- Leslie Rouda Smith follows in the footsteps of her father, Harley Rouda, the 1991 president of NAR. As 2022 president, she aims to focus members’ attention on personal safety, sustainable practices, and the strength of the REALTOR® organization.
- The legendary Ebby Halliday was a mentor and an inspiration to Rouda Smith.
- Rouda Smith and her husband Brian are focused on land conservation and the benefits it brings to communities and wildlife.
“Her time is now. She has planned for this a long time, and she is ready,” says Kaki Lybbert, a fellow Texan who was appointed by Rouda Smith to serve as the 2022 vice president of advocacy.
In 1987, when Harley Rouda was moving up the leadership ladder at NAR, about 36% of brokers and 64% of salespeople among NAR members were women, yet not a single woman had led the association. Dorcas T. Helfant-Browning broke the glass ceiling in 1992. Rouda Smith is the seventh woman to serve as NAR’s president—following Helfant-Browning, there was Sharon A. Millett (1999), Catherine B. Whatley (2003), Pat V. Combs (2007), Vicki Cox Golder (2010), and Elizabeth Mendenhall (2018)—but the first with a majority female leadership team. Today, women account for 61% of brokers and 65% of full-time sales agents, according to the 2021 NAR Member Profile.
“We’ve finally come to a point in history that it’s okay,” says Shannon King, 2022 vice president of association affairs. “There were plenty of all-male leadership teams without even one single female. It’s pretty incredible.”
For Hagan Stone, 2022 REALTOR® Party director, creating a new reality for NAR and the real estate industry starts at the top. “I think if we’re going to pivot and we’re going to have a new normal as we say, Leslie is the right leader for that time,” he says. “She’s prepared for it; she listens, and she’s going to make things happen.”
Rouda Smith grew up in Upper Arlington, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, one of four kids and the only daughter born to Harley and his wife, Marlese.
“My mother was pregnant with me when my dad started his [real estate] company, so I guess you could say I was born in this industry,” Rouda Smith says. “I grew up in real estate, and I love this business.”
After starting his company, HER, REALTORS®, in the family basement, Harley Rouda would become a successful broker and founder of the franchise RealLiving, developer, builder, and icon in the industry. But a focus on family togetherness and community remained a priority and contributed to Rouda Smith’s values even today. “We had one car and there were four kids,” she recalls. “If someone had a dentist appointment, my dad would drive home from the office, and we would all get in the car so that my mother could take us to our appointment.”
Rouda Smith was raised to appreciate the outdoors and often spent time with her parents and brothers roaming nearby creeks and trails or riding horses. She and her brothers each had a horse named after them.
“My parents were amazing,” she says. “We were so fortunate to have the things we had.”
She also grew up with a love for Ohio State University and, even today, greets fellow Buckeyes with the familiar “O-H,” knowing they’ll respond with “I-O.”
“The OSU woods were behind our house. I ice skated every Sunday at the OSU skating rink, and I grew up down the street from Woody Hayes,” says Rouda Smith, referring to the legendary coach who spent 28 seasons with the Ohio State Buckeyes football team and won five national championships.
Harley and Marlese were both Buckeyes—they met in college—and it was only natural that their daughter would follow in their footsteps. Rouda Smith majored in communications and participated on the university drill team.
Despite a seemingly idyllic youth, Rouda Smith was raised during a time when women had fewer opportunities, particularly when it came to their professional lives.
“My dad was an amazing man and the funniest guy I’ve ever known,” she says. “But he was from a generation where women stayed home and raised their children. That’s just the way it was.”
Ebby Halliday's Top Producers
That may help explain Rouda Smith’s decision, as a young adult, to relocate more than 1,000 miles from home. After graduating from college, she did relocation work for her father. But in the mid-1980s, she moved with her then-husband to Dallas. There, she took a job in relocation with real estate legend Ebby Halliday, a pioneering female entrepreneur in Dallas and founder of Ebby Halliday, REALTORS®.
After Rouda Smith separated from her first husband, she decided to get her real estate license. At an Ebby Halliday training class, she met Brian. “We really hit it off and became good friends,” he says. About a year and a half later, the two married. “I call her my angel on earth,” Brian says. “I like her, and that makes it easy to love her.”
Throughout the late 1980s, the couple were building their business and their family, welcoming daughter Kristin and son Austin. At the time, “Ebby called us her top producers of all time—just a different kind of production!” Rouda Smith laughs.
“I was fortunate to have the godmother of real estate mentors,” Rouda Smith says of Halliday, who was the first woman named Texas REALTOR® of the Year and the first woman chair of the Council of Real Estate Brokerage Managers, now the Real Estate Business Institute. “Ebby’s mantra was ‘improve your life by improving the lives of those around you.’
“I’m so grateful she invested in me,” she says, noting that it was Halliday’s inspiration that gave her the tenacity to serve as president of her local Collin County Association of REALTORS®, chair of Texas REALTORS®, and national president, all in one decade.
Eventually, the Ebby Halliday Cos. would grow and divide into three legacy real estate brands: Ebby Halliday, Dave Perry-Miller, and Williams Trew. The Smiths, including their two children, have built their business through the Dave Perry-Miller brand. These days, Rouda Smith rarely lists properties in her name, opting instead for a behind-the-scenes role in the family business.
