Crye-Leike Realtors co-founder to be honored as Master Entrepreneur – Memphis Commercial Appeal
By James Dowd, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Forty years ago, fresh out of the Army and contemplating what to do with the rest of his life, Harold Crye surveyed the occupational landscape of his hometown of Osceola, Ark., and decided to pull up stakes.
It wasn’t that the 25-year-old Crye didn’t love the place where he’d grown up, he just figured there were opportunities elsewhere that he’d like to explore.
That search led Crye to Memphis, where he eventually founded Crye-Leike Realtors with friend and business partner Dick Leike. The firm grew into one of the nation’s largest real estate brokerage firms, and now Crye is being recognized for his efforts by the Society of Entrepreneurs.
Crye will be honored as a “Master Entrepreneur” at the organization’s annual gala on April 18. The SOE president, Mike Bruns, praised Crye’s contributions to the business community.
“Harold exemplifies the word ‘entrepreneur’ by the way he founded and expanded his business,” said Bruns, founder and president of Comtrak Logistics. “He’s had the fortitude and the smarts and the hard work ethic to be a success. He’s a brilliant example of entrepreneurship for all of us.”
Crye was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug while working a day job as a management trainee at Container Corp. of America, earning $700 a month.
After taking real estate courses at night at Memphis State University, Crye spent his spare time working in the housing market and managed to sell his first property for $35,000.
The commission from that sale equaled Crye’s monthly take-home pay from CCA and convinced him that the time was right to make a move.
“I took a job at Sterling Company as sales manager and worked to get my broker’s license,” Crye said. “Then I met Dick Leike and we talked a lot about it and finally decided that we could make a go of it. We started our own company and within a month we had 20 agents.”
During the past three decades, Crye-Leike has experienced considerable growth. The firm employs 600 staffers and has more than 3,500 independent contractors serving as sales agents. Last year, the company — with offices in 65 counties in eight states — reported sales volume of more than $4 billion.
That level of success made Crye a natural choice for the SOE award, said Bob Buckman, who served on the selection committee.
“I have always admired his ability as an entrepreneur. He took a simple concept and expanded it far beyond the normal with a business strategy that has been very successful,” said Buckman, retired chairman and chief executive officer of Buckman Laboratories. “Today, Crye-Leike is one of the top ten real estate companies in the nation, and to me, that’s the essence of entrepreneurship and Harold is well deserving of the title Master Entrepreneur.”
Jeff Webb, chairman of the selection committee, agreed.
“When you look at this particular award, it’s imperative that it go to someone whose business activity has withstood the test of time,” said Webb, chairman and chief executive officer of Varsity Brands. “When you look at the roots of Harold’s company, he started small and expanded from one office to become a regional presence. He adapted and evolved, and his business model is a great success story.”
Business: Crye-Leike Realtors
Address: 6525 Quail Hollow
Employees: 600, along with more than 3,500 sales agents who are independent contractors
Presence: 120 offices — including more than 30 franchises — in 8 states
Volume: Sales of $4.2 billion in 2008
Crye will be honored as a Master Entrepreneur, along with four 2009 SOE inductees, during a black-tie gala April 18.