Home Sweet Home
Jamie Hickey wears two hats – business woman and ranch hand – and does it with finesse
The saying, “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl,” is a perfect way to describe Jamie Hickey. Raised on a ranch seven miles south of Billings, Jamie spent her early years working on the family’s cattle ranch. She still helps every day — when she’s not busy running a successful real estate business.
The youngest of three, Jamie grew up learning how to work hard. She’s an experienced hand at working cows, riding horses and running haying equipment.
The ranch has been in the family for five generations, starting with E.N. Cooper, Jamie’s great-grandfather, who homesteaded the property in 1892. The operation of the ranch then moved on to E.N.’s son, Homer, who ran Hereford cattle. It is now a family-owned cow/calf operation, being run by Homer’s son and Jamie’s father, Dick.
Jamie lives on the ranch with her family and contributes to operating it by working around her full-time schedule at the office.
“I really do have a perfect situation,” she says. “My business affords me the time I need to help Dad.”
That business is Montana Real Estate Brokers. Jamie has owned it since 2018, when she bought it from owner and mentor Al Littler, her employer for almost 25 years.
“You couldn’t have told me back then that I’d be doing real estate today,” Jamie says. “I always wanted to be involved in agriculture.”
She’s successfully doing both. As Al says, “Jamie’s a dual citizen. She excels at putting up hay, running cows and branding and she’s a tremendous businesswoman in the real estate world.”
When she was in second grade, Jamie’s folks split up and she moved to town with her mother. But every opportunity she could, she was back on the ranch. Her mother, Susie Cooper Linnell, was instrumental in influencing her in real estate, having had a successful career herself as a broker/manager for Coldwell Banker the Brokers and later a selling broker at Montana Real Estate Brokers. Jamie’s father, Dick Cooper, was equally influential in keeping her interest in ranching alive.
“I just naturally went after what both of my parents did,” Jamie says.
Her real estate career started before she was 20, when she worked as a secretary for Coldwell and then Prudential Floberg Realtors. When Al sold his interest in the company and started Montana Real Estate Brokers, Jamie went with him.
“I worked for Al as a secretary and office manager.” Jamie says. “He taught me everything.”
Al expanded his business on the principle of allowing agents to retain 100 percent of their commission when they made a sale. Each agent would pay a monthly fee for the use of the office and split the expenses of running it, which also included Jamie’s income.
“It’s a little different than most offices,” he says. “I didn’t have my agents split their commissions with me, which gave them the power to work for themselves and make decent money. We retained agents for decades because they knew they could make a good income with us.”
Over the years, as Al watched Jamie blossom, it was a natural progression for her to climb from secretary to office manager to finally obtaining her real estate and then broker’s licenses. Al was grooming her to one day take over the business, and when he retired Jamie was able to buy it.
“I ran my business by advocating to do business by what the law said and what people expected of brokers,” Al says. “As Jamie learned the business, she delved into the law and standard operating procedures. She’s run it the same way I did from day one. She’s an excellent businesswoman. I admire her greatly.”
Today, as she continues to work full time at the office, she also plays a big part in the operation of the Cooper Ranch. Fifteen years ago, her dad made the decision to start raising Red Angus cattle and he and Jamie have worked hard to build the herd. Their heifer calves continually top the market every fall and they have built a reputable replacement heifer program.
“It was a good move for him,” she says. “I’m really proud of what he’s done.”
They’ve not been immune from typical economic struggles on the ranch, though. As with ranchers across the region, the drought has wreaked havoc, forcing them to trim down their herd size to keep the ranch sustainable.
“We had some hard decisions to make,” she says, “but we always remain hopeful.”
As the owner of her business, Jamie has the luxury of being able to take time away when she’s needed on the ranch arise. She worries about her 78-year-old father and is grateful that she has a flexible schedule, allowing her to help him out.
“I’m Dad’s hired hand that doesn’t get a paycheck,” she says with a laugh, “but the perks of living on the ranch make it all worth it. I’m there as much as I can be. He’s an independent old rancher, but thankfully he’s taken to driving the side-by-side to check cows instead of saddling up.”
Jamie’s agents all understand her dual career and work with her.
“They know that I might be late some mornings because we’re trimming bull’s feet, or checking on the cows,” she says. “I work for Dad, but I also work for my agents.”
Jamie has her broker’s license, but she doesn’t actively sell real estate. Instead, she has chosen a career that allows her to manage her successful business working Monday through Friday, from 8 to 5. It’s a decision that has made it doable for her to raise her son, help on the ranch and have a thriving business.
“I have chosen not to compete with my agents,” she says. “I facilitate them to make their job successful. They are independent contractors and I supervise them and review their documents. We’re a family here and we help each other.”
Just as Al was able to retain agents, Jamie has as well. All of them stayed with her when she bought the business. Today she has 15 agents working for her, and her business is one of the most successful real estate companies in Billings.
“My agents appreciate that I have kept the same business strategy as Al did,” she says. “Real estate has changed dramatically. Right now, we’re low on inventory and sales are quick. Our agents have to be creative with their offers and write the highest and best offer they can come up with right away to have a chance.”
Just as ranching has its highs and lows, so does real estate and Jamie plans on riding it out. At the end of each day, as she’s heading back to the ranch, she’s reminded how incredibly fortunate she is to live where she does. In the time it takes to drive from one end of Billings to the other, she has reached her home, tucked away from the fast pace of the city.
“I love living on the ranch,” she says. “Ranching helps keep me sane for real estate and real estate helps pay for ranching.”