Debby Doktorczyk and Patrice Groleau, the real estate power duo, had successfully run McGill Real Estate when in 2015 they attained the rights to run the globally recognized European luxury real estate brand Engel & Völkers’ Montréal office, winning the competition among 18 real estate groups. Three years later, they achieved phenomenal success, becoming the top ranked agency in Quebec by business volume and in six years they were recognized as the top Engel & Völkers agency in the world, among 950 Engel & Völkers shops.
The Edge had a chance to learn about the couple’s motivation to be in real estate, their business and educational journey, how they manage it together and their idea of non-monetary success.
Was your path into real estate straightforward or were there any detours?
Patrice: I was working in finance and Debby was in design, and we got the bug when we started doing real estate flips. At that time, there weren’t any real estate brokers specializing in new construction. We quickly became successful by making several record sales of our own projects, and also those by small developers who entrusted us, given our growing reputation. Eventually, a major developer entrusted us with their projects. Our agency, specializing in sales and marketing of real estate projects, was born.
We didn’t intend to grow our company to the size it is today. Things changed when a competitor copied our name and tried to poach our brokers and developers. That’s when the competitors in us went into “game on” mode! The rest is history.
With Debby being of Belgian origin, we regularly travel there to visit my in-laws. While there, we noticed Engel & Völkers was the luxury giant in Europe. I always told Debby, “This is the most beautiful real estate brand on the planet.” We were already toying with the idea of starting a luxury resale agency, so when we saw the brand’s spectacular rise in the Americas, we jumped at the opportunity in 2015. Eighteen groups were trying to obtain the rights in the province of Quebec.
The final recommendation came from Richard Brinkley, SVP of Market Development in Canada & Central America, who chose us for two reasons. First, we had created an excessively dominant brand in the new condo market in only 10 years. If we were to apply the same rigor to the Engel & Völkers luxury brand, the result would only be definite. Second, because he recognized our passion for our work and the brand, and our dynamic personalities that strive for continued success.
How do you manage to balance your relationship and work together?
Patrice: Working with a spouse is really not for everyone. We are lucky that our skill set is extremely complementary, and we contribute equally to the business. I don’t think the magic would have happened without either one of us. The only problem is that we’re constantly working. It’s like a never-ending meeting. We’re constantly talking about real estate. At the same time, it’s our passion, so we’re lucky to love what we do, but it’s so much more demanding than people think. In 2020, I was getting up every day at around 4:30 to 5:00 am, seven days a week with an average of 500 emails inbound and outbound per day. It’s like an ultra-marathon, but with no finish line. It’s physically and mentally exhausting, especially after 20 years in the industry.
During 2020, both of you took courses at MIT to increase your commercial real estate knowledge and finished top of your classes. Tell us a bit more about your decision to go back to school. Were you still working full-time during your studies?
Patrice: Today, we are starting to have really strong commercial brokers, so we are planning for our official commercial divisions. We are experts in real estate projects and luxury resale, but I wanted to have that same level of expertise within the commercial market. MIT has always been a university on my bucket list. My only disappointment was that this time, with COVID, I couldn’t have a portion of the training on campus, like at Harvard. Everything was 100 per cent online. So, one morning while having our habitual coffee together, I asked Debby, “Are we doing this together?” It was quite a scheduling challenge with our three kids and our colossal workload.
To our surprise, after 20 exams, sessional work, and hundreds of hours studying, we finished at the top of our class, which had 144 international students enrolled. Debby finished with an average of 98.1 per cent and I with 97.5 per cent. We’re trying to show our kids the importance of education in view of their future options. I think what our kids saw us achieve at MIT will incite them to attend good universities more than ever.
Beyond profits and statistics, how do you personally define success?
Patrice: Being successful in business is one thing, but being successful in your relationship and family is a feat, and that’s without forgetting your family and friends and not forgetting yourself in the process. High-level entrepreneurship inevitably comes with sacrifices. Too many people think they can achieve success without effort, without risk, and without an enormous investment in time and money. And it is absolutely false that if we persevere, we will all eventually succeed. There is always a portion of luck and timing that is part of the mystery in entrepreneurship. You have to reach a certain balance, which is just more fragile than for the average person, and you have to give back to the community. That’s why we are, among other things, ambassadors and major sponsors of several foundations, including the Sainte-Justine Children’s Hospital Foundation and Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM).
Rose Ho | Staff Writer