Discover the enduring friendship and visionary contributions of Forest Olson and Jerry Cole, pivotal figures in Coldwell Banker’s history. Their impact shaped the global real estate brand we know today, emphasizing technology, education, and expertise. Explore their remarkable journey and the lasting legacy they’ve left behind.
Coldwell Banker, now a global real estate giant with 100,000 agents across 39 countries, had humble beginnings 55 years ago, starting with only 800 sales associates mainly focused on commercial real estate in California. The remarkable growth into a worldwide leader can be attributed to two key figures, Forest Olson and Jerry Cole. Olson spearheaded the company’s expansion into residential real estate, while Cole devised a successful franchise system. Beyond their professional achievements, Olson and Cole share a lasting friendship that has endured well into their 90s.
From Commercial to Residential
Coldwell Banker, initially dedicated to commercial real estate since its establishment in 1906, recognized the potential in the residential market as the 1960s came to an end. In pursuit of this expansion, the company sought out an experienced professional in residential home sales.
Forest Olson, a Californian native, graduated from the University of Southern California in 1951 and established his own real estate business in 1953 with a $500 loan. His company, Forest E. Olson, Inc., specialized in residential properties in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley and experienced remarkable growth over the next 15 years. Olson was an innovator, introducing IBM data processing to residential brokerage, streamlining accounting and management. He also pioneered a comprehensive video-based sales associate training program and designed the widely recognized “Colonial Style” For Sale sign. Some of Olson’s associates, led by Art Bartlett, went on to establish the successful national franchised real estate brokerage, Century 21 Real Estate, which is now part of the Anywhere Real Estate corporate group along with Coldwell Banker.
On July 21, 1969, Coldwell Banker made a significant announcement regarding the acquisition of Forest E. Olson, Inc. This acquisition added 450 residential salespeople and 30 offices in southern California to Coldwell Banker’s portfolio. Forest Olson, the founder of the acquired company, was elected to the Coldwell Banker Board of Directors. He took on a key role in acquiring other residential companies, drawing from his own positive experience of joining the larger Coldwell Banker network. Over time, Olson held positions as director, senior vice president, and executive vice president, consistently working towards the expansion of Coldwell Banker’s residential services. Under Olson’s leadership, Coldwell Banker’s residential business grew not only in California but also nationwide, with the opening of offices in cities like Atlanta, Kansas City, suburban Chicago, and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Adding Innovator Jerry Cole
After completing his military service and college education, Jerry Cole, a native of Hollywood, joined Olson’s real estate company in the early 1960s. He quickly became one of the top salespeople before moving to Larwin Realty in 1969. There, he played a pivotal role in expanding the company’s presence and managed all seven resale offices, which were part of Larwin Company, the largest homebuilder in the U.S. at the time. Cole was also an innovator, introducing the first-ever home buyer inspection service in the U.S. During this period, he was a member of no less than seven real estate boards.
In 1974, Century 21 Real Estate recruited Cole, where he played a vital role in growing the brand from 200 affiliated franchisees to around 2,200. Additionally, he was instrumental in launching another franchisor called Realty World in 1976, building it from the ground up to include 2,300 franchisees over four years.
In 1980, Jerry Cole approached his former mentor, Forest Olson, with the idea of creating a national residential franchising program at Coldwell Banker. Though the company leadership was initially hesitant, Olson recognized the potential and requested Cole to prepare a feasibility study. With Olson’s backing, Cole presented his proposal to the Coldwell Banker Board of Directors in the spring of 1981, and it received swift approval. Cole was appointed as the president of Coldwell Banker Residential Affiliates, Inc. One of Cole’s original team members, Jim Gillespie, would go on to have a distinguished tenure as president and CEO of Coldwell Banker in later years.
Cole introduced an innovative concept suggested by one of his sales directors, Larry Goeble. They decided to “award” franchises rather than selling them, ensuring that earning a franchise with the country’s largest and most reputable real estate company became a highly sought-after honor for the most promising residential brokerages. Cole emphasized that while other franchises were selling a brand, Coldwell Banker offered not only a prominent name but also unparalleled real estate expertise and training, being the leading real estate company in the industry.
In 1984, Forest Olson surprised his colleagues by announcing his retirement at the age of 58, stating that he had accomplished what he set out to do and desired to spend more time with his family and pursue personal interests.
In 1987, at Coldwell Banker’s annual affiliate conference in Nashville, Jerry Cole made a memorable entrance by performing an Elvis Presley impersonation, complete with a flashy suit and guitar. Despite the lively atmosphere, it was a bittersweet day for Cole as he had just accepted an offer to set up a franchise program for Prudential. After the conference, he announced his resignation, expressing regret later on, saying he would have never left if given the chance to do it over. As the founder of Coldwell Banker’s residential affiliate program, Cole played a pivotal role in ensuring its long-term success, overseeing the establishment of 1,000 new offices. In his final year, the program achieved a net profit of $12 million on a gross of $25 million.
Friendship for a Lifetime
Forest Olson and Jerry Cole’s friendship, forged during their time at Coldwell Banker, endures to this day. Both now live near each other in Orange County, California. Cole, who faced a health scare in 2016, expressed gratitude for Olson’s unwavering support during that challenging time. Today, Cole, approaching 90, has made a full recovery and remains active in his franchise consulting business. He continues to check in on Olson, who is nearing 98 and in fragile health. Cole holds Olson in high esteem, recognizing his visionary contributions that transformed the real estate industry.
The impact of Olson and Cole on Coldwell Banker is profound, and instrumental in shaping the company into its present form. Their story serves as a testament to how an individual’s intelligence, determination, creativity, and passion can influence the trajectory of a large organization. The emphasis they placed on technology, education, and expertise continues to be core values within Coldwell Banker. With a history spanning 117 years, Olson, Cole, and other influential figures have collectively authored Coldwell Banker’s success story, forming the bedrock of a global brand that agents and employees take pride in being a part of today.