First chat with the new CEO
Earlier this summer, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) named Bob Goldberg as their new CEO and today we’re getting first shot at an in-depth interview with the organization’s new leader to find out about his goals, what the transition has been like, and what NAR’s biggest challenges are. And it sounds like he’s taking the show on the road to listen to as many members as humanly possible, so you’ll probably connect with him in person soon.
Below is our unabridged interview:
What was the selection process like? What was the moment like when you found out you would be the CEO of NAR (and who did you tell first)?
Well, the process was long and grueling for many many many months and large numbers of interviews, and when I went to my final interview (which I was hoping was going to be my final), I knew we were down to the final three candidates.
So I left that [final] interview feeling really good. I didn’t have any self doubt or worry that I didn’t cover anything that I felt was important. I left it on the field. I felt good. I went back to my office after the last interview, knowing that this is the last either way, I went into my office, I had the blinds closed, I said “I’m going to close my eyes for five minutes,” because I had a splitting headache, I was exhausted, but I was glad it was over. And then, an hour later when I woke up (which is not like me), [thinking] okay, the reality is there, it’s done and now I just wait.
I had a dinner meeting… and while I was at the dinner event I saw my phone ring, and it was from President Bill Brown. As is his role as President and Chair of our leadership team, he called to tell me that I had prevailed and they extended the job offer to me then.
What was strange about it is I had a lot of people that were with me, Realtor remembers, [and] I was sworn to secrecy because they weren’t ready to release anything, and so I had to act [normally], especially when they all saw that I had a telephone call. They wanted to know was that “the call.” I was like, “no, that was a call from my wife just asking how I’m doing,” even though it really wasn’t a call to my wife. So a couple of minutes pass.
I excused myself from the table, and I called my wife and really had a conversation with her, and after she was finished screaming, she was trying to gauge my excitement, and I said “I can’t be as excited as I really am, because I have all of these people here and I’m sworn to secrecy, and if they see me jumping up and down…”
It was certainly a relief, and it validated 30 years of experience, of knowing our members, and for what I know needs to be done to get us to the next level.
So that’s exactly what was going on in my head at that moment, even though I couldn’t publicly announce it, and then on the next day, we made the announcement official.
You’ve been on the job since the 1st, we want to know – what was the move to the new office like?
Sure, one of the things I wasn’t focused on! For the first few days I was in my existing office because what I had in front of me was still dealing with a couple of factors. One is, yes, I’m the new CEO, I’m inheriting such a large important role for this industry.
But also, I was still wearing a hat at that moment of my previous job, which was the Senior VP of all of those other areas that I was responsible for, and having to do then deal with the promotion of one of our people, and then dealing with all the staff issues that were involved with it.
So moving to a physical location was not my first priority.
But I eventually did move into our executive office in the NAR building in Chicago and completed most of the transfer over a weekend. And so I now reside on the 10th floor of the NAR building in Chicago and on our 12 floor of our offices in Washington D.C.
Tell us about your relationship with Dale Stinson, NAR’s previous CEO and your former boss and how you felt when he announced his retirement.
Well, [the answer] is twofold – one is Dale and I have worked together, we were peers for many years when he was the CFO and I was a one of the other Senior Executives. As he went for the position [of CEO], I was very supportive of Dale, and most (all of our senior staff and most of our employees) were [also] very supportive of Dale.
I had a great relationship with him as our CEO. He allowed me to [use] the expertise that I was bringing to the table, which is a very strong business background – before I came to NAR was in the for-profit world, and technology serving the real estate industry with the largest MLS vendor, PRC Realty Systems. So I had a vast amount of experience in collaborating with boards of Realtors out in the market and building strategic business partnerships.
So, working with Dale, he allowed me the opportunity to expand all of those third party business relationships that we have to better serve our members. It was a very positive and strong relationship.
When he announced well over a year ago that he had decided after 35 plus years within NAR and nearly 12 as being the CEO, he was ready for the next step in his life, at that point I decided that [because] I had the largest organization in NAR in terms of numbers of employees, I had the largest area of non-dues revenue that we were bringing in to support our members, and I felt the time was right with my extensive knowledge in the industry and all the people that I know and all the collaboration that I’ve had over the years, and all the business partnerships, that the time was right for me to put my hat in the ring and articulate that I felt that with my experience and knowing where I know we needed to go as an industry, that I was in the best position to make that happen.
How will you stand apart when Dale is so synonymous with NAR, and how do you respond to criticism that you’ll be more of the same?
Well, I think that results speak for themselves. And I think so far the jury that’s been out there is already seeing a huge change in approach.
I articulated today in my (for lack of a better term) “coming out party” to the rest of the organization who didn’t really know me (many of them know me but they don’t really know where I am trying to take this), I talked about the importance of being a more collaborative NAR.
