NAR President and Entrepreneur, Martin Edwards Jr.

NAR’s 2002 president combines political skills with a personal touch to advance real estate interests.

January 1, 2002

The word was stenciled on an office door. Young Martin Edwards, delivering parcels in a Dallas building in the late 1950s, stopped in his tracks.

Entrepreneur.

“Right then I knew that’s what I wanted to be,” he says. “An entrepreneur.” And that’s what Martin Edwards Jr. became, en route to becoming 2002 president of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

A real estate veteran of almost 35 years, most of it in commercial real estate, Edwards is a partner with Colliers Wilkinson & Snowden Inc., in Memphis, Tenn. He’s also a partner in a firm that owns and manages two multifamily developments in the city and has housing investments in Dallas; Little Rock, Ark.; and North Carolina.

Edwards loves the give-and-take of making deals. He enjoys being in the middle of a tough transaction—and pulling it off. No matter whether it’s a real estate sale or a political cause, Edwards has a talent for leading and making rational decisions under duress—qualities he used with great results as quarterback of his high school football team in East Texas and later as a businessman.

“I like to find the common ground,” he says. “If you start with something everybody agrees to, then you can build something.”

Profile in politics

Edwards grew up in the ranching country of East Texas, where he developed a love of the land and politics. His father and mother both worked for the legendary speaker of the U.S. House, Sam Rayburn, D-Texas. Edwards’ father served as deputy director in the old U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Kennedy. And his grandfather ran the Rockwall County political machinery for Rayburn and many of his campaigns.

When Edwards’ father served in the Kennedy administration, Rayburn was a frequent family guest. “He loved my mother’s collard greens and cornbread,” says Edwards. “And I learned a lot about politics.”

In 2000 Edwards participated on President George W. Bush’s transition team as the expert on housing issues.

Edwards’ political touch has guided many NAR legislative policy initiatives. Most prominent is his leadership against an effort by the Federal Reserve Board and the U.S. Treasury to allow large national banks into the real estate brokerage and property management business.

“This is a survival issue for us, and every NAR member knows it’s the most important issue we’ve faced in many years,” Edwards says.

In spearheading NAR’s resistance, Edwards has taken the fight to the Fed and the Treasury as well as to Congress and the White House. “I’ve told members of Congress that this is our line in the sand as real estate professionals.”

Congress has seen more than 100,000 letters and e-mails from REALTORS® opposing the issue NAR has labeled “The Big Grab.” “They know that NAR is hopping mad about it,” says Edwards. “And don’t kid yourself: It’s not just money that opens the doors for us in Congress; it’s the strength behind the money—the strength of an organization with 800,000 members ready to fight for their livelihood.”

Passion and moral obligation

Edwards focuses his quiet energy into a no-nonsense stare when he talks about another issue that matters to him: affordable housing.

He’s concerned about the dilemma multifamily owners face as they try to reconcile their profit line with the Section 8 rents set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Many owners solve the problem by tearing down and building market-rate housing, Edwards laments.

“When a Section 8 development is torn down, what happens is that we lose productive people, the tenants,” he says. He’s appointed a special Presidential Advisory Group to study the issue and recommend remedies.

“The key is in redevelopment, not in tearing things down and rebuilding,” he says. “We have a moral obligation to raise public awareness about affordability—just as the HOPE Awards [Home Ownership Participation for Everyone; hopeawards.org] have raised awareness about minority homeownership. Who’s going to do it if real estate professionals don’t?”

Employing the ‘power of one’

Getting the job done, without fanfare, is Edwards’ professional hallmark. Individual initiative, he says, can be a powerful force for good—and the deed is more important than the public credit. That’s reflected in the theme he’s selected for his presidency, “The Power of One,” and in the way he’s served the industry.

Take, for instance, how he pulled together Loan Express at the Memphis association in 1985. Loan Express, an early online venture, sought to display the latest mortgage interest rates of local lenders. Rate changes would be posted by the lenders and accessible to real estate practitioners in real time. Edwards liked the idea because it would give salespeople the advantage of finding the best lender for their buyers, moment to moment. Lenders weren’t so keen on it.

“It’s impossible. That’s what I told him,” says Jules Wade, executive vice president of the Memphis Area Association of REALTORS® then and now. “You’ll never get all those lenders to sign up.”

But Edwards was convinced the program would work. Meeting one-on-one with Memphis area lenders over a period of days, Edwards signed up a dozen of them.

“It was a major coup for the association,” says Wade. “But instead of patting himself on the back, Martin showed up at my office the next morning and asked, ‘What can we do next?’”

