Trust the people you work with but also trust your gut that you’re making the right decisions and that you’ve assembled the people and tools you need to reach your goals.
We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Dwyer, President of Robert Edward Auctions.
From his earliest days as a six-year-old poring over the newest Topps set to the present-day handling some of the world’s finest sports collectibles, Brian’s passion for the hobby has never waned. A lifelong collector, his introduction to the hobby was through baseball cards, which remain his primary area of interest to this day.
Keen to buy, sell, and trade through the internet, Brian caught the bug for connecting buyers and sellers through e-commerce, running a small consignment business on eBay in the early 2000s. In 2007, he was presented with the opportunity to lead business development for Sportscard Guaranty (SGC), one of the hobby’s top third-party authentication services. Representing the company at trade shows throughout the United States and Canada, as well as serving an important role in the day-to-day operations of the company, gave Brian a robust exposure to all areas of the hobby while building his knowledge of cards exponentially.
In 2010, Brian decided that the transactional side of the business was of greater interest so he left SGC and leaned on his experiences from eBay, which provided the genesis for the formation of a standalone auction platform dedicated exclusively to sports cards. At the time, his company was among the first to cater to buyers and sellers at a level not serviced by traditional large auction houses. Brian was able to carve out a niche as a reliable and trustworthy auctioneer delivering quality product with an unparalleled level of service. His work did not go unnoticed, drawing the attention of REA founder Robert Lifson, who reached out offering an opportunity to join REA. Brian jumped at the opportunity to join the best auction house in the business, and in 2012, he sold his company (which still operates under the new ownership to this day) to focus entirely on the new task at hand: grow the hobby’s premier auction house. He set to work right away, leveraging the company’s incredible reputation and resources to expand the auction schedule from one per year to two. Adding another auction required even more material, so Brian overhauled the company’s advertising and promotion, introduced new technologies into existing processes, and modernized many of the company’s practices to allow for the expansion. The results were immediate, with record sales the first year in his role. Year over year, REA turned in impressive results while continuing to refine their industry-leading approach. In 2016, Brian assumed ownership of REA upon the founder’s retirement and continues to build REA’s leading position in the industry.
Today, Brian is actively involved in all aspects of REA’s business, ensuring that buyers and sellers alike experience REA’s legendary commitment to honest and transparent dealings in an environment built on trust. He works closely with clients on both buying and selling and is universally respected for his insight and guidance as a leader in the industry. He has worked to secure countless significant consignments, including some of the most valuable items ever sold by REA, and understands, as a collector, what clients experience throughout their decision-making process. Brian has been featured as a guest and expert in several national and international media outlets, including ESPN, Fox Business, CNN, ABC News, CBS, Cheddar TV, Daily Mail, Forbes, Barron’s, The Boston Globe, and The New York Daily News.
Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?
Robert Edward Auctions just completed its best year in the company’s 30+ year history. We completed 11 very successful auctions, all of which were highlighted by some rare and unique pieces of memorabilia and an array of iconic trading cards. We followed up our record-setting $6.6 million sale of a famed Honus Wagner card with another seven figure Wagner sale of a lesser-condition example in April and also brought to market outstanding pieces like a Hank Aaron 1964 game-worn Milwaukee Braves jersey, a ticket from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962, and the original rookie contract Ted Williams signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1938.
Right now, we’re hard at work on a number of different projects aimed at continuing to grow the company, including a full slate of auctions, the largest of which is our Spring Catalog Auction, which runs from April 6 to 23. Our full 2023 auction schedule, as well as the shows we will be attending, can be found here: https://robertedwardauctions.com/about/schedule
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and interact with leaders from a variety of different backgrounds and industries throughout my career, but one of the most important foundational tenets of my life and business career was learned at an early age from my parents. They instilled upon me the idea that reputation is so important in everything we do and that your word is your bond. These are not foreign concepts — Warren Buffet famously said that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and only five minutes to ruin it — but learning them at a young age was integral to becoming the person and business leader that I am today.
Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?
Many leaders and entrepreneurs try to take on too much themselves and build the business too quickly for fear of missing opportunities. When I took over REA, I fell into the trap of wanting to have my hands in everything, and I ended up getting tied up with trivial things. I realized that I needed to build out my team with intelligent, trustworthy, and diligent individuals and then rely on the team that I had built. By surrounding yourself with hard-working and enthusiastic people, which is exactly how I would define the REA team, your job becomes much easier and growing the business becomes more seamless. By trusting your team and giving them responsibility, you’re able to identify additional strengths they may have that ultimately uncover new opportunities for your business.
