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A Smooth Exit Strategy

Each year, the REALTOR® organization loses some of its most experienced and iconic association executives to retirement. Although we are greatful to AEs who have dedicated their professional careers advancing association management, REALTOR® organizations need to ensure that when retiring AEs walk out the door, all their years of valuable institutional knowledge don’t leave with them.

To harness retiring AEs’ expertise and help AEs and their associations navigate the transition, NAR’s Association Executives Committee formed a work group to develop transitioning tools.

In developing the new retirement and succession planning toolkit (available later this year through, the Association Executives Transitions Work Group surveyed about 20 retired AEs for their input, gathered information on succession planning, and identified ways to assist new AEs in their role. Here is some essential advice from AEs familiar with the transition process on what to expect when an AE decides to move on.

Planning years in advance

Although Bill Malkasian, EVP of the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association for 37 years, won’t be retiring until the end of 2012, he is already working closely with his replacement, Michael Theo (the current GAD). “You have an obligation to develop an exit strategy and to help with the process,” explains Malkasian. This sentiment is supported by work group survey results, which indicate that planning is crucial, from both an association standpoint and a personal perspective.

Benny McMahan, who has led the Texas Association of REALTORS® for 28 years, started his transition process nearly five years ago. “I wanted to make sure that the association was in great shape before I retired,” says McMahan, who will be replaced in early 2010 by Travis Kessler, former AE for the San Antonio association.

Thanks to the ample notice, the Texas board of directors was able to determine the programs and services that defined the association’s short-term objectives and long-term mission. With this knowledge as their guide, they then identified the traits, characteristics, and experience that the new AE would need to possess in order to achieve those goals.

Not all outgoing AEs have taken this long to plan their exit. Eight months before he left the Arizona Association of REALTORS® in 2007, Ty Strout documented all of his association procedures and budgeting processes. He also began discussing relevant issues, preparing budgets, and collaborating on projects with his replacement.

In a survey of recently retired AEs, nearly half of the respondents provided around one year’s notice; 35 percent gave between six months and one year’s notice, while 27 percent gave more than two years’ notice.

Preparing emotionally to retire

Before deciding to retire, Judith Lindenau, who was AE of the Travers City Area Association of -REALTORS® for 30 years, took one month off of work to test the retirement waters. When she found that she did, in fact, know what to do with all that spare time, she retired in 2007.

But Lindenau also hired a personal coach who helped get her emotionally prepared for the transition. One of the major benefits of using a personal coach, she says, is that “you have a disinterested, third-party adviser” who can give an unbiased opinion on what you should do. Through visioning exercises, the coach encouraged Lindenau to imagine a life in which she did not have an office to go to every day. “The coach told me to visualize my day and to think about what my values are and how I wanted to fill up my time.” The visualization helped her to “see” herself outside of the office, which—as it turns out—includes traveling and consulting.

Staying in Touch and Letting Go

Although some AEs are happy to sever their -REALTOR® ties permanently, others like to remain active in the REALTOR® family. One-fourth of the survey respondents indicated that they did not plan on doing any type of association work on a contractual basis. Some of the respondents noted, however, that they would like to stay connected through continued access to and NAR meetings, among other activities.

Encouraged by the findings of the Association Executives Transitions Work Group, the AEC is exploring options and opportunities to keep our retired AEs in the fold.

How to start succession planning

Succession planning is much more deliberate and time-intensive than merely replacing the person who’s leaving. It requires being more conscious in planning the future and deciding what skills, knowledge, and abilities are needed.

To start, association leadership should complete the questionnaire in the recently updated REALTOR® Association Models Planning Tool ( The questionnaire can be used to identify where your association currently is in terms of delivering services and where the association would like to be three to five years from today. The tool will also generate an AE job description based on your responses. More than simply filling a position, selecting the succeeding AE is an opportunity to choose a new direction for the association. n

Editor’s Note: HR consulting services are available from NAR to assist you in your AE search. Details on services offered can be found at

“Where are the bank accounts?!”
When an AE leaves without much notice or planning, the replacement and staff can be left with a complex puzzle of management details to sort out. From passwords to procedures, so much essential information is often stored only in the AE’s head.

To ensure that your association isn’t left in a lurch should the AE (or other critical staff) exit suddenly, an AEC workgroup created the “operational guidelines at-a-glance resource sheet.” This form contains everything the new AE needs to know about your association’s unique practices and policies. Access this new resource below:

Operational Guidelines.xlsx

Notice: The information on this page may not be current. The archive is a collection of content previously published on one or more NAR web properties. Archive pages are not updated and may no longer be accurate. Users must independently verify the accuracy and currency of the information found here. The National Association of REALTORS® disclaims all liability for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information or data found on this page.



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