We need to be more a part of the lives of our members and when I say that, I mean sitting down and actually listening to them. The big change that I see is that the CEO needs not just to be visible but to be out and meeting with our members face to face.
Our members today are besieged with emails, voicemails, TV, real news, fake news – we all are, as consumers and as human beings. So it’s not just a Realtor issue. And so how do we cut through all that noise and make a difference in our members lives? And I see that as being more high-touch, high-impact, going out and meeting with our members and listening to them.
That’s a big difference. The new NAR that I am bringing to the table is one where we have broken down the walls of a perception that we’re sitting in an ivory tower.
And I think that’s a misperception. The fact is, that if people actually believe that, or feel that, there’s something that we’ve got to do.
So what I want to do is have us go out with a high-touch high-reach impact so that our members know we’re listening to them first, and then taking their input to help us decide approach in policy and really the best way to serve our members.
Along with that, and I think it’s worth mentioning, this is a big change for us, is that we’re asking all of our Senior VPs and our Vice Presidents to take on a greater expanded role beyond their traditional responsibilities at NAR.
I am assigning a Senior Vice President and a Vice President to be responsible for each region in this country. We have 13 formal regions that the organization is set up with, and that Senior VP and Vice President combo will now be responsible to their respective region in terms of member engagement and member satisfaction.
That means working closely with the regional Vice Presidents, the local and state association executives and their leadership, and being out and about so that our members know that we’re listening. So that’s a huge change for us.
The second one is I’m a huge social media rat, I’m always on social media on Facebook and on my LinkedIn page, and I have thousands of people that I’ve connected with already.
I think that the proudest thing that I’m happy are the over one thousand messages that I have received personally with questions from our members via LinkedIn or Facebook that are dealing with real issues that are out in the industry.
I have responded to each and every one of those personally.
And I will tell you the responses are like, “wow, the NAR CEO has personally responded to me on an issue?” That’s a big sea change. That’s not because of what we did before was right or wrong.
It’s just the era, and the times that we live in today require us to be better listeners and to be more responsive to our members. To really open the dialogue in such a way that there’s not this perception that there’s a wall between us.
What are your plans for your first 100 days?
Many of these were going to start putting in place immediately. As I mentioned, we’re starting to work on the redefinition of the responsibilities that I talked about.
One of the other is (that I’m very excited about… and we’re going to start this immediately) looking at how we are structured to best serve our industry.
So we’ve been a very inside-out focused organization, which is like most companies.
What I’m doing is working with a company that’s going to come in and do an organizational design study to look at how NAR’s structure is set up.
Where are we efficient? Where are we not efficient? What are the things we can do from a structural perspective to be more responsive to our members, making it an outside-looking-in approach? [How can we organize] our company from the customer’s perspective so that we’re more responsive?
So that’s that’s a big part that will help us better serve our members and we’re putting that in place in very short order, starting that process. It will take us a few months to get through it, but it’s a big change because in 15+ years, NAR has not had an internal design study.
Secondly, I talked today quite a bit about the successes that we’ve enjoyed with our Reach and Second Century Ventures incubator program, and our investment program.
That actually serves as a model for where I think NAR needs to go to be successful as we go down the road.
If you know about our Reach program, we have approximately 40 companies that are part of Reach and our Second Century Ventures area. The purpose of that is we’re able to find companies that have phenomenal products and great services to help our industry, and by us getting involved with them early on, at the startup phase, has allowed us the benefit of being able to help mold how they work within our industry and to be supporters of our Realtors as opposed to those that might be trying to displace them or disrupt them.
So my idea is this – take what we know is successful in that model and now apply it to a whole new approach, which is a division I’m creating called our Strategic Business Technology Area.
That will be led by new personnel from the organization and the purpose of that group is to go out and deal with these gigantic macro-corporations and companies that we all know in a heard about. Multi-million dollar companies. And say to them, “look, many of you may not even be playing in the real estate sandbox today, but you will eventually,” because everyone has an eye on a successful industry and real estate is a multi-trillion dollar business.
So I am not surprised that everybody and their brother wants to get involved with this industry. The purpose of [the Strategic Business Technology group] is to go out and work with those mega giant companies to help educate them, to help invite them, to help embrace them.
So that instead of them being disruptors, we bring them under our tent in a positive way to help our industry and show them that it’s important to work with our members to be successful. Just like we did in the incubator program.
Candidly, we should not have been surprised when we heard about Amazon with what they were trying to do with with their real estate referral marketplace.
I wish that this division that I’m talking about had been in place before, because I would have wanted to talk to the Amazons and companies like them before they even thought about real estate, and help encourage them to get into our space with us.
It doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a strategic investment or anything like that, but we can mentor and advise all of these companies that will one day eye this industry is an important play. We have the unique ability to help educate them, mentor them, so that we could help them be successful and let them be supporters of our industry as opposed to it being viewed that NAR or our industry is trying to push them aside by keeping our head in the sand.
So that’s going to be a huge sea change for us.
Another plan that I feel very strongly about is (using the example, I gave you with the 40+ great companies that we have strategic investment in, just a tremendous array of technology solutions that we bring to the industry) that we will be having a technology conference where we leverage our investments with those companies to help showcase solutions that can help us with those people that are Realtor friendly.
And so I’m going to create that and a technology resource center that will help our members to head of the curve.
And one of the other areas I’m going to start investigating in the first 100 days is the power of engaging consumers in such a way to help us and help our industry. So I want us to start the first process of looking at what it will take to maybe create something pretty innovative – a homeowners coalition organization.
A membership organization that will actually work with consumers [on] issues that are important to them, that deals with things such as property, ownership, taxation, mortgage interest deduction, and local issues that deal with eminent domain or whatever it is so that we can take our grassroots efforts, with our DC and our Realtor Party, and put it in an organization so that we can go to Congress and say formally that not only do we have a million plus members, but that we have a large number of homeowners who are part of our coalition who will vote their beliefs of what is important to them. [That way} we have even a greater voice in Washington to help move the agenda on behalf of our industry and homeowners and commercial practitioners as well.
How does NAR’s value proposition differ from 10 or 20 years ago? How will it differ in another 10 under your leadership?
The key to value proposition is, first and foremost, ensuring that your members understand what it is. The answer for me is not to create more emails trying to tell our members how good we are, because it gets lost in the shuffle.
Clearly when we look at it (and we do lots of surveys with our members), we see the importance of the products and services that we bring them, and certainly what we do at Capitol Hill from a legislative and regulatory perspective.
But we have to better articulate how that translates against the dues that [members] pay. We have not done a good enough job in that area.
A lot of our members take advantage of a lot of our core services that we provide them already, like in our Realtor Benefits area. We had over 800,000 members last year alone that used one or more products from our partners like Chrysler, FedEx, and Dell, that bring products and services to our members that more than pay for their member dues, multiple times over.
I’ll give you an example: We have one of the best rebate programs that Chrysler has done and we’ve had over 6,000+ members that do that annually, which would make us the seventh largest Chrysler dealership in the United States. And that shows you – because our deal is not only that you get the $500 rebate, but that’s on top of any other rebate they’re offering.
The disconnect, in my opinion, (because we have lots of stories like that, [our programs] saved members over $60 million in the pocketbooks of members, last year alone) [is that we haven’t] made a good enough connection with our members that they can connect the dots and say, “wow, this benefit of NAR more than paid for [$155 in dues],” which is really tremendously inexpensive, it’s one of the best deals in town.
But what I want our members to understand is that there are so many things [to take] advantage of, even what we do with our lobbying efforts on the Hill and the amount of dollars that it keeps in your pocketbook because of legislation that we’re behind, or the products and services that we bring to you.
That’s the challenge we have as an organization moving forward, is letting those members know what our organization does for you for a low number of dollars, and I’m not convinced that our members en masse know that.
I love the fact that we have large numbers of members that love what NAR does. I’m equally impressed with those members who engage with us that aren’t happy with what we do because that means they’re at least engaged with us!
The larger segment of members that I worry about becoming indifferent to us (because when you become indifferent to something, you don’t care), that’s where we’ve got to tackle and make sure they’re no longer indifferent, that we touch their lives directly and it’s not just sending another email out to them, it’s finding ways to work with our state and local association partners to help bridge that gap.
To bring our message home. To go on the road and touch those members.
And that gets back to the first 100 days. We launched two pilot programs in the last several months, one was a program we called Broker’s Edge, which we did up in New York City in conjunction with the New York State Association, and we did a Member’s Edge program in Florida.
And the purpose of that was to experiment with taking a program on the road.
It’s one day of heavy-hitting, high-impact, high-touch with members who never interface with NAR for the most part. Many times, they don’t come to a NAR convention, and if they go to their local or state association, that’s great, but they don’t have that direct connection with NAR.
That program had phenomenal success, and feedback from members was so positive, that several [attendees] decided to sign up to come to a NAR convention for the first time ever. Now, that wasn’t the intent, it’s a nice byproduct, but it was a way for us to say “what did we learn here?” [We learned that we must connect] with the members in person to first and foremost listen to them and secondly, to help educate them on the things we do for them.
That’s the right formula. That’s going to be a key area of focus in the next 100 days.
We’re going to finalize our approach in expanding those programs and taking the NAR show on the road mainly to listen first. That’s going to be the biggest change this organization is going to be involved with and it’s resonating really well.
