Paul Hulme - A Man of Destiny and Quality
In 1990, in what was (and is) the quaint city of Saratoga, Paul Hulme co-founded Alain Pinel Realtors together with Helen Pastorino and Alain Pinel. It was a humble beginning. The three of them settled on the name “Alain Pinel Realtors” only because so many previous company name attempts were all denied by the Secretary of State, as they all seemed to be too close to other firm names.
Little did Paul know at that time, it would be less than two months after their first office opened its doors in August, 1990, that Alain Pinel himself decided to leave the company and return to his native France. Shortly thereafter, in 1995, Helen Pastorino also left the company, leaving Paul as the sole owner of Alain Pinel Realtors. What then?
That, as it turned out, was just the beginning. What has happened since then, since they opened for business just 25 years ago, is nothing less than magical; nothing less than historical. Alain Pinel Realtors has become the fifth largest residential real estate company in the US. It has also become the largest privately owned residential real estate firm in all California based on closed sales volume. Truly quite remarkable from such a humble beginning, as you will see.
Paul’s real humble beginning certainly seems more Hollywoodish than it does Saratogian. He was born and raised on a farm in Southern Utah. It was his parents and six siblings, eight in all, living in a two bedroom house that previously had been an Indian school. They lived three miles out of town. They were without water and electricity. All drinking water, as well as water for all purposes, was transported from town in five gallon milk cans. All eight in the family took their turn sharing the same water for their weekly bath.
Paul was eight years old when he began his business career. He delivered newspapers for both the morning and the evening papers for eight years. In addition, he had his farm duties to perform. Yes, he attended school. He also participated in sports. In high school, he was a boxer and a wrestler, going undefeated in high school boxing and experiencing just one defeat in wrestling – which was his final match his final year in the finals of the all-state wrestling championships in Ogden, Utah.
He then went on to college where he was pre-med at the University of Utah. Upon graduating, he served two and a half years on a mission for his church in Germany and then completed his tour of duty as a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force. He was just 24 years old, and was also accepted to the University of Utah Medical School at that time.
Instead of medicine, however, he opted for a business career. Early on, he founded and ran a successful chain link fence company and also became a full-time licensed life insurance agent. At the young age of 28 years old, he became the District Manager of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company … here in the Bay Area … in San Jose. And at age of 31, Paul was also ordained the Bishop of his Church.
In time, Paul has founded, owned and operated some fourteen successful businesses … including Alain Pinel Realtors. His career has been and is as bright as his smile. Extraordinary and very special. I hope you will enjoy this wonderful conversation with Paul as much as I have
SVL: When you were growing up in Southern Utah, what thoughts, vision or dreams did you have … of your present and your future? Did you have any idea of what was to come, what was to be?
PH: I had two brothers who were doctors, and when I was young my thought was always that I would become a doctor and maybe even partner with them. When I was in college I had a chain link fence business that was quite successful, and my father wanted to join me in that business, but I told him for me it was just a means to an end. I was set on becoming a doctor. As time went on though, the interest I had in business and the success I had found there, working with people and enjoying my relationships with my employees, caused my ambitions to shift.
SVL: You had quite an interesting childhood … who and what inspired you? Did you have heroes and positive role models … who and what inspired you, what aspirations did you have growing up?
PH: During my childhood, my brothers and sister were always my inspiration. I had five older siblings and they were all professionals. I was always striving to be like them, knowing I needed to do my best to match their success.
SVL: Do you believe that sports (in your case, boxing and wrestling) inspired you in life and business? Are there correlations that you might see, in sports as in life and work, in individuals and in teams, that possibly help to inspire others?
PH: There most definitely is a correlation. I didn’t get into wrestling until I was a senior in high school, after the coach had spent two years trying to get me on the team. The coach was smaller than me - when I went out for the first day of practice and we wrestled, I thought I could handle him easily because I was bigger. Within a few seconds, he had me in a position where I couldn’t move. I was baffled – how could he do that? So then he coached me into the same position, and I thought “I’ve got him” and he said, “Are you ready?” and again, after just a few seconds he was out of it. At that point, I realized there was much more to wrestling than just strength and size. It is a science; you have to have a strategy and you have to know what you’re doing. I find that lesson to always be true in my life and in business as well. That coach continued to train me. I never lost a match until the all-state championship finals.
