Former real estate CEOs Pam O’Connor, Ron Peltier, Alex Perriello, and Mark Willis on stage at the T3 Leadership Summit.

How the industry looks to leaders who have stepped away 

In a panel discussion, former CEOs of some of the largest real estate companies talked about remote work, AI and more.

May 6, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • Former CEOs of Leading RE, HomeServices of America, Realogy Franchise Group and KW International shared perspectives on the industry today.
  • Some called out the advantages of remote work, including how it can help companies recruit and cut costs.
  • They agreed that a simpler homebuying process and agent efficiencies are areas to focus on as real estate evolves.

Stepping away from an all-consuming job — like real estate CEO — can open up a fresh perspective on the industry.

Four former CEOs took the stage at the T3 Sixty Leadership Summit on May 2 for a frank conversation with Stefan Swanepoel about how the industry looks to them — now that they aren't fully immersed in the day-to-day operations of a large company. (Note: Stefan Swanepoel is the founder of both T3 Sixty and Real Estate News.)

Pam O'Connor (former CEO of Leading RE), Ron Peltier (former CEO of HomeServices of America), Alex Perriello (former CEO of Realogy Franchise Group) and Mark Willis (former CEO of Keller Williams Realty International) hit on a wide range of industry topics. Here's what they had to say.

The advantages of remote work 

The biggest change that Perriello has seen since he retired in 2017 is the ability to work from anywhere. He said today's attitudes surrounding remote work would have made a big difference when he was CEO, since it was difficult to recruit top talent to New Jersey from outside the tri-state area.

"To be able to pick the best qualified person — rather than the best qualified person who's also willing to go to New Jersey — I think that's the biggest difference for companies. Working remotely gives you the ability to seek talent," Perriello said.

It has also caused the industry to reconsider their physical footprints. Now that companies have seen how well their businesses can function with remote workers, firms have to justify why all these brick and mortar offices were needed, said Peltier, who left his CEO position in 2019. 

"When Covid hit, business didn't stop, and in fact we set the record on sales across all of our operations. It should be a wake-up call for all of us," Peltier said, adding that office space is now just a drain on the financials in the real estate industry.

Remote work has also led to an evolving industry where teams are leaving their home markets and working across multiple markets, said Willis, who stepped down as CEO in 2014 to take on a variety of entrepreneurial roles.

"It's almost like the industry is going back to the future," Willis said.

Can we please make closing easier?

One of the biggest frustrations shared by the panelists was something that hasn't changed for decades, they said: The time it takes to close on a house.

Perriello noted that when he started selling houses in 1977, it took 30-45 days for a deal to close, about the same as it does today. Yet somehow Amazon is able to create a buying experience where anyone can buy a product and it's at their doorstep the next day.

"My recommendation would be to look at the real estate transaction and see how we can simplify it, how we can make it faster. The people who figure it out…are going to take share from people who don't focus on the client experience," Perriello said.

AI: Artificial intelligence, or agent intelligence?

One big advancement since these former CEOs left their positions is in the area of AI and the recent rise of ChatGPT. As outside observers, they see its promise but have concerns.

The idea that something like ChatGPT could free up agents for more important work is appealing, they said — but agents shouldn't rely on it too heavily.

"I think that as long as it makes agents more efficient so they can spend more time in front of the customer, … that's a positive," O'Connor said. "It worries me a little bit that we're going to get mentally lazy."

When Perriello hears about artificial intelligence, he thinks about another type of AI: agent intelligence.

"What can we do with [artificial intelligence] to make the agents more intelligent when they are having conversations with their customers?" Perriello asked, adding that however it is used, it needs to be providing value to the consumer.

The landscape, not the industry, is what's changed

O'Connor didn't feel that the industry itself has changed significantly since she left in 2018, despite the disruptions and opportunities caused by the pandemic. But the landscape around real estate has shifted, she said, as a result of economic uncertainty, financial meltdowns, and of course Covid.

"Circumstances change, but what doesn't change is the adaptability, the resilience of people in this industry," O'Connor said. "The way that you all deal with things that, year in and year out, throw the punch to you is amazing."

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