FARGO — The conference room at Hatch Realty in south Fargo is not what you might expect from the state's No. 1 real estate team and the 49th most successful team in the nation, according to the firm.

There are no sales charts covering the walls or even posters with motivational slogans encouraging employees to hit their quotas.

Instead, the back wall is covered in family photos of smiling brides, cute babies and cuddly pets — something you're more likely to find in your own home.

"It was a Christmas present to the team," Erik Hatch says as he looks at the smiling faces in the photos. "I wanted a simple way to show what we deem to be most important. It can't be about how much we sold or are we doing enough? Looking over here, we see this is what we're playing for."

Hatch's "other-focused" gesture is intentional and at the heart of his new book, "Play for the Person Next to You: A Guide to Servant Leadership," set to be released Sept. 12 at a special event at the Fargo Theatre.

Hatch, a self-described "hyperaggressive marketer, servant and entrepreneur" who has ownership in 18 businesses, including Hatch Realty, says it's been "on his heart" for four or five years to write this book. He says he understands it might seem "bold or audacious" because it looks like he's trying to be an expert.

"I'm not an expert, but a very intentional student. Because of the crashing and burning I've experienced, I think it's like I've achieved a master's, if not a doctorate," he says with a broad grin. "I have so many things to learn but I felt like I had a story to tell."

Humble beginnings

He says his story began "one foot out of the welfare bucket." Hatch and his older sister were raised by a single mother after his father abandoned them when he was 2 years old.

"We lived in a dumpy trailer in Argusville (N.D.). After we moved out, it was condemned and burned to the ground," he says.

When he was 16, his mother, Betty Hatch, was diagnosed with stage 4 cervical cancer. His high school life consisted of caring for her while holding down a job and serving as 1998 senior class president.

When he went to North Dakota State University, he served as student body vice president and was elected homecoming king in 2001. His mother died when he was 21, but he never thought to be bitter, feel sorry for himself or hide from the world.

"People can be optimists and see the glass as half full or pessimists and see it half empty, but Betty Hatch taught me just to be grateful to have a glass," he says. "I'd do anything to have my mom back for just a moment, but the lessons I learned at a very early age have catapulted so many opportunities in my life and given me a different perspective on things."

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Faith journey to 'dumpster fire'

Shortly after graduation, he was hired by Fargo's First Lutheran Church, his home church, to be a youth minister and worship leader. While there, he helped create the Homeless and Hungry movement that raised $1 million for those in need. He even met his wife, Emily, there.

"What I did in those eight years at First Lutheran fueled everything in my being, except my pocketbook," he says.

RELATED: Faith Conversations — Hatch credits mom for faith/work blending

So in 2011, he left the church to work in real estate full time. He had been a part-time Realtor prior to that.

Hatch says he had his ups and downs in the business, getting fired from a firm even though he says it appeared he was on the right track.

"From the outside, it looked successful, but it was a hot dumpster fire on the inside," he says. "I was being selfish, building everything wrong because I was building it for me."

He landed on his feet and started Hatch Realty with two members from his previous team.

Reflecting and rebuilding

"In April of 2013, I had the opportunity to re-evaluate how I did business," he says. "I realized my job was to play for the person next to me."

He got that phrase after listening to members of the NDSU Bison football team in interviews talk about what it was like to be a part of that organization. Hatch took it to heart — his book cover even shows Hatch's face with eye black, just like players wear.

Erik Hatch will release "Play for the Person Next to You" on Sept. 12 at the Fargo Theatre. Special to The Forum
Erik Hatch will release "Play for the Person Next to You" on Sept. 12 at the Fargo Theatre. Special to The Forum

He says he thought about his days as a church leader and realized while the money might be better in business, he was "parched for purpose."

"There was this misalignment with who I was in my profession and where my heart was leading me," he says. "It couldn't be about accumulating more, but impacting more, giving more, sharing more and influencing more."

So he went about building a more solid foundation in his business, working with people (the smiling faces on the photo wall) who are passionate about achieving their goals right alongside Hatch.

"People always ask, 'How many people work for you?' I always say, 'None,'" he says. "I work for them, walking through this together, ensuring everyone is having the life they were called to."

Hatch says he hopes the book will both challenge and empower people to take action in their own lives. Maybe it's a lofty pursuit, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

I felt like my playing small was not going to serve this world," he says. "I'm OK having a light shining on me right now as long as I give the glory where it deserves to be — to God, my family and my network of friends. I'm simply the loudest."

If you go

What: Book release of Erik Hatch's "Play for the Person Next to You"

When: 3:30-5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway N.

Info: Tickets are $25 and include a copy of the book; search for tickets on Eventbrite

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