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Consulting: AEs Give Back After Retirement

After being a Realtor® association executive for 28 years, Jim Peters retired to pursue a new career—consulting for Realtor® association executives. For Peters and other AEs who’ve turned consultant, the job has everything they loved about being an AE with a lot less of what they didn’t.

As an association executive at the South Carolina Realtors® Association, Peters says he was always walking a fine line, trying not to micromanage or tip the leadership balance, while attempting to implement his initiatives. A consultant can cross that line. “Throughout my career, I had anywhere from 6,000 to 22,000 bosses,” says Peters. “Now I’m not responsible to anyone but the people who hire me. I don’t have to hold back. I can be completely frank and honest in all my opinions without concerning myself about who I might politically offend.”

Giving Back to the Community
But that’s only one aspect of what draws retired AEs to consulting. One appealing aspect of staying in the industry is the opportunity to give back to a community that provided a rewarding career.

“Those of us who are doing it are doing it because we enjoy it,” Peters explains. “There are people who make a very good living doing it. But for me, my fees are designed largely to give back to an organization that has been so good to me.”

Realtors® associations continue to support their former colleagues by hiring them for everything from personal leadership coaching for elected officers to strategic planning to public relations.

Indeed, when Dennis McDermott, former head of the Missouri Realtors® Association, retired in 2006, he became a jack-of-all-trades in the consulting business. Although McDermott does a lot of strategic planning for associations, he was recently sent to Southeast Asia to do a structural audit and planning report for a Vietnamese real estate association. He has also completed a series of spokesperson training sessions, while handling projects ranging from executive coaching to speech writing along the way.

For McDermott, performing a wide range of tasks is a dramatic change from primarily supervising other people as they performed a wide range of tasks. “When you become a consultant, you have to get right back into learning how to do those things for yourself because there’s no one else to do that for you,” he says. Now, as a one-man operation, McDermott has spent time learning and relearning how to perform all the tasks he used to be able to delegate, such as marketing and PR.

McDermott likes the variety of his new job and, like many association executives who have gone on to form consulting businesses, he treasures his independence.

Gaining a fresh perspective
Consultants seem to agree that having autonomy from the organization they’re working for affords them a fresh perspective.

Jerry Matthews, who worked as CEO of the Florida and Illinois Realtors® associations before setting up a consulting business, says, “The view is broader and longer-range. It is at a higher level and more external and not limited by association traditions or internal processes.”

Matthews specializes in presentations on future trends, as well as strategic planning, executive coaching and executive recruiting. He says that as a consultant he can more easily analyze trends affecting the entire industry and focus on the individual needs of organizations in relation to those trends. Also, because he’s not limited by association traditions or internal processes, Matthews says he “can facilitate deeper and broader strategic discussions that can have a dramatic impact on individual organizations.”

According to Judith Lindenau, who started her coaching and consulting business six years before retiring from the Traverse Area Realtors® Association in 2007, after nearly 30 years, “The ability to distance yourself to better identify a problem is important. It’s easier, by the way,” she explains, “to do this kind of analysis in an association other than your own … and a very real reason for me to enjoy the consulting business.”

Before her retirement, Lindenau says that working as a consultant made her a better association executive. Now a full-time consultant, Lindenau recently has taken on such projects as bringing a new AE up to speed on the ways associations operate and providing a client with personal coaching assistance focused on developing leadership skills. “Often a third-party voice is important in solving specific concerns or developing new skill sets to meet an immediate need.”

Every job has its downside, too. “When you work for an association, if the association decides to do something, there is some risk, but it’s different because you’re using the resources of the association. If it doesn’t work as well as it might have, you move on,” McDermott says. “But when it’s your business, you have to learn why it didn’t work. You say, ‘I just spent the money, so I’d better learn from this.’ ”

Despite any risks, former association executives with decades of experience are finding in the consulting business an irresistible second act to their first career. It’s irresistible because it not only allows them to nurture personal and professional relationships built over decades, but to translate their years of experience into something that will better the industry. n

Be a Consultant ... While Still an AE?
Considering how demanding the job of a Realtor® association executive is, few AEs could imagine taking on additional consulting work on the side. But for Judith Lindenau, her side work gave her not only additional income but also new ways to use her extensive knowledge of association management.

Although Lindenau says she didn’t take on a wide variety of consulting jobs as a working AE, she did become a consultant for the International Real Property Foundation and traveled internationally on its behalf.

But to do both, she says, there must be consent and agreement with the association’s board of directors. “Early on, we had a board meeting to determine the parameters of my consulting—basically I would do outside work on my own time using vacation days or accumulated personal days, and that the association would in no way subsidize travel and other expenses.”

Lindenau also presented the consulting as benefiting to the association. First, it was a way to retain Lindenau as CEO, considering that she had more lucrative offers elsewhere that the association couldn’t match. Secondly, “our members were proud to see that they had an AE to whom others turned for advice,” she says.

“My advice is, talk it over with your board and get a written policy that spells out the terms of accepting consulting engagements and even have it mentioned in your employment contract,” she says. Lindenau’s contract said she was free to accept other jobs as long as they didn’t interfere with her contractual obligations with her association and that the board of directors would be the determining factor.

Another tip, says Lindenau, is to keep rigorous records of time spent on consulting as well as expenses and fees so there’s no misunderstanding, and keep reminding everyone that the consulting jobs are on personal time and not at the association’s expense.

No longer working behind the scenes . . . former association executives put themselves front and center and market their services online.,,,

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