With culture of giving back, employees at Sereno make money and a difference


How can a large and already successful company extend its reach without compromising its values-based character? Sereno, the Los Gatos independent brokerage firm, is about to thread the eye of that needle. The company, which earned the top spot among large companies in the 2022 Top Workplaces competition, just announced a new affiliation that has brought with it a new name — Christie’s International Real Estate Sereno.

Founded in 2006 by Ryan Iwanaga and Chris Trapani, Sereno was considered the top independent real estate broker in California and is currently ranked among the top five U.S. agencies for per-agent productivity and average sales price by RealTrends. Obviously the company does big business operating in a region with four of the top 10 ZIP codes in the country for median home price. Yet Sereno was started with thoughtful, humanistic ideas and has established a solid record of community engagement and support. Those sensibilities will have to co-exist with Christie’s luxury marketplace emphasis.

“When we founded the company, our main focus was creating a place where everyone within our company felt appreciated, supported and loved,” said Iwanaga. “We believed we could create a successful for-profit company based upon simple but important values that prioritized people and their value to our overall long-term success.”

The company has not strayed from those values, even as it has grown and prospered.

Central to prioritizing people has been Sereno’s charitable giving and its several community support funding portals. “When we founded Sereno Group in 2006, we believed our responsibility as business owners extended to our obligation to be good citizens, to make sure that our business contributed to the welfare and betterment of the communities we served,” Iwanaga said.

The 1% for Good Charitable Foundation is an example of that commitment. Since the foundation was formed in 2012, Sereno has donated $5 million through it to local charities and community organizations.

“The unique and most powerful aspect of our foundation is that individual offices are empowered to decide which local organizations received funds,” Iwanaga said. Each of their offices has its own 1% for Good committee that researches and nominates candidates. The office takes a vote and the winner receives the foundation’s support.

Iwanaga is particularly proud that the process is “hyper-local.” “We have supported very sophisticated organizations who serve the greater Bay Area and also grassroots efforts that are working out of a garage,” Iwanaga said.

Their Covid 19 Relief Fund supports groups like Second Harvest, Santa Cruz Community Health and SOS Meals on Wheels. The Equity & Access Fund promotes economic opportunity, education, health care and voting rights, partnering with organizations like the African American Community Service Agency and San Jose Peace and Justice Center.

There is also a Culture Fund and a Community Impact Fund, helping organizations including Loaves & Fishes, Habitat for Humanity and Momentum for Mental Health.

“I am always humbled by the way in which our people represent the ideals of our company,” Iwanaga said. “Chris and I founded the company, shaped the vision and reinforced the cultural aspects, but the people have always been the reflection of those things. They carry the message and culture of our company both internally and publicly.”

Iwanaga believes that despite the change in affiliation, the company’s core ideology, including “communities over shareholders” and “social impact at the center,” can remain its anchors.

“Real estate is a hard, 24/7/365 business. Having a culture where everyone understands, feels and sees the core values being practiced daily impacts the overall experience,” Iwanaga said. “I would like to think that having that makes the challenges of the job more manageable.”

Besides the Bay Area and adjacent counties, Sereno carries listings across Northern California, including Santa Cruz, Placer and Nevada counties as well as Lake Tahoe.

With 580 agents in 17 offices, there’s a lot of territory to cover and a variety of people to consider.

“Chris and I have always been open to feedback from anyone within the organization,” Iwanaga said. “We have always believed that some of the very best ideas of how our company should evolve come from those who are living within it every day.”

Iwanaga understands the competitive realities of the residential real estate business, but he also believes “that by supporting and loving one another, our individual and collective success is best served.”

“Growth for the sake of bigger impact” is another of Sereno’s core values that will continue to guide the company. “We have a remarkable collection of people in every part of our company,” Iwanaga said. “They are the ones who deserve the credit because they give everything they have to the company and the world every day.”

Marcus Crowder is a Bay Area freelance writer.

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