The Future AE Leaders

When Mark Epstein became the association executive of California’s 2,250-member Tri-Counties Association of REALTORS® in 2005, he was 33 years old.

Although he’d won the confidence and support of his leadership, staff, and members through his savvy implementation of technology solutions and his thoughtful management style, he met resistance at the national level.

“Unfortunately, there are still some who feel younger AEs should not have a seat at the grown-up table,” Epstein laments. “We continue to deal with a few naysayers who do not recognize our value as thought leaders.”

The young professionals network for association executives (AE YPN) was launched in 2008 to change this perception and create a forum through which younger AEs could feel welcome to contribute. This year Epstein—who is now the AE of the Citrus Valley Association of REALTORS®, Calif.—is the chair.

“I feel the AE YPN has been successful in encouraging more AEs to participate and to change perceptions,” he says. “We continue to grow both in size and knowledge by developing our network and building friendship with our peers.”

Yet hurdles remain, Epstein admits. “Some think that, as younger professionals, we just want to drink and party, when, in fact, we too want to do the best at our job and make our leadership proud.”

Q. What would you like seasoned AEs to better understand about the AE YPN, its objectives, and members?

The AE YPN is the future of REALTOR® associations. If our organizations are to remain relevant and essential to the business success of our members and ensure the dream of home ownership for consumers for the next 30 years, AEs at every size organization will need stronger skills. We’ll need to be strong leaders with advanced tech savvy, deep political understanding, and multifaceted management skills. We will take the baton and, with the help of the AE YPN and the rest of the organization, we’ll be ready.

Q. Young professionals can, on one hand, be perceived as innovative, energetic, and tech savvy. On the other, they can be viewed as inexperienced, unproven, and naive. How do you reconcile these two aspects?

Yes, younger AEs often have more native tech understanding than older AEs and we’re less entrenched in the “way-things-have-always-been-done” mode of management. This is the value we can bring to any table. But we’re not cocky. We know there’s a lot to learn. I learn from my peers and those who have been in the business for many decades by keeping my eyes and ears open.

Q. Is the AE YPN an entry point for AEs—who otherwise would not be involved—to become engaged at the national level?

Yes, the AE YPN is a great opportunity and entry point for AEs to become involved. Five years ago when I answered an AE committee call for volunteers, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was a bit scared. I felt that I had something to give and wanted to find a venue to share it in. There was no AE YPN at the time, so I had no method to network with other younger AEs across the country.

Q. One of the AE YPN’s stated goals is “to help younger AEs stay connected and engaged with the association; let their voices be heard.” How, specifically, are you pursuing this goal?

In an effort to stay connected this year, I started AE YPN quarterly conference calls. We all have limited time, so these calls are no more than 30 minutes. We usually have some kind of short informative update, typically focusing on new technology for associations, then the remainder of the call is something I call idea share. During this period, anyone can share ideas or best practices that have made a difference in their association.

Q. When a group of young AEs gather, what are the most common topics discussed?

AE YPN Meet-Ups, held at all NAR meetings, and open to all AEs regardless of age, tend to focus on ways to do more with less. We all have less staff, and with technology we now have ways to streamline and automate processes that were once lengthy.

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