The light bulb first went off in Scott MacDonald’s head when, ironically, he was working as a cleaner in a lighting store. He had landed the job at age twelve, and as he cleaned light fixtures from one end of the store to the other and back again, customers would ask for his help in choosing the right products. Despite the presence of older, more experienced workers and managers, Scott exuded a sense of proficiency and service so compelling that, even after the store began to sell ceiling fans, people continued to solicit his advice. Within a couple years as a part-time employee, he was outselling even the most experienced and well-positioned salespeople at the store. “That’s when I first got the feeling that I wanted to sell,” Scott recalls. “I was drawn to the experience of getting to know a person’s unique needs and then using that information to help them make the right decision.”
Now the founder and President of RE/MAX Gateway, one of Northern Virginia’s premier agent-empowered real estate companies, Scott has dedicated his career to redefining the sales profession. His method was forged when he was still a boy and retains the genuine, well-intentioned earnestness that children bring to problem solving, yet benefits from years of experience in filling the role of trusted consultant for those seeking advice. “Ever since those days selling light fixtures, I’ve believed that sales should not be transactional,” he explains today. “It must be relational. It’s got to be about helping someone solve a problem by taking the time to get to know them and what they’re really looking for.”
Owning a real estate company was never Scott’s intention. After 13 years selling real estate, he and another broker decided they wanted to invest in real estate themselves and purchase some commercial property. They decided they would buy land, put up a building, and lease space to a real estate company, a mortgage company, and a title company. They interviewed nine separate companies to complete the vision, yet none of them felt like quite the right fit.
One of the companies was a RE/MAX office, and the owners urged Scott to join them as an agent. He politely declined, yet through the discourse, a new seed was planted in his mind—he wanted to open his own RE/MAX office. On January 2, 2001, he called RE/MAX International and told its Head of Sales, Vinnie Tracy, that he wanted to buy a franchise. The paperwork was finished on January 18th, and Scott set to work buying furniture, setting the phone system, and hiring staff. On February 1st, they opened their doors and hit the ground running.
Scott’s first challenge was figuring out how to attract the top agents in the business. Before the office officially opened, he had gotten confirmation from 26 people that they would be joining the company, yet only six of those commitments actually materialized. “I had to come up with a way to make our office different, because although most top producers were unhappy with the companies they were working with, it’s hard to get people to make a change,” he recalls. “So I decided to seek out people from other industries who were successful in their businesses and interested in making the switch to real estate. We were in the wake of the dot-com explosion, and many people in technology sales were eager to get out and start a new venture.”
As Scott saw that his strategy was working, his next challenge was to find a way to train his new recruits in the art and science of real estate sales. Driven by a passion for helping people become successful in business, he began to develop ways to transfer his 14 years of experience to the bright, enthusiastic agents who came to him looking to reach new echelons of service and success. These efforts ultimately culminated in a Broker Success Kit—a training program that teaches brokers how to provide the best leadership possible to their agents. With a facilitator’s guide, a user guide, a PowerPoint presentation, and instructional training videos, the kit is at once a recruiting and retention program, augmented by team and entrepreneurship summits provided periodically by Scott and his team. Scott also developed Assured Equity Partners, a program that elevates his work’s reputation by guaranteeing the purchase or lease of each property enrolled. These ventures, along with a comparative market analysis product called Home Pricing Wizard, provide multiple revenue streams for RE/MAX Gateway that define it as a true industry leader.
With education and training serving as a cornerstone of its foundation, RE/MAX Gateway grew steadily since Scott opened his first office in Manassas. Within six months, he opened a second office in Chantilly, finishing up his first year with 36 agents on staff and landing the Rookie of the Year Award from RE/MAX International. By the end of the third year, the operation had grown to 54 agents. Scott launched an office in Great Falls, Virginia, that grew to 18 agents but never quite found its footing, so he decided not to renew its franchise agreement after the first five years. Around that same time, his Manassas lease expired, so he merged those agents with his Chantilly operation.
Things continued to move along nicely, and the team grew to ninety agents. Scott decided to purchase an office in Gainesville, and then opened another office in Brambleton in 2010, which would go on to win the Eagle Award for most net gain in an office. In the years since, Scott opened an office in Lorton, and another in Arlington, so that today, Scott’s team exceeds 200 agents. “We hold trainings in our offices every week on different subjects so our agents can educate their clients to make better decisions when buying and selling houses,” he affirms. “This commitment to educating, coaching, and mentoring helps people solve problems so they not only become better business people, but also better people in general.”
This commitment to betterment was instilled in Scott and his siblings by their parents. Growing up in a 700-square-foot house in Fairfax City, where his mother still lives to this day, the MacDonald children were always encouraged to pursue success. Scott’s father, a banker, was often the grateful recipient of tickets to sports events, plays, and symphonies, and while the children found these outings tedious when they were young, Scott remembers them fondly. “As an eight-year-old, opera wasn’t my idea of a good time, but in retrospect I’m so grateful I was exposed to all the great things the Washington, D.C. area had to offer,” he says.
Scott’s parents both hailed from the Boston area. His grandfather owned eight newspaper stands throughout the City of Boston, and every summer, Scott and his sibling would head to the city to help out with the business. “I remember selling Sunday papers out front of Ken’s Steakhouse, or by the Hancock Tower, or near Cumberland Farms,” he recalls. “His main location was underneath the Citco sign by Fenway Park, and we’d sometimes sell programs for the Red Sox games. His grandfather’s work made him a true fixture of the community—so much so that over 500 people came to his funeral service. Even the priest who gave his eulogy had worked for my grandfather selling papers.”