How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?
Leadership is all about being a good listener. Stephen Covey, who famously authored The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” If you read about how some of the most successful leaders approach meetings, they spend most of the time listening to their team and gathering insights. Being a successful leader is a quality over quantity measure. You don’t need to talk a lot but when you do, it should be meaningful and effective, and it should take into account feedback from your team that will help make them more successful.
Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?
I’m not a believer in micromanaging. It’s disruptive and inhibits efficiency. We hold bi-monthly staff meetings where we collaboratively discuss what’s working and what’s not, objectives for the months ahead and how we can improve day-to-day productivity. It doesn’t take up a lot of time but it works for everyone and provides me with a lot of great feedback from the REA team that I can put into our strategy moving forward.
What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?
Trust. I hire based on personality and I’m a firm believer in hiring right, not hiring right now. You have to have a great deal of trust in the team you build. This leads to better cohesion and teamwork and, ultimately, a more healthy working environment.
What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?
Take a close look at your peers and what is working for them. It’s very important that we learn not only from our own mistakes but the mistakes and successes of others, particularly competitors. The business landscape has changed drastically even if we go back just 10–15 years. Technology is playing a much larger role, working environments are far less compartmentalized, and businesses are leveraging tools that provide employees with more flexibility. Make sure to have regular conversations with your customers as well as your employees so you can get a good understanding of what is working for them and what is not.
Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?
The best thing that you can do as a new leader is to surround yourself with knowledgeable people who bring with them experiences you and your team can benefit from. It’s sometimes more important to know what you don’t know rather than what you do know. Stay up to date on your industry and the external environment that might impact it so that you can gain insights and stay current and innovative in your field. Inspiration sometimes comes from the unlikeliest of places.
Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Patience — everyone wants to see success right away but one of the key attributes of a great leader and entrepreneur is having the long-term vision and being able to implement your tactical and strategic approach over time as opposed to all at once.
- Trust — Trust the people you work with but also trust your gut that you’re making the right decisions and that you’ve assembled the people and tools you need to reach your goals.
- Confidence — Don’t confuse this with cockiness. Great leaders are confident that they can get the job done. You may have trepidations along the way but have the confidence that you will get it done. Don’t think about how you may fail; think about how you will fly!
- Communication — Regardless of your short- or long-term strategy, perhaps the most important trait any business leader can bring to the table is their communication skills. This is the truest measure of quality over quantity. Just take a look at some of the most well-known and impactful speeches in history. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, arguably the most famous speech in American history, was a mere 271 words that lasted two minutes.
- Empathy — Everyone faces challenges both professionally and personally. Sometimes the best thing you can be for someone is letting them know you’re there for them if needed and that rings even truer as a leader. Giving someone a few extra days off as a mental break during personal hardship or offering guidance in the wake of a mistake demonstrates not only great leadership but it also creates a healthy working environment.
American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.
I’m extremely lucky because I’ve been able to build a business doing what I’ve loved throughout my life. Success is a product of passion and dedication. Every day that I come in, I try to be a little better than I was the day before. This could come in the form of establishing a relationship with a new customer, formulating a partnership, or even getting feedback from one of my team members about how we can improve the business.
I have also been very fortunate to work with thousands of sellers throughout my time as an auctioneer, and it’s always rewarding and enjoyable to see the mark that our relationship leaves on those individuals going forward. We are in a tremendous position to be able to generate remarkable sums of money for people who are sometimes in their moment of greatest need. We never know what is on the other side of the phone when it rings, but being able to deliver the news that an inherited collection or a happenstance discovery will help that person keep their house, or buy a new one, or pay for college, or obtain lifesaving medical care for a loved one — all of which are true outcomes — is something that never gets old.
What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?
I want people to remember how passionate I am about what I do and how I have worked hard to deliver a high level of service along with incredible results, all while maintaining our core values of honesty and integrity. This is a business rooted in a hobby — one that generation after generation has enjoyed. We love working with people who love this pastime as much as we do and love telling their stories as much as we do our own.
How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?
Check out our website www.robertedwardauctions.com where you can register to bid, sign up to consign, and reach out with any general inquiries. You can also call us at 908–226–9900 or email [email protected], and follow us on Instagram (@robertedwardauctions), Twitter (@REAOnline), and Facebook for updates on auctions, items up for bid and industry news.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!