no strings attached. It is indeed a bit shocking to hear an utter stranger ask, “How can I be of service to you?”

Jonathan learned the difference between pleasing and serving. While both may look identical on the outside, they feel different. “People pleasing” typically results from insecurity or a desire to bank a personal debt, while true service contains no ulterior motives. Keyser mentions, “If I’ve truly served someone, what do I need patience for? The reward is contained in the act.”

On January 2, 2013, Jonathan Keyser took all the hard-won lessons from his quest to transform commercial real estate into a true service business and launched Keyser with a mission to “change the business world through selfless service.” You quickly learn by speaking to Jonathan that he is not one to aim small. Keyser is growing incredibly fast, expecting 35 people by year end and over 60 by the end of next year.  They are currently making expansion plans for Dallas and Silicon Valley.

The secret to Keyser’s success are 15 Operating Principles: Selfless Service, Tireless Work Ethic, Bold Action, Excellence, Be the Best, Team Player, Give, Follow Through, Fun, Self-Improvement, Loyalty, 100% Coachability, Be Present, Disruption, and Fitness (Click here to read the full explanation of the principles). These principles don’t just live on a plaque on the wall, but they reside on the hearts and in the minds of each team member. Every Monday morning, the members of Keyser & Co. recite the principles and discuss examples of wins and misses in living up to their common standard. The Keyser principles define how business is conducted. They describe the ideal new hires. They embody the culture that makes Keyser so successful.

While the service sector is notorious for not serving, it is encouraging to find companies like Keyser that are proving that service is not only a good operating principle but that it is also extremely lucrative. Jonathan Keyser’s book, Disruptive: Creating Extraordinary Success and Wealth Through Service will be out later this year.

Jonathan Keyser
Jonathan Keyser is the founder and thought leader behind Keyser. With more than 18 years of experience in the Commercial Real Estate Industry, Jonathan represents companies both domestically and internationally across a broad range of industries. Jonathan is particularly good at identifying creative strategies to align real estate with business requirements, designing and implementing unique solutions to complex real estate challenges, and solving Landlord / Tenant conflicts where negotiations have deteriorated in the face of rising hostilities.

Prior to founding Keyser, Jonathan was Principal of Cresa’s Phoenix office, which is an international commercial real estate advisory firm. Jonathan is an author, a national speaker on real estate related topics, a regular contributor to The Business Journal and other publications, and was recognized years ago as one of the Nation’s Top Rising Stars in the commercial real estate industry. Prior to joining Cresa, Jonathan was a Director with Grubb & Ellis Company.

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6 Responses

  1. Tim Weinhold
    | Reply

    One might infer from the brief description of Keyser’s approach to service that it requires a complete abandonment of self-interest. If so, that represents an impractical misunderstanding of the real meaning of the underlying moral law: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

    There are three distinct ways to think about, and act on, one’s self-interest in relation to the interests of others. One viewpoint sees one’s own interests and those of others as characteristically in conflict — a conflict that we instinctively, and seemingly-rationally, seek to win. We might label this the ‘win-lose’ viewpoint. It is the default mode of human perception and behavior.

    ‘Love your neighbor’ calls us to an alternate and higher view, what we might label ‘win-win.’ In this view, the importance of our neighbor’s interests is made equal to our own. So, for example, if the outcome we want represents a win for ourselves but a loss for our neighbor, then that outcome falls short. Instead, the ‘Love your neighbor’ mandate compels us to look for a better outcome, one that represents a win for our neighbor as well. Maybe further effort will reveal a new pathway, an entirely better solution. Or maybe we must simply scale back our own desires and adopt a compromise that improves our neighbor’s outcome. But only win-win outcomes, not win-lose outcomes, live up to God’s ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ mandate.

    Sometimes, of course, there are no win-win outcomes possible — Jesus could not, for example, both save us and save himself from death. To fulfill the ‘Love your neighbor’ command in such instances, we must choose what is good for the other. Fortunately, occasions where serving others requires us to choose a ‘lose-win’ outcome are in the minority.

    Some individuals, however, adopt lose-win as their default because low self-esteem pulls them toward masochism. As a result, they become human doormats, mistaking unhealthy masochism for noble service. That said, there are also rare individuals like Mother Teresa who thoughtfully, consciously choose a lose-win approach to life — as if God’s command was actually ’Love others way more than yourself.’ Such behavior may be noble, even saintly. But to be clear, it is not the standard to which God has called us. Rather, God means us to pursue win-win outcomes as the primary means by which we fulfill his command to ‘Love your neighbor AS YOURSELF.’

  2. Jonathan Keyser
    | Reply

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. There are a couple great books on the topic, one of which is a must read if this topic interests you. It is called Give and Take and it is written by Wharton professor Adam Grant. The other is Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.

    The interesting thing about Keyser’s approach is that we are creating a real world example of “he who wishes to keep his life must lose it”….in other words, it is only through the complete abandonment of self interest in an interaction with another individual that a person can fully experience the possibility that exists between two human beings.

    The reason our approach is so disruptive is because it is the complete antithesis of what appears to be right, as you eloquently outline above. Yet Christ, and many many others have spoken the message of Give and You Shall Receive, and I have experienced first hand that the more I just focus on helping others succeed, the more that our firm experiences success.

