“For us, the kitchen table is symbolic of the personal, high-touch way we do business,” said Swan, who ran the office of Bates Sanders Swan Land Company in Bozeman for 12 years, before establishing his own brand. “Whether we’re sitting down with a titan of industry in a New York penthouse office or a ranching family from central Montana, the kitchen table—where we sit and look into one another’s eyes and really establish a personal connection—is where each and every relationship begins.”
Article written by Lorie A. Woodward in the Fall 2019 issue of LAND magazine.
Following the lead of founder Mike Swan, the team at Swan Land Company with its headquarters in Bozeman, Montana, serves its clients from “the kitchen table to the closing table.”
In 2012, riding on a wave of success that included representing Montana’s 124,000-acre Broken O Ranch in a sale to Stan Kroenke, Swan opened Swan Land Company.
“I had great momentum, but I realized I needed help if the company was going to continue to move forward,” Swan said, noting that early sales also included Montana’s 25,323-acre Historic Horse Ranch and Montana’s Lazy J Ranch, the largest contiguous privately-held block remaining in Bridger Canyon.
He began adding team members in 2013. Today, his list of all-star brokers include: Tim Anderson, David Lowry, Stephen Leibinger, Sam Sanders and Scott Williams. The company now has offices in Bozeman, Salt Lake City and Buffalo, Wyo. and is licensed in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado and Nebraska.
“We haven’t taken our foot off the gas since the beginning—and we’re not letting up anytime soon,” Swan said.
While growth and success tempt some companies to abandon principle for profit, Swan refuses to fall into that trap and remains true to the values he learned around his family’s kitchen table on their cow-calf operation in Montana’s Ruby Valley: personal integrity, hard work, respect, and putting others’ needs before your own.
“It all comes back to who you are and what you stand for as an individual—and as a company,” said, Swan, a self-described servant leader. “I’m a simple guy. I know how to work hard and treat people right, and I’ve surrounded myself with people who live their lives the same way.”
The seemingly simple formula delivers results including signature sales such as Jane Fonda’s 2,300-acre Forked Lightning Ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico and the 42,215-acre LF Ranch near Augusta, Montana.
“Despite our relatively small size we continue to gain market share at a rate that has me asking, ‘What is Swan Land Company going to do next?’” Swan said. “While I don’t know the exact answer to that question yet, I can guarantee we will remain true to who we are—and to our clients.”
EMBRACING A SIMPLE FORMULA
Sharing a cup of coffee while sitting at a kitchen table may seem like an old-fashioned idea in today’s digital age, but it is a requirement of doing business with the Swan Team.
“Before we do business, we sit down and talk through every step of the process, clarify expectations on both sides and make it clear that our Team will ‘hold their hand’ from beginning to end,” Swan said. “Our approach to customer service is very personal and very high-touch, which some people would say is out of step with our hurry-up modern world, but it works for us—and our clients.”
In this age of instant, impersonal communication, the first face-to-face meeting lays a foundation for a working relationship that often blossoms into a personal one.
“The deals are important, but it’s the relationships that are priceless to us,” said Swan, noting team members routinely get invitations to graduations, weddings and other special occasions reserved for family and friends long after a deal is done. “We never quit working to earn and maintain the trust that underpins every successful relationship.”
“If you’re not a person of your word, people will see right through you,” Swan said. “Our clients leave their kitchen tables confident that we are who we say and we will do what we promise, which is putting their interests first—every single time—and putting extraordinary effort into each and every listing.”
“When we do business with people, whether they’re CEOs of Fortune 100 companies or fourth-generation ranchers, they are entrusting us with their families’ legacies and their families’ futures,” Swan said. “It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility which we take very seriously.”
Personal commitment yields results for the clients and the company. Swan, who estimates up to 75 percent of the firm’s business comes from referrals and repeat business, had this lesson reinforced soon after he opened Swan Land Company.
“My phone rang one day and it was Jane Fonda,” Swan recalled. “She said, ‘I’ve heard your name in several circles and I think you’re someone I need to meet.’”
She was considering selling her New Mexico ranch and was looking for representation. It was Friday. Swan arranged to tour the property the following Monday morning. After evaluating the ranch, he submitted a proposal and 10 days later he was drinking coffee with the actress at her ranch. They spent the morning sitting at her kitchen table and talking about the process and his company’s personal approach to business.
“By the end of our visit, she said, ‘I trust you and I want you to represent me,’” Swan said.
The first meeting was just the beginning. During the process, Swan made nearly 20 trips to New Mexico and another six to Fonda’s home in Beverly Hills.
“Every time, we had to make a critical decision, I made it a point to be face-to-face, so she understood every nuance and every detail of this complicated deal,” Swan said. “I promised to ‘hold her hand’ through the entire process—and I did. This is the same principle that we apply to each and every client that we are fortunate enough to represent.”
