Home MLS & Associations The Bob Goldberg Era Begins; Convince Me On A Few Things

The Bob Goldberg Era Begins; Convince Me On A Few Things [LONG]

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In the middle of the afternoon on Friday, June 23rd — a curious time to be releasing such major news — NAR announced that it had chosen NAR Senior VP Bob Goldberg to be the next CEO, replacing the retiring Dale Stinton.

As you can imagine, I’ve had more than a few emails, text messages, Facebook messages and the like from all sorts of people asking my opinion on the selection. Why they care about the opinions of some consultant/blogger is a bit beyond me, and I am… how do I put this… “humbled and excited” to be asked.

I have a bunch of thoughts, many of them in conflict, and a few different emotions — a couple of those are in conflict as well. So in a way, this post may be my working out all of those different thoughts and emotions. Take the journey with me.

I Wish Bob All the Best in the World

My first emotion and thought are fairly positive. I don’t know Bob past saying Hello at events and such. I know I’ve met him a couple times, and he’s always been nice, always been kind. But I have never had a big sit-down conversation with the man, nor have I worked with him in any capacity.

Just about everyone I know who has, however, are effusive in their praise for the man. They say he’s a really smart guy, a genuinely nice person, and a very sharp business operator. I will try to take their word for it… although… well, we’ll get into that below.

Secondly, whatever else I might think about this selection, the fact is that Bob Goldberg is the new CEO of NAR. Much like President Trump, for whom I did not vote and because of whom I left the Republican Party, I want him to succeed. I want him to succeed beyond my expectations. I want him to succeed despite my skepticism. I want him to be the most successful CEO in the history of NAR.

Because if he fails, that means the organization fails.

Maybe that will turn out to be for the best in the end, but right now, I think NAR is worth saving (and yes, that means I think NAR needs saving right now) for a bunch of reasons with the most important being that NAR is the only large political organization in the U.S. that gives a crap about property rights.

So I do wish Mr. Goldberg the very best, and I sincerely hope that he will prove to be the greatest CEO NAR has had in its 100-plus years.

Having said that….

What His Selection Says About NAR Leadership

[I was originally going to title this section, “What His Selection Says About REALTORS” but realized that really, we’re talking about 23 people: 15 on the CEO Search Committee and 8 on the Leadership Team with one overlap (Beth Peerce, VP of Association Affairs, is on both). Seeing as how many of the criticisms are coming from card-carrying REALTORS, I think it’s better to limit my thoughts to the Leadership of NAR.]

The former NYC Mayor Ed Koch once said upon losing his bid for re-election, “The people have spoken … and they must be punished.” And no less an expert on the subject than President Obama once said, “People have a tendency to blame politicians when things don’t work, but as I always tell people, you get the leaders you deserve.”

My overwhelming feeling about this selection is that NAR Leadership looked at the environment of real estate, looked at what was happening to the business of their members, looked at what was going on with important stakeholders like MLSs, brokerages, franchises, and tech companies, looked at the direction of NAR, looked at what was happening, and said, “Yep, we’re good — steady as she goes!”

How else to explain the selection of not just an insider, but the ultimate insider? Just about everyone in the industry understood that Bob Goldberg was the #2 man at NAR — Dale’s right hand man. His Chief of Staff, if you will.

Not six months ago, in January of this year, a broker named Daniel Bates published an Open Letter to the New NAR CEO on Inman and just laid into NAR. Literally, his first request was “Define Your Goals” because he had no idea what they were.

Dale Stinton himself responded to that letter and after defending NAR as best as he could, he wrote “we need a new story to tell.”

So the NAR Leadership chose the ultimate insider, who has been at Dale’s right hand for 22 years, to tell that new story? Really? So they believe that the best thing to do is to stay the course? If so, that’s amazing. If not, this pick for CEO is inexplicable.

We have a political environment the likes of which we have never seen, which really could mean the end of the mortgage interest deduction, government sponsorship of mortgages, and so on.

The big brokers and franchise companies are obviously unhappy and stressed the hell out.

The emergence of the agent team has wrought massive change, and is in the process of eating the brokerage from within.

Technology continues its relentless march with things like Zillow Instant Offers and Opendoor.com, and that’s just within real estate. Driverless cars and self-learning machines are around the corner, and nobody knows what to do about any of that today.

Many of our major metro markets, where most of the REALTORS live and work, are in Echo Bubble conditions brewing up an affordability crisis that will soon swamp the economy and the industry.

The economic environment is dysfunctional at best, and that’s with central banks around the world pulling out all the stops to prevent a full scale crisis.

Despite all of these things, the Leadership of NAR believes that real change is not necessary. I mean, they must, right? Because when you think Bob Goldberg, you think a lot of positive things, like competence, and nice, and even Hope. But Change isn’t one of those words.

Bob Goldberg: Change Agent?

It is possible that Goldberg will actually change everything. It is possible that in private interviews behind closed doors, he laid out his vision for transforming NAR to meet present and future challenges.

I’m going to need to be convinced.

The most amusing/amazing thing about the selection and the accompanying announcement is the video statement put out by NAR leadership, represented by President Bill Brown:

What he says is: “Bob articulated to the leadership team the ability to have the vision, to be innovative, and to think into the future with bold, new initiatives to enhance the benefits to our members.”

Leave aside the curious phrasing about having the ability to have vision, to be innovative, etc. rather than having vision, being innovative, and so on. Just about anybody has the ability to have vision and be a change agent. Hell, I have the ability to have a sculpted physique; I haven’t ever done it, but I have the ability to do so. That’s a bit of an embarrassment to the PR team at NAR for such awkwardly bizarre language.

The substantive issue is this: Where has this visionary, innovative, and future-thinking leader been for the past 22 years?

