Practitioner President: Meet 2003 President, Catherine B. Whatley

Catherine B. Whatley is a REALTOR® with her feet on the street.

January 1, 2003

The Jacksonville, Fla., native has, for the past 33 years, worked seven days a week listing, selling, and managing real estate as part of Buck & Buck Inc., REALTORS®, the company her grandfather founded in 1907. Whatley’s been running the family business since 1986, and all the while she’s found time to give back to the industry. In November, she became 2003 president of the National Association of REALTORS®, the nation’s largest professional organization.

It’s Whatley’s deep roots in real estate and her strong connection to the day-to-day challenges of the business that help define her leadership style and the goals she has for the national association.

She’s practical, analytical, hands-on, and high-energy. And more than anything, she wants to ensure that the REALTOR® organization is relevant to you, the working real estate practitioner, in your everyday business.

“I feel very connected to the membership of the organization,” Whatley says, “because, just like them, I’m still running a business, day to day.”

Her business philosophy stresses integrity and customer service above all else. “It’s always been important to me to ensure that the company name, our family name, remained highly regarded and respected,” explains Whatley.

For more than 40 years, the family name has been on a small, one-story storefront in a quiet, semi-residential neighborhood of Jacksonville.

Inside the office’s storeroom are family treasures that reach back three generations: scrapbooks filled with the marketing materials created by her grandfather, B.C. Buck, including a brochure offering homes in the Tampa area for $3,000, with $300 down and payments of $31 a month. “He was quite a marketing maverick for the time,” notes Whatley.

The office today is close quarters for Whatley and her team, so she’s building a new, larger space nearby.

The making of a leader

Whatley credits her father, James O. Buck, with being her greatest mentor.

“My dad never tried to push me to do anything,” says Whatley, who originally planned to teach Latin as a career. But then came marriage and children, and, later, a divorce that left her with three young boys to support.

“Real estate was something I could do for a living and still work around things that the boys needed and wanted to do,” she says. Her start in the business in 1969 may have been driven by circumstance, but her success since has been by design.

“It’s my nature to work hard. And I love the business,” she says. “You can’t help but be touched by the fact that you’re making a difference in people’s lives, helping them find just the right home or investment.”

Along the way, she met and married her husband of 24 years, Fred, now a retired residential developer.

An only child, Whatley followed her grandfather and father not only into the business but also into leadership roles in the REALTOR® association. Her grandfather was a founding member of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, and her father was 1962 president of the Florida Association of REALTORS®. “I grew up going to FAR meetings,” Whatley laughs.

In 1996, Whatley became president of the Florida association, making her dad and her the only father and daughter to have both served as state president.

Whatley’s ascendancy to state leadership wasn’t a sure thing. It took her three tries to win the state presidency, and she almost didn’t make her third and ultimately successful run.

Enter another important factor in her life: timing. “I’m a strong believer in timing being everything—the right leader for the right time,” she says.

Had she won the state presidency on either of her first two tries, she says, she wouldn’t have been in office when the industry started to focus on technology as a business tool. During her presidency, the Florida association created and promoted its Florida Living Network and OneRealtorPlace concepts. “I traveled all over, demonstrating the sites and talking about the power of online interaction. That taught me a lot and put me in front of lot of REALTORS®,” Whatley says.

NAR’s elected leaders at the time recognized Whatley’s potential as a national association leader and put her on the road to the NAR presidency.

Says 1999 NAR President Sharon Millett, CIPS, a close friend and role model to Whatley: “When I think of Cathy, I think of the embodiment of a true leader.

“Cathy can walk into a room full of people she’s never met and connect with them,” says Millett, head of Coldwell Banker Millett Realty in Auburn, Maine.

In defining her own leadership style, Whatley says she tries always to “listen objectively, debate intelligently, and act decisively.”

Because she’s still actively selling and investing in real estate, Millett says, Whatley has a keen ability to “take what we do at NAR and relate it to what practitioners on the street are doing in a way that’s very relevant to them in their business.”

For three months in 1993, Whatley even had the opportunity to experience the business from an association staff perspective, after the Jacksonville executive officer left suddenly, several months ahead of her scheduled retirement. Whatley, who’d previously served as president of the local association, stepped in, managing the staff, overseeing the budget, and taking calls from the public.

“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me; I learned so much, especially about how the public perceives REALTORS®,” Whatley says. “For me, it was another case of being in the right place at the right time.”

The challenges ahead

Whatley’s ascendancy to president in 2003 may once again be prescient. With her skill for managing inclusively, Whatley could be just the person the industry needs right now to pull it through a number of vexing challenges.

A key challenge, she says, is ensuring that NAR helps to maintain an available and affordable supply of property insurance, without which real estate transactions would grind to a halt. Insurance companies, beset by losses from natural disasters, terrorism, and their stock portfolios, have sporadically suspended coverage in some areas of the country over the last year and have hiked premiums by up to 400 percent in others.

Ultimately, this is a state issue, because insurance companies are regulated at that level, Whatley says. “But we at NAR can evaluate key issues, new business models, and model legislation for states and provide them with support and guidance.”

Another threat to the strength of the industry, Whatley says, is the growing lack of moderate-income housing across the country—housing that allows teachers, firefighters, and secretaries, among others, to live in the communities they serve. Through its Housing Opportunity Program, NAR is addressing the issue in a number of ways, including developing an online clearinghouse of information about moderate-income housing programs across the country.

