The 2015 AE Institute in Vancouver marks the once-every-five-year joint meeting of Canadian and American REALTOR® association executives. Although real estate practice is slightly different in Canada, AEs on both sides of the border face many of the same challenges when it comes to providing value to members, says Rob Philipp, CEO of the 2,800-member Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, located just east of Vancouver, Canada.
Philipp is co-chair of this year’s AE Institute and played a key role in session development. “Most of our sessions are applicable and beneficial for everyone,” says Philipp. “The speakers are from both countries. And of course, the networking and relationships created last a lifetime.”
To help AEs focus on what they need now, there are four educational tracks at the institute: Industry Relationships, Re-engineer your Association, Technology and Communications, and Best Practices in REALTOR® Association Management. RAE spoke to Philipp about some of his own best practices and success stories.
Q. Prior to your current position, you were a business strategist at PricewaterhouseCoopers, consulting with corporate CEOs. What corporate management best practices were you able to implement at your board?
A: Regardless of where I work, the key element for me is to build and develop a great team. With 45 employees, it comes down to taking the time to understand diverse people and their needs and skills and matching that with the needs of the organization. We foster a culture of excellence, innovation, and caring, although we have had to make difficult decisions as well—and we don’t hesitate to make them; delay is bad for everyone.
Regarding our other valuable resource, our volunteers, good governance and training are vital. We make sure they have the opportunity to serve where they can have the most impact and have fun. When you’re lucky enough to have professionals volunteering time to help strategically guide their association forward, you want to ensure there’s the reward of making a difference.
Q. Your association recently reported that Fraser Valley’s real estate market returned to normal in 2014. What does this mean for the association and its programs and services?
A: Yes, 2014 was a good year for us, and we’ve been fortunate that in Canada we did not see as dramatic a drop in sales as you saw in the United States. Therefore, our recovery has been much quicker. In fact, through the downturn we continued to provide key services and programs to members and didn’t need to lay off any staff, but we did trim our budgets. Our members recognize and appreciate exceptional service and are willing to pay for it when they see value. Membership numbers have been stable over the past few years, and we anticipate that will continue.
Technology helps us serve members effectively, yet REALTORS® also value the personal connection they have with staff. We’re a relatively small organization and have a long history of working closely with our members and brokers.
Q. Your three-day real estate educational conference and trade show sells out of expo spaces and attracts a strong crowd. What is your secret to success with the event?
A: Several factors play in this success, but it all comes down to value for the dollar. At only $110 per person, this two-and-a-half-day event addresses all aspects of being an effective real estate practitioner from continual self-improvement and networking to the latest in real estate technology, plus a lineup of high-caliber speakers throughout (this year we have Canada’s most respected national TV news anchor, Peter Mansbridge). It’s also about recognizing that REALTORS® are multifaceted and they’re at different stages in their careers. Some are just starting out; some are in their third decade. So we try to offer value for everyone no matter where they’re at professionally, plus members earn continuing education credits. And finally, the real key to our conference success is our staff, who are passionate about getting it just right: finding the perfect speakers, recruiting the volunteers, and promoting the event. They have total leeway in the planning and do an amazing job.