She has served in dozens of national volunteer leadership roles, including as a committee liaison under 2009 NAR President Charles McMillan, RPAC fundraising liaison under 2011 President Ron Phipps, and vice president of association affairs under 2013 NAR President Gary Thomas.
“She has so much to contribute,” says Travis Kessler, CEO of the Texas Association of REALTORS®. “She will be that representative voice of the member. She has her ear to the ground on what their issues and concerns are.”
Ron Leach, president of the Collin County Association of REALTORS®, sat down with Rouda Smith before beginning his term, to gain insights on the local leadership role. “We met at a local coffee shop for what I thought would be about 30 minutes. Two hours later, we were still talking about real estate, our families, NAR business, and of course, our pets. What impressed me most about Leslie is her knowledge of the real estate landscape on the local, state and national level,” Leach says.
“I love my work,” Rouda Smith says. “No matter how long you’ve been in the business, you’ll never do the same transaction twice. Home looks different to everyone. But the meaning of ‘home’ is universal. It’s where we feel safe and loved.”
Safety, Strength, Sustainability
During a tour of the 733-acre ranch she and Brian own, about an hour south of downtown Dallas, Rouda Smith talks about her focus for 2022, which will include what she calls the three S’s: safety, strength, and sustainability.
“When I say safety, I’m talking about helping our members protect themselves on the job, so that every REALTOR® comes home safely—every single night,” she says.
Rouda Smith wants to draw members’ attention to the REALTOR® Safety Program, which offers an array of resources to help brokers and agents set up safety protocols, and the REALTOR® Safety Alert, a system in which NAR deploys social media alerts when a physical or cyberthreat to REALTORS® warrants national attention.
Her second area of focus will be on building and enhancing the strength of the REALTOR® organization at a time of inflation, legal challenges, a global pandemic, and intense competition, both within the business and from outside players seeking to capture consumer attention. “We face challenges, that’s for sure,” she says, “but REALTORS® are resilient, and we are ready.”
A REALTORS® Political Action Committee Hall of Fame member, Rouda Smith says NAR’s leadership in advocacy is its greatest strength. “When 1.5 million REALTORS® speak with one voice and lead by example, we are unstoppable,” she says.
Her third S, sustainability, harkens back to her childhood exploring the woods of Columbus, Ohio, and remains a family passion. Brian is a land and ranch specialist; in 2011, the couple received the Lone Star Land Stewardship award from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for wildlife habitat enhancement and sustainability. Their North Texas ranch includes “three distinct ecosystems where great horned owls, deer, wild hogs, mountain lions, and many other animal and plant species thrive,” she says. They also have several bass ponds, a 20-acre wetlands project that was funded through a 50-50 cost share with Memphis-based nonprofit Ducks Unlimited. A 10-acre wetlands project in the mesquite uplands of the ranch is a habitat for many species of waterfowl.
REALTORS® can play a key role in promoting communitywide sustainability, Rouda Smith says. She adds that NAR is setting an example by modernizing its 60-year-old Chicago building to achieve significant reductions in energy consumption. NAR’s Washington, D.C., building, which opened in 2004 with LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, is getting its own efficiency updates.
”Our industry is uniquely positioned to address sustainability head on,” says Rouda Smith. “There are loads of benefits, from helping our clients save money through energy efficiency to having more walkable communities to using fewer of our precious resources. In addition to that, when we, as an association, can help our members gain knowledge and insights on sustainability, we’re creating another layer of value for their clients and the communities they serve.”
In December, one month after Rouda Smith officially took office, NAR hosted its third Sustainability Summit, announcing a partnership with the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to address climate risk.
“Over the past five years,” Rouda Smith told Summit attendees, “we’ve convened a presidential advisory group on sustainability; published an annual report called ‘REALTORS® and Sustainability’ showing how our members engage with sustainability; added the Sustainability Advisory Group to our governance structure; and partnered with other organizations to advance sustainability initiatives and thought leadership. We’ve also adopted a comprehensive sustainability and resiliency plan, which puts us in the company of more than 80% of Fortune 100 companies. And I’m proud to say, under the 2022 NAR Leadership Team, sustainability is now among our strategic priorities.”
Those strategic priorities, which guide decision-making at NAR, call on the organization to:
- Lead on sustainability among members, associations, industry groups, and communities.
- Advance policy priorities and private property rights.
- Expand housing opportunity and inventory.
- Champion REALTORS® as the best source of data for the transaction.
- Enhance members’ engagement and experience with their association.
Winning With Leslie
With her optimistic outlook, rich legacy, and experience, Rouda Smith continues the tradition of strong leadership in the 1.5 million member association. Whatever 2022 brings, members can be sure that she will focus on the resiliency of the organization and its relevance to members, says Kessler.
And although Rouda Smith’s career has focused on residential, ranch, and country properties, she says she’s committed to driving relevance for all members—both commercial and residential. “To be successful in 2022,” she says, “will mean that we all work together for our business, our families, our communities, and our future.”