In the coming year, Whatley says, NAR will also be looking to advance federal tax policies to provide financial incentives that encourage developers and others to provide moderate-income housing.

Regarding the issue that’s been priority No. 1 at NAR for the past year—the effort to keep large national banks out of real estate brokerage and management—the new president says the fight will continue. “I respect that several of our large brokers have a different philosophy on this issue,” she says. “But we’ve surveyed the membership twice, and each time more than 90 percent have said NAR has taken the right position on this issue.”

NAR maintains that a proposed rule by the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department to allow large national banks into real estate would mix banking and commerce, which could stifle competition, raise transaction costs, and create privacy concerns for consumers.

Now NAR’s watching another issue that it believes could mean higher costs for consumers: a proposal by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that would allow settlement service providers to sell consumers a bundled service package for a guaranteed fee. Lenders are the most likely providers to bundle services, since they could guarantee a mortgage rate. The problem with the proposal, says Whatley, is that packagers would be exempted from the prohibition on paying unearned fees under Section 8 of the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. That exemption could discourage competition and drive up costs, she says.

But NAR’s public policy initiatives won’t be Whatley’s only priorities in 2003. She’ll also focus on ensuring that the REALTOR® organization at all levels gets to know its members better and strives to more efficiently and effectively meet their needs.

To this end, she says, NAR will conduct significantly more research this year related to the day-to-day operation of a real estate business. Expect more studies on salesperson productivity, consumer housing and service preferences, and industry business models. “Things are still shaking out in the industry in terms of future business models,” she notes. “Ultimately, it’s the consumers who will decide what has value and what doesn’t.”

One way the association can increase efficiency, she says, is through the use of shared services. Local associations could share a government relations function, for example, and provide enhanced value to their members without major cost increases. “Nearly 1,000 of our local associations have fewer than 300 members and not a lot of resources. If those associations begin sharing resources and ideas, instead of everyone trying to invent the same wheel, our members will receive better service.” The concept has already taken hold in several associations around the country.

Giving credit where it’s due

Perhaps the initiative closest to Whatley’s heart is her search for REALTOR® Hometown Heroes (“You’re my heroes" /> ,” December 2002, page 10). Throughout the year, with the help of association executives across the country, Whatley will be recognizing REALTOR® who are doing an extraordinary job of advancing the real estate industry agenda at the local or state level. (Meet one of Whatley’s Hometown Heroes on page 56." /> )

“We can set all the priorities we want at the national level, but if those priorities aren’t embraced at every level of the organization, then they’re somewhat hollow,” Whatley says. “I want to recognize those people who are embracing these priorities, maybe without even being asked, because they’re truly real estate’s hometown heroes.”

Asked what she’d most like to be recognized and remembered for at the end of her term, Whatley rebuffs the question. “If we get to the end of this year, and it’s been in any way about Cathy Whatley,” she says, “then I haven’t done my job.”

ESSENTIAL WHATLEY

Catherine B. Whatley, CIPS, CRS®, GRI, LTG, was born July 5, 1950, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Favorite things: reading, watching professional sports, and spending time with her family, which consists of her husband, Fred; their children, Priscilla Whatley, 36, Monica Whatley Debolt, 33, Chris Mann, 32, Corey Mann, 30, Chad Mann, 28; and five grandchildren.

Business: Buck & Buck Inc., REALTORS®, Jacksonville, Fla. The company has four sales associates and three assistants and specializes in residential sales and property management, but also does some commercial sales. Whatley also operates an active investment business, investing mostly in single-family homes. Her investment partner: Sen. James E. (Jim) King Jr., president of the Florida senate

Key roles in REALTOR®organizations: At the national level, 1999 liaison to committees; 1998 regional vice president for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands; 1997 liaison to NAR’s International, Research, Housing, and Communications groups; also served on NAR’s Executive and Strategic Planning committees. Whatley was 1996 president of the Florida Association of REALTORS® and 1990 president of the Jacksonville Association of REALTORS®.

Honors: Florida REALTOR® of the Year, 1998; Jacksonville REALTOR® of the Year, 1986 and 1993. She is the only individual ever to receive this honor twice.

Give Me An “R”!

Glenn East,CRB, RCE, executive officer of the Northeast Florida Association of REALTORS®, calls Cathy Whatley a shining star. “I’m proud to have her as my leader and more especially as my friend,” he says. East has even written a ditty to show how Whatley exemplifies all that the word REALTOR® stands for.

R esponsible. Cathy knows what promises she’s accountable for and fulfills them.
E nthusiastic. Cathy truly expresses the joy in each task as she gives it her best effort.
A vailable. Cathy understands that you don’t have the jurisdiction to change the priorities of those you serve and gives those priorities undivided concentration.
L oyal. Cathy proves her commitment to those she serves and to her family, even when it’s hard.
T rustworthy. Cathy maintains the respect and trust of others by speaking the truth, even when others may not want to hear it.
O rganized. Cathy prepares herself and her surroundings so she’ll achieve the greatest efficiency and success in her endeavors.
R esponsive. Cathy is very attentive to those she represents and to her family.

Pamela Geurds Kabati is the former publisher of REALTOR® Magazine and senior vice president of communications for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

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