I had thousands of LinkedIn requests from people messaging during my keynote [today], that it so connected with them for the first time ever from NAR. The outpouring – I know I’ve hit on something. I know our staff has hit on something. If we communicate directly with our members and engage with them, and participate with them, we’ve got to do it one member at a time.
Now, you would argue that one member at a time with 1.2 million members would take forever. The beauty of social media, with them connecting with myself and 300+ employees who are doing the same thing I’m doing (reaching out to the people they work with and connecting with members across the board), you get what’s called the multiplier effect.
And now we as a staff are engaging in large numbers of member relationships that we did not have before, that we did not focus on before. And that’s how you get those members saying that they understand now what NAR is doing for them, and that most importantly, that NAR is listening to what they have to say.
Do you intend on being one of the people that is out on the road show?
I really appreciate you asking that, because I view myself as the number one person who’s out.
I am traveling to boards as we speak, I’ve had nearly 400 meeting requests at local areas, and they’ve come in every single day. This is really a model. As CEO, I intend on being out and about and meeting with our members directly.
I’ll give you a perfect example. A couple of weeks ago, I was out in California at a nice-sized board, but I had an opportunity the next day to actually attend the committee meeting.
And people were floored.
This isn’t a statement on anyone previous to me, this is just how I am. I like to meet with people in person. I went to a committee meeting and people were saying wow, the fact that the NAR CEO took the time to show up not only at the board, but to go into a committee meeting and say hello to them and to hear what they had to say, was a first ever.
I don’t think it’s anything novel, other than the times that we live in today – we have to be out and about and talking to these people. So, to be very direct, I will be a CEO that will be making time throughout the year meeting with our members directly, with our boards directly.
One of the things I’ve told our schedulers is the following: even though a large board or event may be occurring in a city, I want to go in a day early or stay a day later to have an opportunity to meet with some of the boards, and the brokers, and members at smaller boards that are around that area that have never seen NAR in person engage with them.
When I talk about taking the show on the road, it really is about listening to what they’re saying and making a point to engage with people that have never seen or heard from NAR in person.
When I brought that point up today in my keynote speech, I can’t tell you how many boards that were in the building today or that emailed me, or messaged me, were so thrilled with that aspect alone, that many came up to me afterward saying, “I am from a little board in Michigan, and we would be so honored if the CEO or NAR staff, especially the CEO, would show up and come talk to us – the impact that would have!”
I am committed to that, and my staff is committed to that.
What’s most daunting about this transition? What is the most enticing part of being the CEO?
I think it’s the same answer on both sides of the coin.
The most daunting part is (people have told me to be careful for what you wish for) all of that engagement, and because I’m so active on social media, I am averaging probably 300-400 requests on Facebook as well as LinkedIn.
It’s one thing to connect, it’s another to send me a specific question and I personally respond to every one of those and I have a pretty good track record of doing so within 24 hours.
The way I’ve been able to do that is that I do a lot of flying between cities, and thank goodness for wifi, I’m in the air responding to people – that’s the daunting part. The more I do it, the more it will bring on.
That’s a happy dilemma and I like the fact that it creates a daunting situation.
[I was asked,] “Bob, what if you have 3,000 or 4,000 people trying to engage with you every day?” And I’m like, that will be the happiest dilemma that NAR has ever faced.
How can you possibly sustain that pace?
I will have to have a few people that work with me to help me answer those, but I don’t want to become one of those CEOs that becomes disconnected.
I’m going to be continually responding, continually holding sounding boards and working with our local and state associations, working with small and large brokers, all of those things that while all daunting, I have a great team, an army of 350+ employees that will be evangelists for this organization.
What companies do you look to for inspiration or is there a particular business leader that inspires you?
I love that you asked this question. The CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, has written several articles about her leadership style (and I told my staff this), it was like she sat down with me and talked about my approach over the years.
She’s so impressive as the Chair and CEO at PepsiCo, one of the largest organizations in the world, and her leadership style. I call it “Leadership in the Sunshine,” whereby I tell our employees everything that there is going on, to engage them in a way that says “you are part of what we’re trying to do.”
As [Nooyi] put it, you leave the crown in the garage. Well that’s me – it’s not about me being CEO, or any ego about that.
We have one mission, and that’s to serve our customers which are our members. And if we’re all on the same page pulling together and allowing our employees the flexibility to use the skillsets they’ve built to deliver on this vision, then that’s what will make us successful.
And when I read [Nooyi’s] top leadership approaches, I actually sent it to every employee and said that if you really want a good understanding of everything I keep telling you, read this leadership article, because it tells you everything about who Bob Goldberg is as a CEO and as your leader.