Ask the security employees at the Burbank, Calif., airport who Richard Sommer is and they’ll likely tell you he’s the professional wrestler known as Goldberg. The new CEO of HomeGain, who stands 6 feet 3 inches with a stern look and bald head, encounters that mistake all the time, along with pleas for autographs–even after he shows his driver’s license.
Sommer has a distinguished resume, but nowhere does it include wrestler, football player or other professional athlete as many people assume. It does, however, include Rhodes Scholar, founder of an occupational medical provider, senior VP at IndyMac and now, CEO of an online real estate company.
Sommer, 43, recently began his first full week at HomeGain, which matches home buyers and sellers to real estate agents. Inman News publisher Bradley Inman is the founder of HomeGain. He will continue to serve as chairman of the board of HomeGain.
In his initial days as CEO, Sommer plans to look at the housing market, determine which companies compete with HomeGain and what they’re doing, get to know the staff and have them evaluate him, learn the history of the company and become familiar with all its business channels.
“It’s going to be very busy,” Sommer said.
He is thrilled to continue building on the success of HomeGain, which was one of the few online real estate ventures to have survived the dot-com bust. He wants to continue adding to the HomeGain team, examine other business models to add to HomeGain’s existing platform and provide top-of-the-line leads to the real estate industry.
“It’s all about who provides the most value,” Sommer said.
He believes now is a great time to work in the online real estate space, which he thinks will continue to grow and expand. The Web has changed real estate, and it is here to stay, he said.
Sommer previously was senior vice president of business development for the mortgage-banking unit at IndyMac Bank, the largest savings and loan or bank in the Los Angeles area and the tenth-largest thrift, by assets, in the nation.
Sommer was happy at IndyMac and had no plans to leave. He’s direct in explaining his decision to leave the thrift and come to HomeGain: “Brad persuaded me.”
He also realized it’s not often that you get the chance to lead a company with a successful business model and employee team in place. Sommer enjoys building and growing companies and knew if he turned down the position, it would be “something I might have regretted.”
He joined IndyMac in 2002 after serving as president and managing director of International Real Estate Operations for HomeStore, an online media and technology company for the real estate industry. There, he played a key role in the development of a next-stage strategic plan for HomeStore following the departure of its founder and CEO and served on the Board of Directors of E-Realtor, a real estate transaction platform.
Prior to joining HomeStore, Sommer was co-founder, president and CEO of Accordus, a technology infrastructure company serving the healthcare products industry. From 1988 to 1998, he was founder, president and CEO of De La Cruz Occupational Healthcare, the largest occupational medical provider to the electronics industry. He began his career with McKinsey & Co., serving the consulting firm’s clients from offices in Chicago, Milan and Paris.
He graduated in 1983 from Princeton University with a degree in politics and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a master’s degree in international political economy. In 1990, he earned a law degree from the Stanford Law School.
He had visited California before attending Stanford, but it wasn’t a state he had lived in. A self-described “corporate brat,” Sommer grew up “all over the place” – Indianapolis, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Boston – while his father moved up in his company. Sommer considers himself originally from Chicago, however, since he lived there several times and completed high school there.
As the head of his high school’s speakers’ program, Sommer decided he wanted the Rev. Jesse Jackson to speak at the school so he invited him. It took awhile to coordinate, but he eventually persuaded Jackson to visit. Two years later, during Sommer’s senior year, Jackson returned and spoke again.
Told by his father that he needed a summer job, Sommer saw an opportunity and asked Jackson for a job helping with his Operation Push for Excellence, a drive to get parents more involved in their children’s education. Sommer worked there several summers during college, an experience he regards as one of his most prized personal accomplishments.
Professionally, Sommer said he’s most proud of founding – literally from scratch – a successful business while in law school. He still takes that busy approach to things, volunteering with community groups including an AIDS project in Los Angeles. He believes it’s important for leaders to not only be involved in business affairs, but community issues as well.
And he’ll likely be busy as he’s living out of a suitcase until he closes on a house in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has his eye on a condo in San Francisco, just across the Bay Bridge from the HomeGain offices.
As he transitions from Los Angeles to the City by the Bay, he’ll no doubt have other trips to the airport and more people asking him if he’s the wrestler Goldberg or some other athlete. It happens often, but he doesn’t mind. In fact, Sommer enjoys the chance to surprise people by sharing with them what he does.
“Helping people become owners of homes is a great way to earn a living,” Sommer said.
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