AE Profile: Courage to Change

Terry Penza is an adventurer. From hot-air ballooning to world travel, Penza has a desire to experience something new, take chances, and seek out opportunities to learn. That also applies to her work as the president and CEO of the North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTORS® in Illinois.

Penza is the 2012 recipient of the William R. Magel Award for excellence in REALTOR® association management, in part for how she leads her association on a continuous adventure, keeping pace with changes in the industry.

“The real estate business is still changing rapidly,” says Penza. “Now is the perfect time for members to incorporate new business ventures, so associations must be cognitive and find ways to assist or inform. Associations must make adjustments to fit the needs of today’s real estate professional.”

One way NSBAR accomplishes this is with its advanced technology outreach and consulting service that ensures members have training and advice on the latest technology. “Members can call for guidance on purchasing, repairing, and learning nearly any technology,” explains Penza. “We struggle to break even with this service, but many REALTORS® says they’re members because of it.”

Even in today’s economic climate, NSBAR adapted quickly to stay relevant to members’ changing business needs. “We did not panic,” notes Penza, regarding the housing slump and recession. “We solved challenges through brain power and creativity and did not just throw money at problems. We were empathic enough to understand the needs of the members.” For example, the association launched 32 free member appreciation classes developed and taught by staff, ranging from iPad/iPhone how-tos, to courses on composting, social media, and self-defense.

Arming members, both brokers and their agents, with the information they need to manage change is another way Penza keeps her organization invaluable. “We produce nearly 100 pages of real estate market stats each month, giving our members helpful information and insight that they can use to become experts in the real estate business sector.” NSBAR also tracks trends from agent phone calls, questions, and concerns to relay back to brokers and owners. “We give them a perspective no one else can, and we take the time to do that.”

Penza’s association management philosophy also focuses on adaptability, connectivity, and the hiring of staff who are willing to push themselves to learn new skills and take on new tasks. “Firing people is the worst part of my job and I do not do it very well, but as things change, staff must also change.”

Penza advises less experienced AEs to stay in touch with members and to always answer the phone. “Widen your reading to other industries and conflicting views, pick a few blogs to monitor, and, of course, read everything from state and national. But most of all, keep a sense of humor.”

Penza attributes her successes after 36 years in REALTOR® association management to knowing and respecting members and putting their needs first, behaving ethically, answering all messages before leaving the office, and taking a day off every once in a while to visit another association because “every one of us can learn from one another.”

NSBAR continues to bring in more members from other associations than it loses (although it does not actively recruit from other associations) because of its relevant services. In a metropolitan area that once had 17 REALTOR® associations, NSBAR is among the remaining seven—no doubt in part because of Penza’s flexibility, adaptability, and courage to go where few association executives have gone before.

Terese (Terry) Penza, RCE, CAE, is president and CEO of the North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTORS®, Ill. Contact her at (847) 480-7177 or

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