Let's Face It: Dale Stinton Was a Terrible CEO for NAR. Now We're Paying the Price.

Discontent with poor decision making by the National Association of Realtors recently crystallized into sudden, stiff opposition to NAR's proposed dues increase.  Perhaps sparked by an open letter from the Bob Hale's Houston Association of Realtors contesting NAR's justification for the increase, then definitively fueled by an Inman News article by MLS Listings' CEO, Jim Harrison, NAR appears to be facing an insurrection of epic proportions.

This has been building for a long time.  In fact, if you were to ask me for exactly how long, I would say for Dale Stinton's entire tenure as CEO of NAR.  What the current leadership at NAR does not appear to understand is that they are reaping what Dale sowed over almost a decade at his post.  

This is a CEO who outright lost tens of millions of dollars in a variety of poorly planned, poorly executed schemes (the NAR credit union, Realtor University) and spent over $200 million of unrecoverable member dues dollars (RPR, RAMCO) on products that, based on my discussions with MLSs around the country, fewer than 5% of members use.  Think about that for a minute: 5% of 1,000,000 members is 50,000.  NAR spent $200,000,000 on RPR and RAMCO, which means they spent $4,000 per member to build and maintain a product that only 50,000 members use once a month (RPR's definition of a "super user" of their product is someone who logs in once a month).  Unlike what would have happened at a well-run corporation, instead of being fired, Dale rode off into the sunset on a golden horse with an "atta boy" from NAR.  To date, there has been no public admission of failure, no public acceptance of mistakes that will be fixed, and no public discussion of how it came to be that $200 million dollars got spent on products that only a tiny fraction of the membership uses a fraction of the time.   Is there really any question at NAR why people are so upset about having their dues raised again??

The problem NAR faces now isn't just the epic size of past failures, it is the legacy from an imperious style propagated by Dale and unchecked by the Executive Committee.  Intentional and consistent misdirection about product successes became commonplace.  Being utterly dismissive of member concerns became a corporate philosophy.   Aggressive disparagement of critics coupled with not-so-subtle encouragement to view them as enemies of the state became an accepted tactic, and the total inability or unwillingness to admit mistakes or failures became the first, last, and final rule.  

Let me be clear; these failures are not yet those of NAR's current CEO, Bob Goldberg, but they will become his if he does not come clean about the failures and fix the mess that Dale made.  This is a watershed moment for NAR and the Executive Committee would be wise to recognize that they will be far better off admitting to mistakes than they will trying to bluster their way through, defending the indefensible.

I have read HAR's letter, I have read MLS Listing's letter, and I have read NAR's response.  HAR and MLS Listings raise valid concerns that were left unaddressed by NAR's response.  Frankly, the tone of indignant, wounded surprise and the aspersions cast at Jim Harrison missed the mark.  There were some pretty serious questions asked in Jim's letter which were not addressed in NAR's response - but the point is that A LOT of people have the same questions that Jim had the courage to ask publicly.  If NAR wants to gain a measure of trust they will need to answer questions the membership has, they will need to be open and transparent, and they will need to accept responsibility for the fact that mismanagement has brought long-simmering issues to a head.

Leadership isn't just about making bold decisions.  If that's all it was, we would have a very different looking real estate industry.  Association leadership is actually about having the vision to ideate and build consensus, but also an ability recognize mistakes - even painful one - accept responsibility for them, then build success from the lessons learned from failures.  The fact that we have membership about to choose sides in a civil war over this proposed dues increase clearly shows that NAR has failed on multiple levels.  It is my hope that they will understand that this is an opportunity to accept responsibility for the failures that Dale never did, accept membership feedback on improvements that Dale never would, and bring the leadership to NAR that Dale never could.

- CP