Helen Hanna Casey leads Howard Hanna Real Estate Services through generations of growth

Growing up, Helen Hanna Casey passed her father’s real estate office on the way to school every day. Howard Hanna Real Estate Services’ original office, located just a block and a half from his childhood home in Pittsburgh, was the start of a multigenerational family legacy — though none of them did so at the time.

Like his older brother, Howard W. “Hoddy” Hanna III, and younger sister, Annie Hanna Cestra, Casey earned his real estate broker’s license when he was 18 years old.

“We always knew the family business was a possibility, but it wasn’t like a dynastic dream we had,” she says.

After teaching at a private school in Pittsburgh, Casey joined her father’s business in 1975, attracted by the flexibility it offered to balance work and family life. At that time, the company had only a few offices.

“Most people didn’t think it was an industry that could become what it has become,” she says. “I’m not just talking about the number of sales, but the number of people who would find a home in the industry by helping other people find homes.”

Her father, Howard W. Hanna Jr., founded the company in 1957 with “a different way of doing things,” she says. “He focused on growing the brokerage business by developing his agents.” With a commitment to providing his team with innovative tools to help buyers and sellers achieve their goals, the Howard Hanna legacy was born.

Today, Casey is CEO of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, the nation’s largest private real estate brokerage firm, with more than 14,200 agents in more than 490 offices in 13 states. Today, with the third generation of the Hanna family involved in the business, the business continues to grow with a fearless approach to meeting every challenge as an opportunity.

Rooted in the business

Casey and his siblings grew up in the family business. Their father connected the office phone line to their home after hours and often entertained agents at their home. But that wasn’t his only early exposure to family business operations. She grew up next to her uncle, who ran a funeral home opened by her maternal grandfather in 1907. Her uncles regularly stopped by to pass ideas on to her grandmother, who lived with her family.

“The family business was ingrained in us from an early age,” says Casey. “I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been so successful, because we’ve seen our uncles work together and stay friends whether they’re still on board or not on business. We saw how they helped each other solve problems and solve problems, and that was a model for us.

During this time, Casey’s parents instilled valuable lessons that shaped his leadership skills, as well as those of his siblings. For example, they often host family talent shows and contests, encouraging kids — and later, grandkids — to perform in front of everyone.

“My parents gave us a tremendous ability to be nervous, which means we’re comfortable speaking in front of people,” says Casey, who developed his love of theater from these family plays and went on to produce several Broadway shows with her. husband. “They gave us the opportunity to communicate with people. They gave us a lack of fear to try.

Those lessons are now paying off in Casey’s leadership role, as she works with her family to make tough business decisions like her uncles once did. She can’t say they never disagree, but by using these communication skills to “sell” ideas and initiatives to each other, the Hannas get buy-in from those closest to them and the rest of the team.

“We are salespeople, always, and so if we want to achieve a goal, we have to sell ourselves,” she says. “Whether you’re in a meeting room with family members or in an office, you need to be able to convince your peers. If you can’t sell it there, you’re not going to sell it to more than 14,200 associates.

Grow the family

The fearlessness that characterizes the Hanna family is key to the company’s continued growth.

“We are not a very fearful group. We take on a challenge and overcome it, rather than seeing it as an obstacle,” says Casey. “We never use that word ‘barrier’, by the way. We always say, “Great, here’s an opportunity.”

For example, when interest rates hit an all-time high of nearly 19% in 1981, the company rose to the challenge head-on.

“It was a great time of innovation for us because we started our title company so people didn’t have to drive downtown and pay for expensive gas; they could close in our offices,” says Casey.

Around this time, his parents also developed a pledge account to offer lower rates to customers, thus launching Howard Hanna’s mortgage business.

“We have strived to meet market demands with innovative programs,” she says.

Since then, the company has followed a deliberate growth plan focused on expanding its footprint through strategic partnerships and acquisitions, as well as organic growth.

“The decision to start buying businesses in the 1980s – first buying competitors and then buying into new markets – brought about incredible changes and opened up opportunities that we could not have imagined,” says Casey, who sits on the executive committee of the National Association of Realtors.

More recently, for example, Howard Hanna merged with HER, REALTORS, the nation’s largest agent-owned real estate company. The acquisition added approximately 1,200 agents and 90 offices to Howard Hanna’s portfolio to expand its presence in Ohio and Michigan.

“In any market, we look for the #1, #2, #3 player in market share,” says Casey. “We seek synergy with our philosophy and core values. We are looking for places where we can grow; we are not looking for companies that offer the status quo. »

To find synergy and growth opportunities in every acquisition, Casey and his team consider the smallest details – including HR policies like vacation days – and the broadest strategies, such as growth plans and marketing initiatives. Throughout the process, they do not view potential acquisitions as a way to instantly increase results, but rather with a long-term approach to developing skills and abilities that can grow over time.

“When you’re in an M&A role, you need to make sure your inner voice is saying, ‘I want to work with these people for the future,'” Casey says. “It’s an opportunity financially, but it’s also an opportunity that we can build on with the financial strength that we’re going to create. Long-term growth and profitability relies on the people you have with you. »

give back

Growing up in the Hanna family, Casey says, someone was always making crafts and treats for school fundraisers or writing invitations for local charity events. His mother, Anne Freyvogel Hanna, passed on her philanthropic philosophy that “you have to give to get”. With that in mind, she founded the Medallion Ball in Pittsburgh in 1964, which continues today, to honor young women for their volunteer contributions to the community.

“We were raised to believe it was part of your life,” Casey says. “You cannot expect to get good things in life unless you are part of your community. It was anchored in us, that we have a responsibility towards the less fortunate.

This commitment to giving back remains essential at Howard Hanna today. The company supports hundreds of health, educational and humanitarian causes company-wide and in every local market. For example, in 2012 he started a non-profit, the Howard Hanna Children’s Free Care Fund. Since then, he has raised more than $19 million to help families pay for treatment for their children. And since 1981, Howard Hanna has partnered with Coats for Kids in northeast Ohio to donate hundreds of thousands of coats to area children.

Casey’s parents also created several scholarships to the University of Pittsburgh, where her father earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and John Carroll University in Cleveland, where his brother graduated. The scholarships are awarded annually to Howard Hanna associates and their family members.

“The ability as a family business to give back to the community is extremely important,” says Casey, who has chaired several local boards, including the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. “It’s so amazing to see the difference a private company can make with impact within your own community.”

Pass on the family legacy

With three generations in the business today, Casey sees the lessons she learned from her parents being passed down through her children, nieces and nephews – not to mention the thousands of associates they’ve added over the years. The most important lessons, she says, are “that they are fearless and listen to the great people around them.”

“The brains of all these people who have joined us are pretty amazing,” Casey says. “Whether they choose to join us at the start of their career, whether they come to us with an acquisition, or whether they grow in us, it overwhelms me every time I am in a meeting and listen to the ideas of the people and what they bring to the table.

As the company’s strong talent pool has grown over the past 65 years, Casey looks to the next generation to continue the family tradition of empowering opportunities while supporting the people they serve.

“We have so many business units that we have room to grow,” she says. “Buying mortgage, title and insurance companies is a great opportunity for us going forward. Sure, there are more technology companies we review than we’ve ever reviewed before, but all with the same goal: how do we help our business associates and customers achieve their goals? » ●


  • Overcome obstacles by viewing them as opportunities.
  • Look for long-term growth potential in people.
  • Give back to the communities you serve.