How I Made It: Annie Ives, CEO of MLS/CLAW

The gig: Annie Ives, 68, is the chief executive of Combined L.A./Westside Multiple Listing Service, better known as the MLS/CLAW. With 50 employees, the Beverly Hills company is a customized real estate technology provider that enables its 17,000 members to share information on listed properties. They have access to millions of market listings, including 95% of the ones in Southern California through its data share programs and California Real Estate Technology Services.

Continental drift: Ives was born in Tunisia, the North African country that borders the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert. Her father was an accountant; her mother a housewife. She attended a French school there and, when she was 10, got her first taste of the business world by working at a local bookstore. She described herself in her younger years as shy and hard-working.

By 1967, her world had changed dramatically: Ives and her siblings left the country during the Arab-Israeli conflict known as the Six-Day War. “My grandparents lived in Los Angeles, and they came and brought us to live with them in America,” she said.

A new world: Upon arriving in L.A., Ives said she was stunned by the sheer size of the city. She also had trouble communicating in her new country, despite having studied English for seven years in Tunisia. “It was a big cultural shock,” she said. She later began attending night school with her parents and took a job as a nanny.

Stops along career route: Ives’ first taste of the corporate world came in the late 1960s, when she took a job as a payment processor at Bank of America in Beverly Hills. “My dream was to be a stewardess, but then when I was working at the bank, my dream was to become a teller,” she said.

Later, in the 1980s, Ives and her sister opened AnniePaul, a clothing store on Melrose Avenue that sold clothing imported from Paris. “I did the selling and my sister did most of the buying,” she said. The store became popular in their local community and they would often use the venue for fashion shows.

Starting from scratch: Ives joined the MLS/Claw in 1993 as an accountant. There were no employees at the time. “I actually worked on my own and hired just one person full-time,” she said.

The MLS/CLAW is owned by three entities: the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Assn. of Realtors, the Malibu Assn. of Realtors and the Southwest Los Angeles Assn. of Realtors. It had one local competitor, which controlled the majority of the market at the time. But a year later, things would change: The competing service folded, putting the MLS in a prime position to capture the lion’s share of the market.

Changing course: By 2001, Ives, now the CEO of the MLS/CLAW, had reached a crossroad. To gain full control and not rely on outside vendors, the company would need to develop its own software. Development of the company’s proprietary software was done in-house by a four-person team.

“It was a whole new experience for us, so here was a huge learning curve,” Ives said. “But it was worth the tremendous effort and hard work we put into it.”

Despite the high cost of writing the software, Ives says the decision has put the company in a position to grow organically, particularly in an industry where technology continues to rapidly evolve.

Building on reputation: Thirty percent of MLS/CLAW’s clients, all of whom are licensed real estate agents, now come from outside of its jurisdiction, which consists of the area between downtown Los Angeles and Pacific Coast Highway.

“We have become the MLS of choice,” said Ives, who attributes the out-of-area growth to the company’s relationships and reputation. “We are known in the industry for our customer service and we place a lot of importance on it.”

Company representatives routinely make office visits to subscribers and also provide one-on-one training and 24-hour support. Trade show appearances and sponsored events such as the annual MLS Summit have also boosted the company’s profile, she said.

Market forecast: “You know, last year we did almost $20 billion worth of business,” said Ives, referring to Los Angeles County’s gross sales volume in 2016.

Ives looks to the listings to gauge the current state of L.A.’s market. “This year, there’s not enough inventory,” she said. Ives estimated that there were 1,000 fewer active listings now compared with the same time last year. Still, she sees no signs of the current seller’s market slowing down. “The next six months will be good for real estate.”

Personal: Ives lives in Beverly Hills with her husband, Robert, who as a real estate developer built thousands of apartments and high-end condos in L.A. before retiring seven years ago. They have three sons — David, Saul and Jeremy — and seven grandchildren.

In her free time: Ives enjoys traveling, and recently took up yoga and bridge. She finds balance between family, work, travel and exercising by adhering to a strict schedule. “I have a to-do list of things to finish by 6 a.m.,” she said. “I work, I never go to lunch and some nights I play bridge — I love playing bridge.”

neal.leitereg@latimes.com

Twitter: @NJLeitereg

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