LOCAL PEOPLE MAKING A DIFFERENCE
But few know Bullock’s “up by his boot-
BILL BULLOCK, PRESIDEN T, CEO and co-owner of Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty (GGS), is widely perceived to be one of the most successful realtors in Northern California. He grew the small firm he launched in 1991, with partner Olivia Decker, into its
current behemoth form, with numerous offices and 500 agents in Marin, Napa, Sonoma, the East
Bay and Silicon Valley — all while representing his own clients. With partners Lydia and Magda
Sarkissian, his annual sales average is over $100 million.
straps” backstory. Soft- spoken, impeccably
groomed, Bullock is that rare individual in his
field — a man of few words.
Bullock grew up the second of five sons
raised in McArthur, a tiny town in southeastern Ohio. “Most of my friends lived in shacks
with dirt floors and no electricity,” he recalls
during our interview in the Vault, a luxurious,
high-tech reconverted bank vault in GGS’s
Tiburon office. It provides a sharp contrast to
the environs of his youth.
His family was only slightly better off than
the others. “My dad was the last of the old-time country doctors — often paid in trade or
not at all.” By age 10, Bullock was cutting grass
and shoveling snow to earn money. By age
12, before 7 a.m. every day, he was cleaning,
restocking and opening the local pharmacy.
Summer employment meant manual
labor 12 hours per day, six days per week, in
one dangerous location after another, including coal mines, sawmills and construction
sites. That work ethic later helped him earn
his Ohio University degree.
“I didn’t stay long in the coal mine,
though,” Bullock admits. “It scared the hell
out of me down there.”
Long work hours didn’t keep him from occa-
sionally having fun. One Saturday Bullock got
off work early, drove to Lancaster for a few beers
and ended up in jail following a bar brawl. “I had
to beg my way out of that jail on Monday morn-
ing to get myself back to work,” he says.
The real estate mogul shares his thoughts on
success and giving back. BY SUSAN NOYES
Although anti–Vietnam War sentiment was
peaking when he graduated in 1968, Bullock
volunteered for the Marines.
His aptitude with large organizations didn’t
translate well into the corporate world he joined
next, as a trainer of Wells Fargo employees in
California. “I’m much better suited to be an
entrepreneur than to be a corporate employee,”
he says with a grin.
He found the perfect employment fit when
he joined Coldwell Banker in Greenbrae as
a realtor in 1982. He learned early on what
and how to communicate with homeown-
ers: “People want to know what their home
is worth.” He mailed easy-to-understand
information about home prices to all county
residents in his territory, and they thought of
him first when they were ready to sell.
“But people have no idea how hard this
business is, either,” he notes. “Agents have
to be willing to work every night, every
weekend, every holiday. They don’t get to
keep as much of each sale as people think,
either. Expenses are high and there is a constant downward pressure on fees, upward
pressure on commission splits.” The recent
consolidation of real estate firms in the
county and advent of an entirely new business model with Compass increases that
“We’re in a service business,” Bullock
says, where EQ (emotional intelligence) is as
important as IQ and a good agent (and a good
boss) has to be knowledgeable, thoughtful and a talented problem solver. “You
are only as good as your last sale,” he adds.
“One of the biggest traps is losing humility,
After 700 transactions over 37 years,
Bullock also knows there is no such thing
as an easy sale. “The good realtors make it
look easy,” he explains, “but there is always
a moment in every transaction where it’s
either going to go forward or fail.”
Bullock describes his firm’s community
service with as much enthusiasm as he
describes his personal support for his favor-
ite cause: WildCare. GGS supports Cycle for
Sight: a Rotary Ride for Veterans and Bullock
is proud that Nick Cooper, a former GGS
agent who grew up in Marin, founded Home
For A Home, a Bay Area nonprofit that builds
homes people in Guatemala. Nationally,
Sotheby’s also supports New Story, which
provides affordable homes. m
Susan B. Noyes is the founder and chief visionary officer of Make It Better Media Group, as well as the founder of Make It Better Foundation’s Philanthropy Awards.
A mother of six, former Sidley Austin labor lawyer and U. S. Congressional aide and passionate philanthropist, she has also served on many boards.