Mark Willis, President and CEO, Keller Williams Realty.
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

KW CEO on emerging from the wilderness, looking to the future 

Mark Willis returned to Keller Williams after a 7-year hiatus, and he’s ready to lead in a new way. “It’s not about proving myself. It’s about impact.”

April 30, 2024
4 minutes

Key points:

  • During his time away from KW and the industry, Willis said he learned to be more centered and patient — qualities that are helping him lead through a tumultuous period.
  • KW is focused on education and training to help agents learn new best practices: “If we stay calm … we will thrive.”
  • But industry-wide changes are likely, said Willis, who predicts that a wave of brokerage consolidation is coming.

After seven years of what Mark Willis describes as "walking through the wilderness," the CEO of Keller Williams is eager to lead the brokerage — and its more than 180,000 agents worldwide — through one of the more challenging periods this industry has ever seen.

Willis, who stepped back into the role of CEO in November after being away from the company since 2016, also gained the title of president following Marc King's departure in March.

He sat down for an interview with Real Estate News during the T3 Leadership Summit, where he talked about his time in the "wilderness," the state of the industry, and what lies ahead for the Austin-based brokerage after settling in the buyer agent commissions lawsuits.

Coming full circle after a transformative journey 

After stepping down from the CEO position in 2015, and then leaving Keller Williams brand-level leadership one year later, Willis said he entered a disorienting period that included the loss of his wife to cancer, and the founding of the nutrition company BrainJuice and the Willis Family Foundation. 

Taking a break from real estate gave Willis a degree of freedom and flexibility he had never experienced in his career. He took advantage of it by learning how to become calmer and more centered.

The death of his wife in 2019, however, made Willis realize he had a lot more to do. He took time to reflect on what kind of leader he was at KW — and what kind of leader he would want to be if he returned to an executive role. 

"I had to reinvent myself. And in that reinvention period, I made the decision I was going back into real estate because I love this industry," said Willis, 63. He added that KW is where he wanted to return, because it felt like home.

But it was important for him to return in a meaningful way. The first time around as CEO, Willis said he wanted to make a name for himself. This time around, he wants to build a legacy. 

"I have more patience today. And yet, I also have more drive," Willis said. "It's not about proving myself. It's about impact."

'Stay calm,' get educated, show your value

Willis believes his time spent working to become more patient and centered will prove helpful given the current turmoil in the industry. 

Uncertainty breeds fear, and real estate professionals are worried — but to get through this challenging time, they need to find ways to manage those concerns.

"What I know is that best practices are going to start showing up," Willis said. "If we stay calm, and don't overreact… not only will this industry survive this, but we will thrive."

To help cement those best practices, the company created a training class "specifically designed to help agents understand their fiduciary role with their clients, articulate a client's options and ... how we provide value." 

Willis estimates around 70,000 KW agents have gone through the training, but acknowledged it will take more than one class for agents to master these skills. He said Keller Williams is committed to ongoing education to help agents succeed in the new real estate environment.

A wave of brokerage consolidation ahead?

Willis predicts the sweeping changes coming out of the commissions cases will lead to industry changes from the top down.

"We're probably going to see a consolidation in this industry — maybe one of the largest waves we've ever seen," Willis said. 

"I think a lot of people who are broker/owners who lead independent real estate companies are looking at their options right now."

Agents are also looking at their options, and while Willis expects that some will leave the industry, he thinks others will grow as a result of the changes — and those just beginning their career will come in with a clean slate, ready to find opportunities in the new real estate landscape. 

But exactly what the future of the industry holds is anyone's guess. "Right now, honestly, we don't know. It's all speculative," Willis said.

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