Loan Express operated in Memphis for six years until a change in the MLS vendor brought it to an end in 1991.

Edwards also helped the Memphis association win over commercial members, who were surprised to find they had a voice within the REALTOR® organization. “Martin got them interested just by making the physical plant available to them for meetings,” says Wade. “Our commercial members take ownership of the association and believe in it now because of what Martin did.”

Says Edwards: “The real estate business is about relationships. That’s what I do: build relationships. There are a lot of issues out there that need to get handled, and none of us can do it alone.”

At home and on the range

NAR’s new president is a true son of the South. He loves the heat of a Southern morning. In the afternoon, he likes to take five-mile power walks through the leafy neighborhood of Central Gardens in midtown Memphis. He gets his thinking done then, he says.

To burn off excess energy, Edwards plays a mean game of handball, slamming sneaky ricochets past younger men, then hiding a grin of satisfaction as he walks back to the serving line.

Edwards grew up in Rockwall, Texas, east of Dallas. He attended Texas A&M for a year, before he learned that his asthma would deprive him of an army commission.

He was dejected but not for long. A ranch in the Mexican state of Chihuahua was looking for cowboys—honest-to-goodness romping, stomping, riding, and roping cowboys—to apprentice on a 175,000-acre spread with 50,000 head of cattle belonging to former Mexican president Miguel Aleman. From the front gate of the ranch to the main house was 25 miles, says Edwards, grinning, and the nearest town was 50 miles away. It was a nine-month stint.

“I loved it,” he says, still grinning.

Making it work

Edwards returned to the United States to study economics and business accounting at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) in Denton. The university was right down the road from Texas Women’s University, and one day he saw a college chum walking with a young woman who caught his eye.

“Martin asked his friend whether he was serious about me, and the boy said no, so Martin asked me out. That’s how we met,” says Nancy Edwards.

Last fall they celebrated their 39th anniversary. Their son, Martin III, is a lobbyist in Arlington, Va., and their daughter, Michele, is a lawyer in Atlanta.

Shortly after they were married, the couple moved to Memphis, where Edwards took a job at a downtown bank as an executive trainee. Two years there confirmed that working nine to five was not for him. When he left, he told his boss, “I want to work for myself.”

But Edwards didn’t set off on his own just yet. He took a job selling new construction with his father-in-law, Wallace Roberts, a homebuilder. Roberts retired in 1980, and Edwards set off on his own, selling new homes, existing homes, and commercial property.

He ran headlong into the recession of 1980–82. He now had a family to support, and his stomach sank, he says, as the prime rate soared above 21 percent. Edwards nearly lost his company, but he refused to declare bankruptcy.

In typical Edwards fashion, he visited each bank and creditor one-on-one. “I showed up every day at one bank, saying, ‘What can we do today?’” Edwards gradually worked through his debt. And the bank hired him to help out on the recessionary problems experienced by other businesses.

While he was doing that, what happened to the real estate business he was trying to save? “There was no real estate business,” he says.

Edwards says those two years were the scariest of his life. But as the economy and the real estate industry recovered, so did Edwards’ business, which prospered through the next two decades. Three years ago, he became a partner in Colliers Wilkinson & Snowden, where he devotes his time to building relationships and putting together deals. It’s been a successful formula for Edwards in the worst of times and the best of times—and one that can steer NAR through the challenging times ahead.

ESSENTIAL EDWARDS
Name: Martin Edwards Jr., CCIM, CIPS
Born: March 3, 1938, Rockwall, Texas
Family: Wife, Nancy; children, Martin III and Michele; granddaughter, Madeline, 7
Business: Partner in commercial company, Colliers Wilkinson & Snowden Inc., Memphis; also partner in several multifamily developments
Leadership roles in REALTOR®organization: NAR president-elect, 2001; NAR first vice president, 2000; NAR treasurer, 1996–97; regional vice president for Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Kentucky, 1994; president, CCIM Institute, 1989; president, Memphis Area Association of REALTORS®, 1985
Honors: NAR’s Outstanding Educator of the Year, 1989; REALTOR® of the Year, Tennessee, 1989; REALTOR® of the Year, Memphis, 1988
Community: Trustee, University of Memphis Foundation; Chair, Memphis Health, Education, and Housing Facility Board
Most fun thing I ever did: Spent a year as a cowboy
Hobbies: Power walking, handball, and recently, golf

Lucien Salvant is a former managing editor for REALTOR ® Magazine.

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