Exposure to his grandfather’s business model and work ethic cultivated a similar stamina for hard work in Scott, though he earned average grades. He enjoyed baseball, basketball, and football, begrudgingly taking breaks from athletics and other past times to rake the leaves that fell from the 26 trees that peppered their lawn. For their chores, the children would get a small allowance, which was taxed 25 cents each time they left a light on. Beyond inheriting his father’s sense of humor and his mother’s outgoing personality, Scott benefitted from their commitment to encourage their children to always do and be their best.
Things changed drastically for the family, however, when Scott was 16. His father, who had become the youngest director at Arlington Bank and Trust Company, had a falling out with the bank. The event launched him into a state of depression. “It was a difficult time for him to handle and he would retreat to the basement area we called his cave,” Scott remembers. “I understand that he was depressed, but it made me resolve that I wanted to be more involved and supportive with my kids than my dad had been with me during his difficult time. Now, I work long hours, but I still make the time to coach their teams, go to their practices, and attend their school events. My kids are the most important things in my life, and because of the experience I went through watching my own father struggle, I’m committed to being the most engaged, constant, supportive father I can possibly be.”
Despite his father’s depression, the MacDonald family’s lives went on. His mother got a job at Northern Virginia Community College, launching a 30-year career. His older brother dropped out of college after his first year and launched his own cleaning company, taking Scott door-to-door to offer their carpet cleaning services. The business would advance to start cleaning restaurants, and then stores, eventually gaining large clients from Baltimore to Fredericksburg, and as far west as Front Royal. Scott worked for him whenever he had a break, putting in long days transporting cleaning crews, repairing equipment, selling jobs, and running payroll for the company’s 286 employees.
One summer, Scott took time off from working at his brother’s company to take a job at a local restaurant called Po’ Folks. “It was a fast, casual kind of place, but their policy was to only hire women servers,” he recounts. “I told them I thought that was discriminatory, so they brought me on. That summer, it was me and 33 ladies.”
Scott had always gotten along with everyone, transcending the typical clique boundaries of high school to befriend jocks, brainiacs, and troublemakers alike. His election to junior and senior class president was a testament to his ability to find common ground with all people—a skill that spelled certain success in his tenure at the restaurant. Shortly after being hired, he was added to the training team and sent to Cleveland, Ohio, to set up a new restaurant. It went so well that, through the rest of the summer, he was charged with setting up new restaurants in Richmond, Virginia, and Glen Burnie, Maryland. As August neared its end, they asked Scott to stay on to set up restaurants all over the country.
At that point, he was entering his third year of college at Radford University, where he was studying business management and marketing. He gave the offer serious consideration, but his parents urged him to stay in school to earn his degree, so he declined. In the end, the restaurant went under.
Scott, however, was not destined to finish his degree. Visiting an old friend’s house one day, he was recounting his latest ventures, when his friend’s mother piped up with some game-changing insight. “Scotty, you need to get into real estate. It would be perfect for you,” she said. The idea resonated—so much so that he decided not to finish out his college career. “I was paying for my own education, and three years in, it felt like I was just paying to party,” he remembers. “I had always planned to join my brother’s company as a partner, but I got the idea that wasn’t going to happen, so I told him I was going to get my real estate license and start selling houses. He didn’t think I’d actually do it, but I launched my own cleaning company to help supplement my income as I learned, and that first year, I sold nine houses—pretty good for a 22-year-old just starting out.”
Over the next thirteen years, Scott built a successful real estate career while building a relationship with Liz, a young lady he knew in high school who came back into his life when they happened to run into each other at a bar. They married in 1993 and started a family as Scott spent nine years working for a small real estate business. When it ran into ownership issues and finally closed its doors, Scott transitioned over to Century 21, where he began to feel more and more like just a number. “I was used to a 13-person office, and suddenly I was in this large pool of agents immersed in a highly corporate culture,” he reflects. “It felt like they didn’t really have a good understanding of me or my business. Then, once I got the idea of being a business owner, I really latched on to the idea. I felt I could do it better than anyone else based on my experience, so I went all in with RE/MAX Gateway.”
To Scott, “all in” means leading by example, being among the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. He stays actively engaged in the market and lives by his word. Just as he takes time to get to know his clients, he takes time to get to know the agents working for him, making a point to ask about their kids and the vacations they hope to take. He remains a continuous learner so he can bring cutting edge information back to his team to better serve their clients, and he constantly gives back to causes and the community. Having coached youth basketball since he was in high school, he leads efforts to support the Children’s Miracle Network, YouthQuest Foundation, Toys for Tots, Youth for Tomorrow, Stepsisters, and countless others organizations.
In advising young people entering the working world today, Scott underscores the power of entrepreneurship and urges everyone to try starting a business. “Whether you’re successful or not, it will give you an appreciation for what it’s like to be the boss,” he says. “You’ll understand the finances behind how the business works, how difficult it is to go out and get new business, and how hard it is to balance competing pressures. Appreciating these things will make you better in any work environment.” Beyond that, Scott’s life and work is a testament to the power of genuine relationships and the idea that the best businesses are value-driven, designed not to sell a product, but to serve a need.