Bob Goldberg has been the #2 guy at NAR for years. From his official bio:

Robert Goldberg serves as Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Business Development & Strategic Investments, Professional Development and Conventions for NAR. In this recently expanded role, Mr. Goldberg oversees several groups that are focused on building the NAR brand and its value to members and the association, and has far-reaching responsibility for revenue through publications ads, products and trade show sales and sponsorships. Through his lucrative negotiations with Fortune 500 and other companies, the REALTOR Benefits® alliance program continues to provide value to members and generates significant non-dues revenues for the association. He also oversees the Internet Products group; the Marketing Research group; the Product Management group; and the Marketing Communications & Promotions group. Mr. Goldberg leads the Conventions group which develops and manages programing and events for the world’s largest real estate trade show and convention, and other major NAR meetings. He has been with the National Association of REALTORS® since 1995.

In his role as Senior Vice President Administration for REALTOR® University, he is responsible for oversight of University graduate school staff and day to day operations including the research center, curriculum development and budgets.

Additionally, Mr. Goldberg is the President and Chief Executive Officer for the REALTORS® Information Network (RIN), a for profit, wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), the nation’s largest professional trade association. As CEO, he is responsible for oversight of the realtor.com® Operating Agreement with Move, Inc. Previously, Mr. Goldberg was the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Marketing for RIN. As a member of the Executive Management team, he was responsible for business development and strategic partnerships, product marketing, management of all products and services, contract negotiations, strategic planning, competitive positioning, marketing and corporate communications, advertising and promotions, and conventions.

Basically, he ran pretty much everything that isn’t lobbying.

Where was this vision, this innovation, this future-based thinking, this forcing change during all of those years? Negotiating discounts for REALTORS at Hertz is none of those things. I’ve been to most of the NAR conventions and none of those are exactly futuristic events filled with a vision for how conventions could and should be done. Do we even touch REALTOR University? The REALTOR Credit Union?

Anyhow….

We’re Gonna Have to Talk About the Track Record

In the press release, we find this passage:

“Bob’s vision, business acumen, and unique ability to successfully leverage NAR’s technology investments will ensure REALTORS® remain at the center of the real estate transaction,” said 2017 NAR President William E. Brown, a REALTOR® from Alamo, California. “With extensive knowledge of the association and real estate industry, Bob brings with him a strong track record for future-based thinking and enacting change, which is why the NAR leadership team is extremely confident in his ability to lead the association and membership to continued future success.”

So this strong track record for future-based thinking and enacting change… to what are we pointing as examples?

Can’t Be Realtor.com….

Under Bob’s watch as President and CEO of RIN, Realtor.com plummeted from being the number one real estate portal by a wide margin to a distant third behind Zillow and Trulia struggling to compete. Move was then sold off to News Corp for about what Zillow makes in annual revenues today. That is doubleplus ungood on any level.

Now, to be fair Bob didn’t run Realtor.com; he only oversaw the relationship between Move and NAR based on the Operating Agreement between the two.

Which makes this story from 2013 relevant for us:

At NAR’s midyear conference in May, the 785-member board authorized a special, closed meeting in Chicago to contemplate whether to update the agreement between NAR and realtor.com operator Move Inc. to give realtor.com more freedom to compete with rivals such as Zillow and Trulia.

The board said NAR’s leadership team would work with Move and its subsidiary RealSelect to develop recommendations “to enrich and broaden the user experience” on realtor.com and present them to the board at the closed meeting Wednesday.

Of course, loosening the restrictions on Realtor.com in 2013 after it had already fallen to third place proved to be too late.

A reasonable question one could ask might be, what was Bob doing between say 2008 and 2010 when it was obvious to all of us in the industry that Zillow was making huge gains on Realtor.com? A huge part of the reason was that Move (which owns Realtor.com) was fighting with at least one hand tied behind its back by the restrictions of the Operating Agreement.

Why didn’t Bob remove the shackles from Realtor.com so it could compete with the upstarts before those upstarts grew up and became real problems? It isn’t as if the management at Realtor.com — particularly Errol Samuelson, then President of Realtor.com — wasn’t constantly asking him to do just that.

Maybe Bob did go to bat for freeing up Realtor.com, but was overruled. We just didn’t hear about it. Either way, that part of the track record isn’t exactly a confidence-inspiring career highlight.

Brand Marketing?

[CORRECTION/NOTE: Please see Heather Elias’s comment below. It appears that Bob Goldberg had no role in the debacle that was “Great Time to Buy or Sell” campaign:

To clarify one of your assumptions made within the post: regarding the entire section questioning Bob’s judgement for the “great time to buy or sell” and Phil Dunphy pieces; the communications division of NAR is responsible for advertising campaigns, not the marketing side. This includes all consumer messaging and member messaging. Bob’s side of the shop had nothing to do with those. Might want to note that somewhere in there.

Since I don’t work for or with NAR, I had assumed that Marketing controls well, marketing. Apparently not at NAR. Well, it gives me a great deal more comfort and hope to know Bob is innocent of this particular sin.]

His bio says Bob was overseeing several groups who were focused on building the NAR brand. Presumably, that means the REALTOR brand since the two are ostensibly the same thing.

If that’s the case, we might ask whether the REALTOR brand has been strengthened or weakened over his tenure. And we know that NAR spent something north of $38 million in 2015 in Advertising and Promotions. Doing some rough math, we’re looking at maybe half-a-billion dollars or more spent on promoting and advertising the REALTOR brand over the last two decades.

That brand marketing include this gem from 2006, over a decade from Bob Goldberg starting at NAR:

Without hearing otherwise, we have to assume Bob oversaw that “Great Time to Buy or Sell” marketing campaign. What about commercials like this one?

Was NAR really running TV commercials telling people that it was a good time to buy in 2007? Yes, yes it was. #SMH

A quick reminder of what happened from 2007 to 2011:

So NAR was telling the American consumer to buy homes in 2006 and 2007.

If you can think of a faster way to tarnish the REALTOR brand, a more effective way to undermine consumer confidence and trust in REALTORS… what would that be? That entire campaign may have been the most effective anti-REALTOR campaign in history of advertising.

Reasonable people can differ on something like value of a brand, but from where I sit… in 1995, the REALTOR brand was merely meaningless. People just didn’t think about it very much, kinda like Kleenex or Xerox. In 2017, the REALTOR brand is a punchline:

Forgive me if that doesn’t strike me as an improvement. Maybe you do. Maybe you also think Phil Dunphy is a great role model for the public perception of REALTORS.

