NAR’s Next CEO: ‘We Must Lead, Not Be Led’
June 26, 2017
What’s your predominant emotion about being offered the CEO position?
It’s a very humbling experience, but one filled with excitement about the opportunity. It’s rewarding to know the ideas and vision about what we need to do to navigate the future as an association were valued after months of in-depth and grueling interviews with the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, the selection committee, and the leadership team.
Most important, NAR was looking for a change agent, for someone to not only navigate where the industry is going now but to help us get through the changes and tumultuous times that are ahead of us. And that’s one of the things I feel very happy about—the selection committee concurred with the vision I was able to articulate about the changes we need to adopt as an organization to meet the growing challenges in the industry.
Where were you when you got the news?
I was at my residence in Chicago; I received the call and was very, very excited after many interviews against very strong competition, which was exactly what the association needed to do. It was important that the committee brought in the top candidates from all types of industries, and I was thrilled that I had prevailed.
Why did you seek the job?
I felt that I was in the best position to help deliver the change that NAR needs to help move us forward as an organization and help move us forward as an industry. I’ve been in the industry for more than 30 years in a variety of companies—technology startups and other tech companies. I was involved in the start of realtor.com, which was a major disrupter but something that needed to be done. I’ve been involved with the launch of NAR’s investment arm, Second Century Ventures, and the REach technology incubator program, and I serve as chairman of the board of SentriLock. NAR itself has had to be a disrupter to help change the status quo. I’m glad to see that the members saw, in both the selection committee and the leadership team, that I’ll be able to draw on that experience to lead our association in addressing industry challenges and changes.
What are your top priorities for the remainder of 2017?
To listen, listen, listen, and then to start to implement many of the ideas that I articulated during the search process. I want to hear what the industry has to say about what needs to be done to drive growth for our brokers and agents. I want to know what’s on the minds of our state and local associations, the technology providers in the industry, and our MLSs—all the key players and constituents that are part of this industry. I advanced numerous initiatives during the selection process that are very creative and different than what we’ve done before as an organization. At the center is the member value proposition and member engagement.
We’ll be focused on the challenges brokers face in their profitability with new business models emerging within the industry and from outside players. We’ll work with our members to focus on the growth of our REALTOR® Party. Our advocacy needs continue to change with how Washington works. We’ll meet with real and perceived industry disrupters to determine how we can all prosper with potential unity. We need to continually focus on how we stay on top of issues and have the best tools and strategies with members and consumers to protect property ownership.
I want NAR to focus on better, faster communications, and work to ensure members at the grassroots level, on the front lines, know that NAR is listening. We must lead and not be led.
The ideas we need are based on the building blocks of what got us here today. But we need to look at what needs to change to move successfully to tomorrow. After getting input from leadership and key industry stakeholders, I’m looking forward to communicating and acting upon those as we go through the rest of the year.
What’s your quick assessment of the current and future state of the real estate industry?
Lots of challenges. Lots of new players coming into the industry. Lots of new business models. The millennials' impact. The Trump administration and Washington in terms of how Washington works today. All of these are extremely challenging. What’s critical to know is that the status quo will not work for us as a trade association. We must be open to changing and moving quickly and being proactive as opposed to reactive. We don’t have the luxury to rest on any laurels that we’ve been successful with in the past.
What do you most want members to know about you?
I am innovative and creative. I’ve brought lots of new ideas to the association that helped us solve problems for our members. I’m approachable, I’m a straight shooter, and I’m an extremely positive person. My perspective on leadership comes down to this: Fearless leaders embrace fearless ideas. It’s the mantra I’ve lived by for many years and I’ll continue to do so.
—Wendy Cole, REALTOR® Magazine
Updated: August 17, 2018