How Melissa Archer-Wirtz worked her way from Executive Assistant to COO of CONLON

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How Melissa Archer-Wirtz worked her way from Executive Assistant to COO of CONLON

By: Chuck Sudo
Bisnow Chicago

The story of Conlon/Christie’s International Real Estate's Melissa Archer-Wirtz's rise up the company ladder to become the firm’s new COO is a story that reads like a fairy tale, or a blockbuster movie.

CONLON COO Melissa Archer-Wirtz. Melissa joined Conlon as Sean Conlon's executive assistant.

Melissa (pictured at Conlon's Gold Coast offices) has been with Conlon since day one, when she was hired as executive assistant to chairman Sean Conlon in 2006. She was already working in real estate and had a background in new home development. Melissa tells us she bet that aligning with Sean would open the door to a career in commercial real estate. It was a wager that paid off, albeit one with what Melissa calls a “drastic” learning curve.

New CONLON COO Melissa Archer-Wirtz and CONLON chairman Sean Conlon. Melissa joined Conlon as Sean's executive assistant,

Melissa remembers the early days at meetings, listening to conversations, taking notes and trying her best not to look like she didn’t know what was being discussed. Melissa wisely saved her questions for side conversations with Sean and spent many nights researching terminology in books and online. But Melissa says the best learning method was doing her job—being Sean’s shadow was the best graduate program available. She was responding to Sean’s emails, involved in every detail of every deal. ”If you start talking zoning, LOI, ROI and cap rates, and you see it enough, you understand what it means.” Melissa concludes that Sean was the best mentor she could have had in the early stages of her career.

CONLON CEO Benjie Burford, COO Melissa Archer-Wirtz, chairman Sean Conlon and president of capital markets Tom Reckley.

Melissa remained Sean’s executive assistant for three years when she, Sean and Conlon CEO Benjie Burford (left, with Melissa, Sean and Conlon & Co president of capital markets Tom Reckley) sat down to discuss plans to open a brokerage. This would have been a challenge during any real estate cycle, let alone in the uncertain climate of the post-2008 real estate collapse. But Melissa says the three of them agreed that investment in the right resources was essential. That meant human capital. Melissa believed she was a great candidate to head the brokerage but says it was Sean’s recognition that it was time to let her take the reins, or risk losing her to another firm. Once a new executive assistant was on board, Melissa set to work establishing the marketing and branding for the brokerage, which later proved integral to Conlon’s affiliation with Christie’s. Melissa says at the time she didn’t realize how daunting it was to open a brokerage in that climate, but Sean’s enthusiasm was infectious. After meeting with agents, Melissa enacted a “no fee” policy to bring the best brokers on board—a practice that is now common among brokerages across the city. After a year, Melissa was able to step back and realize she built a great business model.

What Melissa loves the most about real estate is that every day presents a new challenge. Her checklist may be the same, but it may be applied to various scenarios during the course of a day. It’s something Melissa thrives on as she attempts to stay abreast of the latest marketing trends and advancements in technology, while dealing with a widening consumer marketplace. Conlon has DocuSign for all its brokers, invested heavily in drone technology, hired brokers who specialize in lifestyle videos and is looking into virtual reality. With the resources afforded from the Christie’s affiliation, Melissa can realize her short- and long-term goals for Conlon. The root of Melissa’s real estate philosophy is still in the personal relationships between brokers and clients, which she says no technology can replace.

New CONLON COO Melissa Archer-Wirtz and husband Michael Wirtz

Here are some other factoids about Melissa:

— She graduated from the University of Iowa with a double major in political science and international development. She was on track to be a lawyer, thought better of it, and became the first and to date only, intern at the Peace Corps. It wasn’t a direct correlation to real estate but it did open Melissa to the possibility that the international development degree would prove useful down the road.

— Melissa married her husband, Michael (pictured), in 2013. They live in Riverside with their cat, Lola, and puppy, Lucy. Away from the boardroom, Melissa sits in her backyard, builds bonfires and relaxes. She also likes long walks in the forest preserves.

— Last book she read: Getting Things Done. Melissa also loves the historical fiction of Philippa Gregory.

— Favorite meal: Mexican. “I can’t pass up a good margarita.”

— Last unique travel destination: Ecuador. “One of the most amazing things I’ve done in my entire life.”

— Restaurant to celebrate closing a deal: Chicago Cut. “It is the Chicago boardroom.”