Maybe Bob wasn’t involved with any of those. Maybe he wasn’t a senior executive in charge of consumer advertising in 2006, although I believe he was. Or maybe he argued vociferously, with vision, innovation and future-based thinking, against such idiotic branding and marketing campaigns but got overruled by… Dale Stinton? The various Presidents over the years?

I only hope that the Search Committee and the NAR Leadership Team asked him those questions and got satisfactory answers.

Either way, I’m going to need to be convinced on this stellar track record which inspires such extreme confidence that Bob Goldberg is the man to lead the Association and its members into future success.

What Does NAR Leadership Think NAR’s Mission Is?

Now, look, it isn’t as if Bob Goldberg got to where he is because of those obvious failures. Great leaders misstep and make mistakes. He has a long track record of success on a number of fronts and initiatives. I have no doubt that he’s a capable executive who gets things done.

The real issue isn’t with Bob, but with the NAR Leadership and what they were thinking. Let me explain.

Bob’s portfolio covered pretty much everything outside of lobbying. In particular, his area covered non-dues revenues programs. From his bio above:

Mr. Goldberg oversees several groups that are focused on building the NAR brand and its value to members and the association, and has far-reaching responsibility for revenue through publications ads, products and trade show sales and sponsorships. Through his lucrative negotiations with Fortune 500 and other companies, the REALTOR Benefits® alliance program continues to provide value to members and generates significant non-dues revenues for the association.

The relationship with Realtor.com generates non-dues revenues for NAR. Conventions generate non-dues revenues for NAR. The word around the industry campfire is that Bob brings in tens of millions of dollars in non-dues revenues to NAR every year. He’s a good, maybe great, businessman.

But what that means is that Bob’s entire track record is precisely those things that the rank and file members of NAR do not care about.

Ask anyone who is committed to the REALTOR organization what the value of the Association is. The answers you get are usually these three things:

  • Political advocacy
  • Code of Ethics/Professionalism
  • Education

Not a single REALTOR I have ever met or asked ever said discounts on cell phone plans. Not one.

Now, if you do a search on Youtube for Bob Goldberg NAR, you find some videos of him speaking and being interviewed. After all, he’s been a senior executive for over two decades. But what you find is things like this:

Are these programs impressive at a certain level? Of course they are. $500 off and two year’s of free oil changes if you buy a Chrysler is useful… if you’re buying a Chrysler. But $57 million in savings for 700,000 members amounts to $81 per person.

The storyline pushing that this represents a competitive EDGE for NAR members is risible. Competitive edge against whom? The millions of non-REALTOR licensees competing for brokerage business? In most markets 100% of the people in real estate brokerage are REALTOR members themselves. How in the world does saving money on Chrysler help you gain an EDGE against another REALTOR?

Now, Bob can only accomplish what’s put in front of him. If his job was to go out and do Member Benefits Program, then he has done that and done that well. So again, this isn’t about Bob Goldberg. It’s about the Leadership Team.

Because in the video announcement above, Bill Brown says they chose him because Bob articulated bold new initiatives to enhance benefits for members. In the press release, they talk about Bob’s “unique ability to successfully leverage NAR’s technology investments.”

What in the world do they think NAR’s mission is? Member benefits? Technology investments?

Why do they think members join NAR in the first place?

When we talk about Bob’s vision for NAR, we’re really talking about the vision of the NAR Leadership Team who chose him. What is that vision? NAR as a giant benefits program for people interested in buying Chrysler cars?

Finally… the Process

In the above video, Bill Brown says that the Search Committee started this process seven months ago. Okay, fine… I mean, just about everybody knew Dale Stinton wasn’t going to renew his contract long before that. The subject was a common conversation topic as early as 2015, after all. But let’s go with the seven month timeframe.

We know that the job description wasn’t published until March. So in just under four months, the Committee looked at some 80 candidates, interviewed a bunch of them, narrowed them down to four finalists, and then the Leadership Team interviewed them and selected Bob Goldberg by acclamation?

From the very start there have been a lot of us who worried that this entire process was an expensive, time-consuming charade. Many of us thought that the fix was in, and Bob was The Chosen One, but for some reason, Dale Stinton and the Leadership needed to make it appear as if there had been some full exhaustive search process.

And lookee here — what a shock! After a seven month highly-secretive and exhaustive process involving a top-tier executive search firm, the new CEO is… Bob Goldberg by acclamation! So the Leadership Team was unanimous in its choice. It wasn’t close, apparently.

Well, I’m gonna need some convincing this was all on the level.

It has been widely rumored that the Final Four included Alex Perriello, former CEO of Realogy Franchise Group. I for one would love to know in what way Alex was found wanting in terms of “extensive knowledge of the association and real estate industry” or “a strong track record for future-based thinking and enacting change” or managing a large staff with a big budget. The man helped guide Realogy through some of the roughest times in the company’s history when the Bubble burst. He was instrumental in growing the largest real estate company in the world, and instrumental in bringing it back from the brink of bankruptcy.

I don’t know Bob; but I do know Alex. I worked for the man as a junior executive at Realogy. He’s a natural born leader in every respect. And with his lifetime in the industry, starting as a REALTOR on the street, then as a manager of a local brokerage, then into the franchise world, all the while being heavily involved with NAR, there is no one who embodies the real estate industry more than Alex does.

It’s no secret that I wanted a female CEO for NAR. But if that wasn’t going to happen, Alex Perriello would have been an inspired choice. He would have been a CEO who has walked in his members’ shoes. A CEO who knew what it’s like to wake up with no promised paycheck. A CEO who knew what it’s like to operate a brokerage as the world changed around you. A CEO who was leading brokers large and small through the information technology revolution. At a critical juncture in NAR’s history when it absolutely needs a leader who could bring all of the disparate factions from brokers and agents to local associations and the MLS to vendors and portals and those who hate them altogether, Alex would have been a marvelous choice.