In the end, the ranch sold. Fonda expressed her gratitude for his willingness to go above and beyond her expectations as did her family and business team.
“One of her assistants said, ‘This would have never happened if it weren’t for you,’” Swan said. “It’s gratifying to hear that because we work hard 24/7 to make a difference for our clients.”
THE POWER OF A TEAM
The Swan Land Company team, which totals nine including Swan and three support staff, is small and nimble by design.
“As a team, we serve a very selective, exclusive niche,” Swan said. “We limit the number of properties we represent, so we can focus on each one individually and tailor-make a plan for each property in our portfolio.”
The benefits of working with a diverse, close-knit team really are very evident as the members gather around their conference table to strategize on behalf of a client. Each broker brings a unique skill set, ranging from knowledge in fisheries, recreation and agriculture to the synergy between energy development and land management, to the project.
“The best solutions for our clients come from looking at every property from every angle,” Swan said. “I don’t want brokers who are clones of me, I want people who will give me their honest opinions based on different experiences and push the boundaries on behalf of our clients.”
Just as the clients trust the Swan team, the team members trust one another.
“The atmosphere is open and collaborative,” Swan said. “Even though we all have different backgrounds, we’re like-minded when it comes to our high-touch, customer-oriented philosophy that’s at the core of our business. It’s the power of one multiplied by six.”
Plus, the team members enjoy their work and one another.
“We get to do what we love in the midst of God’s most beautiful creations—and share a lot of laughs along the way,” Swan said. “To work with this team is a blessing. Each and every one of us takes ownership of our objectives.”
Because of its size, the team doesn’t have the luxury of painting with a broad brush when it comes to marketing, buyer demographics or any other critical piece of the project. They study the market and adapt their strategies to meet the ever-present changes.
“There aren’t many of us, so we have to make the most of our time,” Swan said. “We identify our goals and strategies—and then apply a laser-focus to execute them, and we are efficient with our time.”
Egos are checked at the door.
“As brokers we lead transactions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we lead from the front or draw attention to ourselves in the public eye,” Swan said.
The team always puts the client’s interests first, time after time, so the deal can make its way to the closing table.
“We work behind the scenes and take care of every detail, so the process is seamless,” Swan said. “When we do our job, the spotlight shines on our clients’ success.”
Deals are finished, but relationships live on. Because of strong relationships, the team finds itself at a different kitchen table.
“When people begin a phone call by saying, ‘You helped a friend…a colleague…a family member of mine—and we’re not talking to anybody else,’ it’s a true testimony to the power of putting our customers first,” Swan said. “Their trust honors us and serves as a continual reminder of the value of doing business the right way. The world may change, but our focus on people won’t.”
MEET THE TEAM
As renowned western novelist Elmer Kelton once opined, “You are who you ride with.” Since founding Swan Land Company in 2011, Mike Swan has surrounded himself with “an all-star team who puts customers first, have an incredible work ethic and completes every deal with the highest level of personal integrity.”
Swan Land Co. since 2013
Home Base: Bozeman, Montana
Licensed in: Montana
Experience at a Glance:
Since joining Swan Land Company, Tim has become a top-producing ranch broker in Montana with many notable ranch sales across the state. Prior to joining Swan, he and his wife spent 12 years running Montana Real Estate Co. and helped guide the successful real estate sales effort for Moonlight Basin Ranch and has worked in every aspect of real estate from development and product design to financing, marketing and sales. An alum of Montana State University, Tim previously worked as a research scientist in the Plant Pathology and Plant Sciences Department for his alma mater, where he researched viral and fungal pathogens to help control noxious weeds and helped establish a grower cooperative that produced gluten-free flour trademarked as Montina®.
On customer service…
“There are a lot of ways people can act to earn business, but with us it’s not an act. We’re all very honest, genuine people, who value personal integrity. Our clients appreciate that. And we’re committed to being engaged and available to our clients through every step in the process of a transaction. In my opinion, one of the primary roles of real estate brokers is providing accurate and reliable information so that our clients and the buying public can make good informed decisions. We are in an era where the general public can access all manner of information easily online. Unfortunately, easy access doesn’t mean the available information is accurate, pertinent or even helpful. We hang out hats on knowing the difference between good information and bad, and providing information that is vetted and solid, so our clients can proceed with confidence.”
Swan Land Co. since 2014
Home Base: Bozeman, Montana and Basalt, Colorado
Licensed in: Montana and Colorado
Experience at a Glance:
Steve, who graduated from the University of Wyoming with a degree in environmental sciences, ran a successful fly-fishing guiding and outfitting business, which provided him a vast first-hand knowledge of the Rocky Mountain’s trout waters and the land they influence. After growing up in the West (Montana, Wyoming and Colorado), Steve first entered the Montana real estate arena in 2004 specializing in recreational land and fishing properties. His previous experience includes representing high-end properties in Aspen, Colorado on behalf of the Ritz Carlton Company and representing exceptional international recreational properties on behalf of Timbers Resorts. Licensed in Montana and Colorado, Steve comes from a deep-rooted Montana-ranching family and is proud to continue that tradition by now representing western ranch properties with Swan Land Company.