    It is this very reason that I decided to take a huge risk and start this company, and I have never looked back. I have a dream of a world where people selflessly help each other regardless of personal gain, understanding that it is in their OWN PERSONAL BEST INTEREST to do so. That is what I have built this entire company upon, to show the world that fighting, arguing, manipulating and scrapping over ones self interest is a short-sighted and miserable existence, and falls far short of the success, joy and fulfillment that life has to offer. I should know. I used to be that other guy. Fortunately, I had a change of heart and now live to be in service to others and it is an extraordinary thing.

    That is the secret, that is the magic, namely: only a life in service of others is one capability of delivering the full opportunities and fulfillment that life has to offer.

    Be blessed on your journey, and if I can ever be of service to you, please let me know.


  3. Jeanette
    | Reply

    After just flying with a discount airline in Europe this week, when I exchanged very poor service for a cheaper ticket, I can certainly support Keyser’s approach. It seems that companies cut staff to bare bones and as a result there aren’t enough staff to serve people and in some cases, those remaining have poor morale. Of course when you do come across a very helpful person, it’s wonderful.

  4. Tim Weinhold
    | Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    As a 20 year veteran of the commercial real estate brokerage world, I admire what you are attempting in your young company. I hope it goes really well. I very well understand how counter-cultural it is – in business generally, but maybe especially in commercial brokerage.

    But I also find myself a bit unclear about whether you are advocating, and practicing, a ‘win-win’ version of loving and serving others, or a ‘lose-win’ version. Just to be clear, I am not against a lose-win approach. In fact, when there is no win-win scenario possible, I think fulfilling God’s ‘Love your neighbor’ command requires that choice.

    But relative to a lose-win approach, I would make two points. First, Scripture does not phrase God’s command as ‘Love your neighbor way more than yourself.’ Rather, very intentionally, it calls us to ‘Love your neighbor AS YOURSELF.’ This seems intended to make clear that self-interest need not be entirely abandoned in our approach to loving our neighbors.

    Second, pragmatically, lose-win is often entirely unworkable, maybe especially in business. So, for example, presumably your firm agrees with tenant, landlord, and/or investor clients as to the appropriate fee to be paid for your services. But if lose-win (i.e., truly selfless service) is the objective, why not cut your fees in half? Or by 95%? That would represent an even bigger win for your clients, i.e., a more selfless and compelling level of service. Similarly, no doubt you buy certain products and services from suppliers. Why not double what you pay your vendors (again, that would serve them even more)? Or triple the compensation schemes for your employees?

    Of course, you might argue that such approaches would put you out of business – and mean that the good service your firm is attempting will come to an end. True enough. But the alternative is to start balancing the good your firm does for others with its own self-interest. This means practicing win-win decision-making and win-win service. And that is the general standard God calls us to . . . even if there are times when we must sacrifice our own interests because there is no other way to avoid a lose outcome for a neighbor.

    Win-win is, in fact, entirely different from, and above, the typical human, and business, approach to self-interest. Win-win is a very high standard. A truly serve-oriented approach needs, of course, to be willing to choose lose-win when necessary. But God does not call us to embrace lose-win as our normative approach to life . . . or to business.

  5. Jonathan Keyser
    | Reply


    Simply put…I am advocating Give and you Shall Receive. Short and sweet. That is my mission to show the world that the selfless model WORKS. In fact, not only does it NOT drive you into the poorhouse, but rather it pours success upon you. Not immediately, but over time if you are patient enough to play the long game.

    Give and you shall receive. Christ and many other great leaders have spoken those words. I believe them and live them every day….and yes, I do have a different compensation model as the current one is screwed up and mis-aligns brokers interests with their clients….so yes, we are working on that. Still capitalistic to be sure, but puts the money in the clients hands where it belongs.

    As for the Win Win question, not only are we not Lose Win…in fact….the whole concept of Win Win or Win Lose or Lose Lose is binary. In my humble opinion it takes a deeper inquiry into the subject matter to really understand the power of sefless service, but in simple terms….

    I believe that the most SELFISH strategy in the world LONG TERM is Selfless Service….in life, in business, in relationships….in everything. It is the secret that I have found that has changed my heart and my life forever.

    …and I know it sounds crazy….and I know it sounds off….but the joy, fulfillment, and success associated with following this simple principle is profound beyond words, and that is my mission in life. To help a hurting and miserable business community realize that they dont have to stress, claw, and fight tooth and nail, sue each other, and try to make everyone else wrong and ourselves perfect and right…..and on and on…all in the name of success which is poorly defined and highly misunderstood.

    This world is filled with amazing people, but they are lost as I used to be. Lost and thinking that fighting tooth and nail for their own self interest is the way to succeed. The old me….I was a stressed out and a miserable wreck the entire time. Not on the outside, but inside I was miserable….and I was NOT alone. To me, that is not living, yet that is what so many of us aspire towards…and then as we do, what do we do? We then wear our misery as a badge of honor. What a joke.

    I suggest there is a better way….one that has been told to us for centuries, but societies have refused to trust and embrace it. They give it lip service, but they for the most part dont live it. Truthfully, all I have really done to create this extraordinary company Keyser is to trust selfless service for the last 10 years as it guided me to where we are today, and let me tell you what….selfless service it is the greatest business principle of all time. Success is the booby prize. Money is secondary…important but secondary. The real prize is internal, and that my friend, is something I cannot describe as it has to be experienced to be understood.

    Be blessed, and I wish you endless blessings on your journey.


  6. Jonathan Keyser
    | Reply

    P.S. I HIGHLY recommend that anyone interested in this topic read Never Eat Alone by my friend Keith Ferrazzi, and Give and Take, by a new acquaintance of mine, Adam Grant:

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