Like I said, everyone I know who knows Bob Goldberg says he’s a capable leader. But most of them would agree, I think, that it is no knock on Bob to say that he does not embody real estate like Alex Perriello does.

Did the Leadership Team offer Alex the job, and Alex turned it down? Okay, that’s one thing. Because I do know David Charron, former CEO of MRIS, refused to even consider the job, and he’s another leader with extensive knowledge, strong track record, and personal integrity. But if Alex wasn’t their first choice, and the Leadership Team chose Bob over him by acclamation? Not even a close vote, but by unanimous consent?

How… convenient.

Because if Dale Stinton wanted Bob Goldberg to get the job — as has been widely rumored for over two years now — and the Leadership Team wanted him to be the next CEO, then they should have just named him the successor two years ago and saved everybody a lot of time and money. Heidrick & Struggles, the corporate headhunter NAR hired for this, isn’t cheap. The time and energy of 15 volunteer leaders who spent months on this don’t come for free. The 80 people who applied for the position could have used their time and energy doing something more productive than being players in an elaborate puppet show.

So please tell me, tell the rest of us, that this wasn’t just an elaborate internal politics dinner theater designed to convince people that y’all had not made up your minds years ago. But you’re gonna have to do more than tell us; you’re going to have to convince us.

How To Convince Me

At this point, no amount of talking is going to convince me or anybody else who has these questions. Actions and nothing other than actions can convince me that this entire process was on the up-and-up and that Bob Goldberg is indeed the exact Change Agent with deep experience, institutional knowledge, and the vision that NAR needs right now.

Three suggestions for actions that would convince the hopeful skeptics like me.

Personnel is Policy

Most of that will come as issues arise, and as events unfold. But there is one thing that he can do in August to make me believe as I so desperately want to do: Clean house among the staff at NAR.

Because personnel is policy.

If Bob Goldberg as CEO has a vision of the future that is based on innovation and future-based thinking, and he has been chomping at the bits to enact changes that he could not as a mere Senior VP of Everything… then he needs to replace the bureaucracy that is NAR staff.

He doesn’t have to fire everybody and bring in fresh blood. But senior management, department heads, and maybe a couple of levels under them, need to be looked at very carefully and in all honesty, most of them are going to have to be replaced. Not because they’re bad people or incompetent, but because they’re so used to the way things were under Stinton. You want new thinking and new actions? Get new people, because personnel is policy.

And based on who the new people are, what their track records are, and what they’re all about, we’ll know whether there will be some Change to go along with the Hope of the Goldberg reign.

Otherwise, nothing will change. I mean literally, nothing will change except the name on the door.

This is nothing new or unusual. When a new CEO comes into an organization, he or she will typically do a bunch of reshuffling and house cleaning and changing personnel in order to drive his or her strategy and vision.

Don’t do that, and we’re more or less saying that the status quo is just fine, it works, and don’t fix what ain’t broken. That appears to be the message being sent by the NAR Leadership with this pick.

We’ll find out soon enough whether the new CEO of NAR is saying the same thing.

Professionalism

As Dale said, NAR needs to tell a new story. The A1 problem of the DANGER Report was widespread incompetence among REALTOR ranks.

I can understand that Bob’s portfolio did not include really doing something about that problem. Well, as CEO, it does now. If I see huge shifts in NAR’s budget and policy towards reinforcing professionalism, enforcing the Code of Ethics, raising the bar for REALTOR membership, I will be convinced.

Example? Sure thing. Free consulting to the incoming CEO — more of which will appear over the next several years here, I’m sure.

Currently, the NAR Handbook prohibits Association staff from being involved in ethics complaints. That’s silly. Change that policy so that local and state associations can have staff ethics compliance people in much the same way that the MLS has compliance departments who investigate complaints and bring enforcement actions when necessary.

If your core mission includes professionalism, and your whole identity is the Code of Ethics, then you need to be involved in that.

The single greatest member benefit that NAR could provide is to kick out those who should not be part of the organization.

Let me see Bob do that, and I’ll be his biggest fan and acknowledge that he is indeed a visionary change agent.

Cut, Cut, Cut

One of the cornerstones of corporate strategy — which is what I do for a living — is to figure out what you’re good at doing and then stop doing everything else. Great CEO’s routinely sell off profitable, money-making divisions of their company which isn’t core to the company’s vision or mission.

The former CEO of Procter & Gamble, A.G. Lafley makes clear that the CEO must make hard choices:

Lafley: There’s a mindset among CEOs and other leaders that they don’t want to get pinned down or painted into a corner. They want to keep all their options open. Why do they want that? Because they don’t want to take on the risk of making a bad choice or a wrong choice. But the fact is, strategy is all about making choices — choosing where you’re going to play and how you’re going to win, along with what winning means.

The hardest and most important choice to make is to answer the classic Peter Drucker question: What business are we in?

In my humble opinion, the biggest problem of NAR as an organization is that it has lost sight of what business it is in. It’s in so many businesses from magazine publishing to events to providing lockboxes and Zipforms and Docusign to MLS software (with RPR/AMP).

And the Leadership Team exacerbates the problem by talking about “leveraging NAR’s technology investments.” NAR is not now, has never been, and never will be a technology company. It is not now, has never been, and never will be a venture capitalist with a portfolio of technology investments. In those industries, NAR has no competitive advantage and enormous competitive disadvantages. So get out of those and focus on your core competencies.

Spin off RPR. Sell Second Century Ventures to an actual VC firm. Sell off the publishing “business” — it’s not the business you’re in as NAR. REALTOR University? Credit union? Cut, cut, cut. Divest. Partner. Above all, focus on who you are and what business you’re in.

If Bob Goldberg can lead NAR to focus on that core mission, which incidentally involves spinning off and eliminating virtually everything he has worked on at NAR to date, then I’ll be convinced and become his biggest cheerleader.

Hope and… Maybe Change?

This is getting way too long, even by my standards. And I feel certain that we’ll be talking more about Bob Goldberg as the CEO of NAR in the months and years ahead.