On the importance of taking care of details….
“We work together closely, which takes inner-office competition out of the mix and allows our team to focus solely on our clients’ best interests. Ranch real estate transactions can be incredibly complicated and every detail matters, especially when it comes to meeting our clients’ goals and objectives. From the beginning, we put together a comprehensive due diligence package, unlike any other I’ve encountered in the industry, that includes maps, information on easements, hunting regulations and opportunities, access, water rights and anything else that could impact the use or enjoyment of the land in the future. We roll up our sleeves and dig up solid information that gives people peace of mind as they are making very big decisions. By having command of all of the details, everyone represented knows exactly what they’re getting into, which provides for a successful transaction that ends with strong relationships—and clients who get the properties they’ve been dreaming of.”
Swan Land Co. since 2010
Home Base: Bozeman, Montana
Licensed in: Montana
Experience at a Glance:
David has operated and owned working and recreational ranches in Colorado, Montana and Canada. As an avid hunter and angler, he guided and operated a successful outfitting service providing elk and deer hunting trips for 30 years. He has managed equestrian programs as well as owning a ski lodge and running a dude ranch, providing quality recreational experiences for clients. He also ranched and raised Corriente cattle in Avon, Montana for 17 years. David has been active in the Montana ranch and recreational real estate market representing both buyers and sellers since 2004. His focus on serving clients and his extensive background in working ranches and recreational properties contributes significantly to Swan Land Company’s continuing strong presence and sterling reputation in land brokerage.
On the importance of developing and maintaining relationships….
“We live and die by client relationships. Building relationships is all about building trust, and we build trust by being completely honest and transparent. There is a lot that goes into buying or selling a ranch, and many people aren’t familiar with the intricacies of a ranch transaction. We walk them through every step to help them evaluate the ranch and understand every aspect of the transaction. As their brokers, we’re advisors charged with providing them with the information that they need to move forward—and they have to be confident that we’re giving them all of the facts as we know them, which is why our due diligence is second to none. In the end, we strive for a seamless transaction that leaves both the buyer and seller happy. And, as part of the process, our relationship with the client grows from a business association to a friendship that lasts long after the ink has dried on a contract.”
Swan Land Co. since 2013
Home Base: Salt Lake City, Utah
Licensed in: Utah, Wyoming and Idaho
Experience at a Glance:
Having grown up working on his family’s ranches in Wyoming and Montana, Sam is keenly aware of the beauty, benefits and challenges of any given property. During his 26-year real estate tenure, he has brokered over 300 farm and ranch transactions in the western United States. His extensive experience working with government officials on title issues, grazing leases and water rights, combined with his honesty and tenacity contribute to his accomplished career.
On the importance of collaboration, cooperation and team work…
“I’ve worked in this industry for more than 25 years and Swan Land’s culture is unique. Because everybody’s primary concern is doing what is best for our clients, we all collaborate and cooperate instead of competing. Everybody on the team brings a wealth of experience in ranch real estate along with their own specialized expertise, but egos are checked at the door. Because of the team’s diverse experience, every property is evaluated from several different perspectives, there are no ‘cookie cutter’ approaches. In the end, our clients benefit because our deep bench ensures they get the best possible service with the best possible results.”
Swan Land Co. since 2015
Home Base: Buffalo, Wyoming
Licensed in: Wyoming, Nebraska, and Montana
Experience at a Glance:
Hard work and solid understanding of business principles have been the foundation of Scott’s career successes. Scott was raised on a high elevation ranch in Wyoming and learned to operate through the elements of a hardened environment. After obtaining a Business Finance degree from the University of Wyoming he was able to put into practice what he learned from these formative years of ranching and education. Managing six large ranches in Wyoming gave Scott the opportunity to operate under some of the brightest executives in the business world. This solid foundation has been the most valuable attribute Scott has to offer to his clients as he skillfully guides them through the land purchasing process, always watching out for the client’s best interest.
On the benefit of owning land….
“A few years back, a buyer asked me, ‘What supports the value of land?’ It got me to thinking about the benefit of land ownership beyond its proven worth as a productive, hard asset. Unlike any other investment, land pays a return of enjoyment that comes from operating, improving and conserving it. It’s a tangible place that its owners can share with everyone who is important to them and together they enjoy the dividend of memories. And, the entire ownership experience, is underpinned by the joy—and security—of knowing that the land will always be here.”