SVL: When you founded Alain Pinel Realtors in 1990, did you have any idea it would grow to become #5 in the United States and #1 in California in Residential Real Estate? What kind of path has it been like – looking back and now looking ahead?
PH: At that point, I had quite a bit of experience in business plus I had bought and sold real estate. My two partners were both executives in their companies and very experienced. My biggest concern was if they were going to stick with the business for the long haul. They both told me they could bring large groups of agents to APR, and I thought, with that start, how can we lose? When they did leave, there was so much invested, I had to make it work. Now it’s 25 years later, and we’re still thriving.
SVL: From 1990 to today, technologically speaking, how have things changed? As you have grown so over these years, how have you learned much and adapted well to change? People- wise and support-wise, how has business changed? What has remained constant?
PH: Opening our doors in Silicon Valley in 1990, we knew focusing on all of the exciting technological advances taking place in the area could really set us apart from our competition. We quickly started working with a former IBM engineer who had become a real estate broker, and he developed real estate software for us that was brand new to the industry. To be honest, in that first year, it didn’t operate very well. Every night, our engineer would be working to improve it, and that is when Steve Jobs got involved. Steve even appeared at our next grand opening, and once we started collaborating with him, we were miles ahead within the industry. We’re always striving to be on the forefront, and throughout the years we have gone through countless generations of hardware and software. As we all know, with tech, things move so fast, and our excellent technology department keeps up for us.
SVL: What is your definition of Leadership?
PH: I believe that if a leader can inspire his or her team in such a way that he or she can then depend on them performing at the same level within their own sphere, inspiring those whom they lead, that leader is destined to succeed. I’ve always found that the key is a small span of control. By directly inspiring five to seven of my key executives and department heads, I know that they in turn inspire that same passion in the five to seven people they lead, and so on and so forth, it will keep the operation running at a superior level.
SVL: What advice were you given when you were young growing up that stands out as meaningful and inspiring to you … and what advice do you like to give to aspiring men and women in business, in life and in general today?
PH: Some of the best advice I received when I was young actually came to me as an example of spirit. When I was in high school, I had a teacher who was a favorite among the students. He took regular short leaves, and while he was gone often had me teach his class. At the time, I didn’t know his reason for taking leaves, but not too long after, he died of cancer. Everyone was devastated, and no one at the school knew he had even been sick. That made a huge impression on me – not only in his fortitude to make the best of his life – but it also made me realize that I have to make the moments count when I have them. Advice I give to aspiring men and women in business is to always seize the opportunities that they find in life. I’ve never really set goals. I see opportunities in the moment and look to the future to picture what can be. There is no greater accomplishment than to see an opportunity to create something, perfect it, and by doing so open up the possibility for other opportunities that can be developed as well.
SVL: What accomplishments are you most proud of and what thoughts do you have about what you still wish to see and accomplish?
PH: I am incredibly proud of my family. My wife of course – we have a very strong marriage of 59 years – and our children, both in everything they have accomplished, and what they have taught their own children.
SVL: What interests and hobbies do you enjoy? Do you like to read? Do you have favorite books and books you like to recommend? Do you like to write? Do you like music? And, if yes, what possibly in particular? Do you like to exercise?
PH: I love to garden and read. I play the piano, the trombone, and even used to play the guitar on the radio in Utah. I live close to the office, so I used to walk to work regularly, and now I swim three times a week.
SVL: Do you like to travel? If yes, what places have you particularly enjoyed? What places do you still wish to see … or visit again?
PH: My favorite places to visit are Hawaii and Germany. We used to take our whole family (eventually as many as 30 members!) on trips to Hawaii and Europe.
SVL: Are there any nonprofits that you are particularly close with that you like, support and / or recommend?
PH: There are several. We try to spread our personal and company contributions among several non-profits and charitable organizations, especially local groups. SVL: If you could host a dinner and could invite anyone you’d like (living or not), who would you like to invite and what would you like to talk about? PH: I had a daughter who died tragically when she was very young – I would love nothing more than to be able to sit and have dinner with her.