What can we say in conclusion?

We can say that given everything going on, Bob Goldberg is without a doubt the candidate for Hope rather than the candidate of Change. He may end up surprising all of us with how much he can and will change NAR the organization and the real estate industry as a whole. But based on his track record and his long tenure, he represents maintenance of the status quo and the Hope that it will continue to work.

We can say that in the minds of the NAR Leadership, Bob Goldberg must have been the best person out of the 80 or so highly accomplished men and women who applied for the job. Assuming that the process wasn’t an elaborate puppet show, I suppose we have to take them at their word. But y’all better recognize that there are a lot of your members out here who think that the fix was in from the start. There’s a strong whiff of Frank Underwood over the whole process. Your choice whether you want to convince us otherwise or not.

We can say that the Leadership Team at NAR has some explaining to do about this choice. Not because of Bob, but because what the choice says about their vision of NAR, their perspective on what is going on and what is coming down the road. President Bill Brown needs to do more than just a short video announcing the decision. He and Elizabeth Mendenhall, the 2018 President, and John Smaby, the 2019 President, as well as everybody involved in NAR in a leadership position now need to tell us a lot more about how they view the future of NAR.

We can say that the Bob Goldberg is facing challenges that his 11 predecessors have never faced. If things have been worse for organized real estate in past decades, I’m not aware of it. At least in the dozen years or so that I have been in the industry, this is as bad as it has ever been. He may be the exact person we all need at this moment in time who will restore trust and faith in the REALTOR brand and the REALTOR movement. Time will tell.

And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can say that I need to be convinced on a few things.

But I haven’t made up my mind yet. Bob Goldberg deserves a chance to prove himself to all of us, myself included.

So in closing, let me reiterate my hope in and support for Bob Goldberg, the new CEO of NAR. He would not have been my first choice, or even my second. But it wasn’t my decision; it was NAR’s decision to make. And now, the decision having been made, I sincerely hope that he succeeds. Because his success will mean the success of NAR and the REALTOR Movement.

If he fails, NAR fails. And right now, I believe NAR needs to be saved. The REALTOR Movement needs to be saved.

Best of luck to you, Mr. CEO! Do the right thing. We’re counting on you.

-rsh

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Rob Hahn
Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

36 COMMENTS

  1. Well that surely is a lot to digest Rob. And time will indeed tell. I have known Bob for many years. He is a most capable guy. And like you he has my full support.

    But maybe there is another angle worth considering.

    I think NAR is moving from an autocracy to one where volunteer leadership will assume a far greater role in its direction. The next 3 presidents (Mendenhall, Smaby and Malta) appear to be fully engaged and in lock step. While their terms are only one year, I don’t for a moment think “one and done” is their mindset. They consciously decided (my opinion with no fact to back it up) to recapture the podium.

    With that in mind Bob is a solid choice. He is collaborative and a consensus builder. He is very smart and I believe will rise to the occasion. The combo of Bob and these next 3 volunteer leaders will chart a far different course than we have seen in the past. I actually think this decision is recognition by NAR leadership that shit must change. I believe the triumvirate when coupled with Bob will create serious and much needed change.

    No doubt Alex Perriello would have been a very, very solid choice. And thanks for including me in the same paragraph with Alex! And yes Alex would have been an “inspired” choice. But what you have said Bob must do is essentially the same thing you would have suggested to Alex had he been selected. You would likely have scripted much the same advice for Alex sans the understandable skepticism.

    My guess (again) is the leadership team ultimately determined a high profile person might make it more difficult for volunteer leadership to recapture the high ground. And indeed if they are successful, I could easily envision their preference to return NAR to its core mission.

    A great post Rob, the basis of which will be discussed and debated for quite some time.

    • Thank you David, and you are more than worthy to be included in the discussion with Alex.

      And as I’ve said in the post, this really isn’t about Bob. I believe I met him at an MRIS event lo these many years ago, and everybody who has worked with him says he is very capable and very smart and a great, great guy. I look forward to getting to know him better.

      I do like your angle — that the next three Presidents and their followers want to reassert a level of leadership of NAR that was missing in the Stinton years. Maybe, as you say, they needed an insider who knew where the skeletons are buried, where the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, and where the most effective changes can be made. I sure hope you’re correct. And I do agree — Elizabeth Mendenhall and John Smaby strike me as people with their heads screwed on straight and priorities that might be more Change than Hope oriented.

      Like I said, my mind is not made up. I think Bob, with the Triumvirate as you mentioned, could prove to all of us that he is exactly the consensus building Change Agent we need right now. August is when he starts. At a minimum, he has until NAR Convention in November to show us all that he’s serious about change.

      And like I wrote, that starts with cleaning out the NAR staff. Personnel is policy. Especially when you’re coming from within with 22 years of tenure, you can’t be the Change Agent without bringing in fresh blood and a lot of it.

      One last thing. I sincerely hope that Bob and the Leadership are thinking really hard about keeping leaders like you and Alex and some of the other 80 who are disappointed involved going forward. I know some of the best and brightest in the industry were among those people. The very last thing NAR can afford is to alienate them because of this search.

    • Very thoughtful post, Rob. Lots of great analysis and ideas. I agree with you that now is the time for NAR to change and the future is going to be very interesting.

      I’ve got one data point to add from personal experience about Bob Goldberg. While I’m a broker and a REALTOR, I definitely would not call myself a NAR insider. After I made some recommendations casually to a staffer about ways to improve the Realtor Credit Union the next thing I knew I was invited to join seven other brokers on the credit union Advisory Council. Bob Goldberg is there, of course, and therefore I’ve had a chance to see how he handles suggestions and input from people who might have a contrary opinion to the standard NAR organizational view.

      What a refreshing change! Bob is wide open to new ideas. He welcomes them. Feeds on them and gives them life in new directions, collaboratively, positively, and all while applying his sound business acumen to gently massage them in great directions. He doesn’t come to meetings with his mind made up, or ready to argue his predetermined position. Bob has a refreshing servant leader style and I think he will be open to the changes that we all feel the National Association of Realtors needs to embrace for the years ahead.

