The Real Deal New York

At the desk of: Maëlle Gavet

The Compass COO on creating the ideal agent, sharing a desk with Robert Reffkin and being a “very sore loser”
By Kathryn Brenzel | March 01, 2018 10:00AM

Maëlle Gavet (Photos by Emily Assiran)

Maëlle Gavet, 39, joined Compass as its chief operating officer in January 2017. At the time, her hiring was billed as yet another sign that the six-year-old brokerage was gearing up for an IPO. She served in the same position at the Priceline Group (now Booking Holdings), the publicly held online travel giant, for two years, and was a principal at the Boston Consulting Group prior to that. The French native also spent four years as CEO of Moscow-based Ozon Holdings, which runs an e-commerce website often referred to as the “Amazon of Russia.” In her current role, Gavet oversees technology, marketing and product engineering, as well as Compass’s 55 regional offices and 45 sales managers. Since she joined the brokerage last year, it has considerably ramped up its fundraising, notching more than $740 million in capital — thanks in large part to SoftBank’s $450 million infusion in December. Compass, which is now valued at $2.2 billion, closed $1.37 billion in Manhattan sales last year, according to a recent analysis by The Real Deal. The company occupies the third, fourth and seventh through 11th floors of RFR Realty’s 90 Fifth Avenue and is in active negotiations to take over the fifth and sixth floors from its subtenants. Compass bills itself as more of a tech company than a traditional brokerage, and the 11th floor of its headquarters stays true to that mission: It’s filled with snack dispensers, Ping-Pong and billiards tables and a meditation room. Every Friday, Gavet dons her company hoodie in a tongue-in-cheek nod to Silicon Valley. And every other weekday, she makes a point of dressing up. “One of the things that I have heard in my career from other women is that to be successful in business, you have to act like a man, think like a man, dress like a man,” she said. “I’m not saying I’m changing the world — far from it. But I thought at my level, it was important to demonstrate that you can wear dresses and look feminine and still kick ass.” The message is one that aligns with the firm’s overall mission to avoid falling into one specific category. Gavet shares her glassy ninth-floor office with the firm’s two co-founders, Robert Reffkin, its CEO, and Ori Allon, its executive chairman. She and Reffkin sit at the same desk, facing each other. Gavet, the oldest of three, grew up in a western suburb of Paris and is fluent in French, English and Russian. She now lives in Tribeca with her husband.

Tennis racket

Gavet, by her own admission, is hyper-competitive. In business, that drives her to keep trying until she succeeds. It also means that she’s particular about the sports and games she plays — and those she plays with. “I tried yoga for a while, but it was too quiet,” she said. “I started playing tennis actually pretty late, when I turned 30. I don’t play that well, and I don’t like to lose, so it’s a bit of a conundrum.” Gavet said she plays tennis only with her coach, because she doesn’t feel bad losing against someone with that kind of experience. She also stays away from board games, even though she’s particularly skilled at Risk. “I’m a very sore loser,” she noted. “My sister became much better than me at it, and I stopped playing.”

Wonder Woman mug

To mark Gavet’s one-year anniversary with the firm, a group of Compass employees gave her a coffee mug featuring Wonder Woman. The cup is a play on one of her catchphrases: “super-agent of the future.” The idea behind that motto is to encourage the firm’s brokers to master technology but never lose sight of the value of client relationships. Compass wants all of its 2,600 agents to be “high-tech” and “high-touch,” she said. “We’re not so much trying to create RoboCop, and much more trying to create Wonder Woman,” she explained. “An agent who has [not only] the strength, personality and power of Wonder Woman, but also the tools.”

Candy jar

At her desk, Gavet keeps a candy dispenser, which was created during one of Compass’ periodic hackathons. Twice a year, the brokerage’s product engineers are asked to work on anything they want — related to a theme — for a few days. The most recent theme, which gave rise to the candy dispenser, was the modern “smart home.” The dispenser is filled with Reese’s Pieces and connected to an app where guests can register their names and contact info at open houses. When people successfully sign up, they are rewarded with the candy.

Compass perfume

Two of the firm’s agents in Miami — who previously worked as perfumers (“noses,” in industry parlance) — recently created a “Compass scent.” For now, the perfume is being tested out in the company’s offices and at open houses and isn’t sold at any stores. It smells like sandalwood, but Gavet said she’s not certain of its exact composition. For her, it serves as a reminder that agents have the freedom to pursue interests that aren’t strictly tied to closing real estate deals.

Mantra block

When Gavet joined Ozon in 2010, the company employed its own drivers to deliver packages across Russia. The server for the website, the largest in the country at the time, was located within the firm’s headquarters. So, Gavet and her co-workers had to build a lot of the technology and infrastructure from the ground up. During that time, she would repeatedly tell her team that “nothing worth doing is ever easy.” When she left Ozon in 2015, they presented her with the wooden block inscribed with the mantra.

Red notebook

Gavet likes to bring a red notebook to meetings to show that she’s paying close attention to what’s being discussed. When someone is in a meeting taking notes on a laptop or phone, she said, they can easily check their email or social media account, so she likes to demonstrate that she’s completely tuned in. This philosophy is also reflected in the office she shares with Compass’ co-founders. Gavet and Reffkin share a desk, which encourages them — by design — to communicate without technology. “Especially in the tech space, people are distracted easily,” Gavet said. “We need to spend more time speaking human-to-human than human-to-robot.”