      I will guarantee you one thing. We will have a CEO who listens. Now it’s up to us in the industry to speak up.

      Jon

      • Great info, Jon. Thank you.

        Well, especially since Bob is a servant leader, it is even more important that we in the industry need to hear from the elected leadership about their vision of the future. In particular, since they have one year terms, we need to hear how they’re united in that vision.

  2. Early in your post you indicated that just about everyone you know has been effusive in their praise of Bob Goldberg’s selection. The reason for their reactions: they know and/or have worked with Bob Goldberg.
    Having been involved at NAR for many years and having worked closely with Bob the four years I served on the Leadership Team I can tell you Bob is a visionary, he is an innovator, he is a future thinker, he never stops working and he has had years of experience working with “the best of the best,” Dale Stinton. But there is one other attribute that Bob possesses: a genuine love and care for every Realtor and the Realtor Organization.
    All those who know Bob are thrilled with his selection and we know that he will take NAR to the next level, even though for many years he has played a huge role in many if not most of NAR’s innovative approaches and successes.

    • Thank you for your comment, Dick.

      As I said, I support Bob because to do otherwise is to hope for failure of NAR itself. And words like yours gives me even more Hope that he will turn out to be an excellent CEO for the challenges ahead.

      But since you’re in the know, what are these “NAR’s innovative approaches and successes” in which he has played a huge role that give you such confidence?

      • Rob– I could give a long list, but will give those things that stand out in my mind:

        1.) Bob championed bringing Sentrilock to life to challenge other player and benefit our members; he is now Chairman of the Board.
        2.) He has driven over a quarter billion dollars of revenues to NAR over his 20+ years at NAR.
        3.) The Realtor Benefits Program involves over 800,000 members and saves members $60,000,00 plus a year.
        4.) He was instrumental in the launch of the Reach Incubator Program with investments in over 40 technology companies.
        5.) Was a member of the founding team of realtor.com.
        6.) Is responsible fort negotiating with ICANN which brought us dot Realtor.

        I will stop here.

  3. To clarify one of your assumptions made within the post: regarding the entire section questioning Bob’s judgement for the “great time to buy or sell” and Phil Dunphy pieces; the communications division of NAR is responsible for advertising campaigns, not the marketing side. This includes all consumer messaging and member messaging. Bob’s side of the shop had nothing to do with those. Might want to note that somewhere in there.

    (Speaking from my experience having worked as a communications division staffer at NAR .)

    • Thank you for the info. Believe me, it gives me a lot of comfort to know Bob wasn’t involved with that debacle. I’ll add a note.

      Now, is the person who led that debacle still employed at NAR? How? Why?

      • No idea who may have been responsible for consumer messaging in 2006. That was the same year that Century 21 took heat for a tv ad that was ‘too negative and creepy’ and Coldwell Banker ran an ad warning consumers against what using a discount brokerage could cost them. We’ve all come a long way since then. 😉

      • Dude, it’s been more than ten years.

        The SVP of Communications in 2006 has long since retired. His predecessor has retired. In addition, the Chief Economist from 2006 is also long gone. As is the Managing Director of Public Relations from that time. As is the ad agency that created the add. So, now that Bob is CEO, what sort of housecleaning should he do to respond to the “now is a good time to buy ad?”

        * I work for NAR, but I’m not a spokesman. These are my personal thoughts.

      • And also, don’t forget that staff works at the behest of the committees that are charged with those responsibilities. Those committees have long since changed over (and over. And over.)

      • Todd –

        Thanks for the info, mate.

        I didn’t say Bob should clean house because of that campaign. I said Bob should clean house because I just don’t buy that you can do a lot of change with the same staff in place. Personnel is policy. If Bob’s going to listen, listen, listen to the elected leadership, to MLS people, to local and state Association leadership, and then create real change… I just don’t buy that he can do it with the same people who have been doing “it” for the last 20 years. YMMV.

        We don’t need to look far. When Ryan O’Hara came in as CEO of Move, he didn’t keep everybody in the same place. He brought in a whole new bunch of people to change the culture, change the way things were being done, change the company. I’d like to see Bob do the same.

        The good folks at NAR will easily find new, probably more rewarding jobs, elsewhere. And Bob can start to make the organization his.

  4. HI Rob. Good report.
    “The hardest and most important choice to make is to answer the classic Peter Drucker question: What business are we in?”….. most important statement in your report. Peter Drucker taught me and I’m sure several others, how to stay focused. A simple question with great impact on any discussion, yet I wonder how often it’s heard in NAR Leadership meetings.

    • Thanks Micki –

      I have hope that the next three Presidents plus Bob will do a lot of that focusing on the core mission. Because hope springs eternal.

      Time will tell…

  5. All selection issues aside and even those that are centered on the lack of women in the leadership pf the NAR, I have learned this about business in general. If the selection leads to someone who is “in the box”, achieving “out of the box” thinking is likely to be nothing more that a nice goal for someone’s new business plan. If it is so obviously ludicrous to have the CEO of the NAR report to a “NAR President for a day”, how can anything else even begin to make sense? The NAR is and it appears will always be, a dinosaur “wandering around in the brokerage industry” hoping each day that the day in certain when a shower of comets eventually crashes to the earth changing it forever – is a long time away.

  6. I have had the pleasure of working with Rob, recently in Austin, and I’ve also had the pleasure of serving with Bob as a member and now, co-Chair of meetings and conference. I appreciate Robs comments, but I also consider them in the space they are made, without consequence. Rob is not a Realtor either, he doesn’t sell homes, he doesn’t get the calls from clients, from Zillow, from fellow Realtors about challenges in transactions etc. He is however a very informed observer of our industry.

    That said, Bob Goldberg, in my opinion, has tremendous potential to lead NAR. I have had many forward thinking and invigorating conversations with Bob that left me feeling inspired and hopeful for our future….and that was BEFORE the CEO search had started.

    Where I really do agree with Rob, is that it is up to the Realtors, leadership, committee members, state and local presidents and members at large to shape the direction and vision of the our association. As CEO, it is imperative he follows the direction of the leadership team, which hopefully reflects the wishes of members, and then takes it to the highest level. A CEO, again, in my opinion, does not get to impose their own personal vision of NAR, on NAR and its members, so if a CEO fails to meet Robs, or mine or any members expectations, we really do get to ask if that was his fault, or the fault of leadership.

    Finally, I do not believe Bob has to clean house on staff. Yes, they are used to Dale’s leadership style, but they are highly educated and competent individuals, who, if approached correctly, can absolutely bring their A game for Bob. If they don’t, then he gets to make a new decision. I believe that there is a sweet spot here that Bob can hit. I don’t expect huge changes overnight, but I believe we will find out in short order where we are heading.

    • Colin, you said, “As CEO, it is imperative he follows the direction of the leadership team, which hopefully reflects the wishes of members, and then takes it to the highest level. A CEO, again, in my opinion, does not get to impose their own personal vision of NAR, on NAR and its members, so if a CEO fails to meet Robs, or mine or any members expectations, we really do get to ask if that was his fault, or the fault of leadership.” What does that really mean? Throughout this process, and even in this string, there are comments about the need for a “visionary” CEO, and yet the CEO’s vision doesn’t matter? Association CEO’s are supposed to “follow” and are purely implementers of Leadership’s vision? That belief (which is common), IMO, is one of the biggest challenges with the REALTOR org at all three levels. I am very hopeful that Bob gets a chance to actually LEAD and assert his vision for the organization.

  7. Rob, you have voiced many of the concerns shared by some of the brightest people I know. I believe it is both wise and fair to give Bob a chance to prove himself, just as it would be wise of Bob to strongly consider your post as a love note from the industry. As you noted – no one wants Bob to fail and no one wants NAR to fail – but the stakes are high and they’re not getting smaller.

    Your letter is a thoughtful, insightful plea to get this ship turned around. There are many willing to help, but it’s going to take the vision, leadership, and guts to admit mistakes, cut under-performing programs and shift the resources of NAR to where they belong: Policy, Professionalism, Relevance.

    Bob, I wish you the best of luck and encourage you to reach out industry leaders around you – even if they do not agree with you. For most of us, having a NAR CEO that listens and is open to critique will be a pleasant and far overdue change.

  8. Hopefully this “new”guy will be the last nail in the coffin for the shakedown racket,nar.what a waste of time these people are!!!totally corrupt,utterly useless.

  9. Thanks for the thought provoking post. It stated many of the things I have been thinking since the announcement. I firmly believe that NAR had an opportunity to show its members and the public that it was relevant and not stuck in the past but instead chose an insider. While I am sure Bob is a dedicated and capable person, he is not the right person for this position. The only relevance of NAR in my local area is access to the MLS. If NAR members had an ability to have MLS access without NAR they would not join NAR. The association provides nothing at this point of value beyond MLS access. I say MLS access because most local associations require membership to access the MLS not that it is a benefit or provided by NAR. The code of ethics is a joke at this point because many members don’t follow it and the local associations don’t bother to enforce it. While NAR needs to make big changes I think it needs to start at the local associations. The best thing NAR could do right now requires local associations to limit the time someone can serve on local boards. We struggle with our local association having people around for too long thinking the same exact way and keeping the younger generation locked out.

    As a 23 year veteran of the industry, this decision by NAR just cements my decision not to renew my membership this year.

  10. Rob:

    Numerous articles are written each week about NAR. Some are positive, some are negative. Generally, I refuse to comment.

    However, your blog entry in regards to the hiring of Bob Goldberg as NAR’s new CEO is chock full of so many inaccuracies and false assumptions, I am compelled to correct the record with these facts.

    First, you mention NAR “needs fixing.” In a large organization like ours, there will always be strengths and weaknesses. I submit we have many more of the former. NAR is a member-driven organization. It is not staff-driven. This model allows NAR to tap the minds of practicing Realtors® to create a productive environment for our 1.2 million members.

    Being one of the seven Leadership Team members in the room who heard and reviewed the final CEO applicants, I can assure you that the process was not predetermined. The search was extensive, thorough, and its integrity was protected and managed by one of the leading search firms in the world, Heidrick & Struggles. I can confirm the selection of Bob Goldberg was not preordained.

    His 22-year tenure at NAR put him 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. Personally, I was blown away at some of the suggestions Bob made during his final presentation. You will be hearing more about his ideas once he becomes CEO.

    Second, in terms of my comments in the video when I say Bob “has the ability” to have the vision to innovate. I am distinguishing between Bob and someone else who would support and retain the status quo.

    When you ask where Bob has been the past 22 years, I can tell you that during his tenure Bob and his teams have brought in over $225 million into the organization. That is obviously a lot of money. I, of course, anticipate the same success, both monetary and non-monetary, across all divisions once he is CEO.

    Third, regarding Bob’s involvement at Realtors® Information Network, I sense an overlapping theme occurring in your thinking: you do not either know the facts or refuse to acknowledge the reality. At RIN as the CEO, Bob did not unilaterally make policy. He could suggest it, but ultimately a Board of Directors, who are all members, determined the decision-making process.

    Our Consumer Advertising Campaign is initiated by our Realtor® members on the Consumer Communication Committee and approved by the Leadership Team. The staff for our Communications Committee is strictly charged with carrying out the mandate of the members. As a widely read blogger in the real estate industry, I expect you would have done your due diligence before you decided to criticize with false information.

    Yet, what is equally confusing to me is after you acknowledge this misstep, you continue to criticize the two ads to which Bob was not responsible, and you even admit Bob was not involved.

    In terms of telling consumers to buy homes in 2006 or 2007, we encouraged homebuyers to view homeownership not as a day trade of a stock, but rather as a way to build long-term financial stability. In doing so, consumers will avoid the pitfalls of speculation and bad financing. I bought my first home in 1980. To this day, I distinctly remember having to refinance the first loan at 18 percent when it was due. I loved the house, loved being part of my community, and recently sold it for a nice profit. This is the long-term view that NAR advocated for then and today.

    Fourth, under your inaccurate comment that “personnel is policy,” I will refer you to my comments that staff does not make policy; they implement the policy that is made by Realtor® members. The NAR staff is the best I have ever worked with. To a person they are capable, smart and dedicated to helping implement the tasks they are given.

    As to current NAR CEO Dale Stinton, I would say industry icons such as RISMedia’s John Featherstone and Stefan Swanepoel know a bit about organized real estate. They recently awarded him the “On Shoulders of Giants” award and the first ever T3 Industry Visionary award. Throughout his tenure, Dale has garnered a number of other impressive recognitions on behalf of NAR. Dale has built an incredible foundation from which Bob will build on. It is no wonder that Stefan Swanepoel named both Dale Stinton and Bob Goldberg as the top two trade association professionals in the real estate industry.

    Recently, Chief Lobbyist Jerry Giovanello was awarded a 2016 Top Lobbyist by the influential beltway publication, The Hill. NAR’s General Counsel Katie Johnson and her legal team were recently named not-for-profit legal team of the year by the World Trademark Review, an international source of news for trademark professionals.

    The EXCEL awards, which recognizes the best in the convention industry has consistently honored NAR in several areas including its Conference Mobile App, Conference Live, and advertising.

    American Society of Business Publication Editors has recognized Realtor® Magazine with three national first-place awards: Front Cover-Photo, Opening Page/Spread-Photo, and Humorous/Fun Department.

    NAR’s Second Century Ventures REach Technology Accelerator program won the 2016 National Association of Home Builders Innovation Award. The 2016 Internet Advertising Competition Award Winner for Best B2B Online Video went to NAR for its work in promoting the .REALTOR top-level domain.

    I could go on and on as these are only a handful of the recognitions that NAR staff has recently accumulated. Yet, you advocate firing the senior staff. To what purpose do uninformed, incendiary comments like that serve?

    Finally, let me emphatically point out that I am concerned about helping are our 1.2 million members who look to NAR for a range of services from advocacy to education. I understand that there will always be those who sit on the sidelines and opine about what should be done. My job as NAR president is to look out for those who are willing to get into the arena and get dirty doing the hard work of making a difference for NAR’s members. Bob Goldberg is in the arena fighting every day.

    I can assure you Bob Goldberg will be a change agent once he takes the CEO mantle. What I ask for in return is that you and our members give Bob the same opportunity that the Leadership Team gave him. If you give him a fair shake, I firmly believe you will be as impressed with him as we are.

    Bill Brown
    2017 NAR President

    • Thank you for your response, Bill. I appreciate it and I’m sure my readers do as well.

      Given the length and importance of your response, I’ll have some thoughts and questions in a separate post.

    • Well stated and on the money. The facts should be seen and heard by the members, not the ramblings of pot stirrers whose only goal is garner more attention and business to themselves. Having personally watched Bob work for 20 years, I have seen his accomplishments and look forward to his tenure.

    • Bill, thank you for the response. I, like many, support Bob Goldberg and thank him for his past leadership while looking forward to his leadership in the future.

      John Lazenby
      Past-President
      Orlando Regional Realtor Association (ORRA)

    • If NAR actually ever dare poll their own members they would find that at least 99% of us don’t feel like we have any say about anything that is ever done. How exactly do you claim NAR to be member-driven yet still feel you must force membership… I know, I know it’s not forced since tge DOJ spoiled your fun, but it sure as hell ain’t voluntary in most parts of the country. The rest of this response just passed the blame for all of NAR’s problems on the rest of the leadership within NAR and emphasizes Rob’s call for cleaning house even more so if the new CEO is truly going to achieve any more of these big ideas, yet to be named, in his tenure.

    • Bill Brown – do you feel better now? You say you are concerned about the 1.2 million realtors, but the stuff you mentioned hasn’t done anything to help agents. In the meantime, Zillow has eaten your lunch, and become the voice of real estate. You and Bob need to lay out what you are going to do for realtors on the street, because your top lobbyists/lawyers, lightweight education programs, and B-grade advertising are getting us killed out here. Let’s focus on the future, shall we? I will do my part and will write down what I think is wanted and needed, and add it to Rob’s next post.

  11. […] My last post on Bob Goldberg being selected as the next CEO of NAR has sparked quite a response. Most of the private messages — even from those in top leadership positions at local, state and national levels — are of the “Boy, you hit that one out of the park!” variety. Most of the public messages take yours truly to task for daring to question His Holiness. It’s all good — I’m used to all sorts of responses from people on whatever topic du jour. […]

  12. There are so many thoughtful and not so thoughtful comments about the appointment of the new CEO of NAR. The long and the short of it is that there is a biig stench that carries down which many believe is associated with the current role. I felt William Brown’s initial messaging was weak at best about Bob Goldberg’s announcement. I do not know and Bob so this really isn’t against him personally. Although Mr Brown’s comments point out some great achievements of people within the organization there are issues at the core of the Realtor association that many feel won’t change by bringing up someone who was working with the current CEO. The selection of someone from within, regardless of how qualified they are, is going to make it more difficult to gain the trust back of the membership. It’s not about the public accolades that Mr. Brown pointed out. It’s about bringing transparency to what’s been kept behind close doors that very few see. I am sitting on the sidelines here and waiting for those grand gestures. Will they ever come?

  13. Well said my friend! Only time will tell and like you, I am hopeful for his success because it’s my livelihood and I want the best for the 1.2 million Realtors.

    The status quo can not and should not be tolerated for 1 second. NAR needs to to a HARD OVER and turn this ship 90 degrees.

    I helped set Realtor.com free and and it all started when Dale refused to even talk to the Chairman (me) of the largest association of the time, 2013, via email or letter or phone. So an open letter was sent, “Setting the record straight on realtor.com changes” – Inman

    I can only only hope Bob is the ONE that will become the Realtor’s Realtor… A man of CHANGE.

    Bob, I wish you nothing but great successes and wins.

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