Editor’s note: The National Association of Realtors’ backbone consists of industry movers and shakers — some of whom are paid staff and others volunteers — who help keep the organization pointed in the right direction and striving to meet its goals. This special five-part series takes a look at some noteworthy figures within the trade group. (See Part 1: A leading lobbyist for a powerful lobby; Part 2: NAR’s top guns; Part 4: Tech guru shaped home listings site; and Part 5: NAR committees: The leadership pecking order.)

At home recovering from a double hernia operation, Richard Mendenhall watched in stunned silence as the 9/11 events unfolded on television. Next came anger, quickly followed by the desire to do something, anything.

“I didn’t know what yet, I just knew that as Realtors, we had to do something,” said Mendenhall, who at the time was NAR’s president.

That feeling transformed into Mendenhall’s vision of the Realtors Housing Relief Fund, an effort that raised $8.5 million, and paid out that same amount in less than 100 days, Mendenhall said. The money went to the families of the World Trade Center victims to pay for their rent or mortgage for three months.

With nearly 1.1 million dues-paying members, National Association of Realtors is among the largest and most powerful trade groups in the country. NAR’s backbone includes a roster of industry “movers and shakers,” some of whom are paid staff, and others lifelong volunteers. These people keep the organization moving forward, meeting its goals and keeping strong one of the most critical industries in the U.S. economy.

Mendenhall is one example of the thousands of NAR members who dedicate their time and energy to the common cause of real estate, expecting nothing monetary in return.

Known as a leader, teacher and visionary, Mendenhall has galvanized people through his passionate speeches. His outgoing speech as NAR president moved the crowd in attendance, and had those who couldn’t be there wishing they’d made the trip.

“We could not hold back the tears as he spoke to the crowd,” Denise Whitty wrote in a letter to Inman News. “He is a man with a heart, so warm and refreshing and so real.”

A fifth-generation real estate broker from Columbia, Mo., Mendenhall also is principal in consulting firm WMWorks. His current NAR involvement includes serving as co-chair of the International Consortium of Real Estate Associations, which NAR belongs to.

Last month, he facilitated a strategic planning session for NAR’s Realtors Commercial Alliance. He also travels frequently around the country to speak with various boards on different topics, including leadership.

Being involved has given him the chance to get ideas from some of the best real estate brokers around the country and implement them in his own business, Mendenhall said.

“I serve because I really enjoy it and like it,” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall is also controversial. He was the first NAR leader to stand up to former Homestore CEO Stuart Wolff, who headed the Homestore enterprise when it got into serious trouble over an accounting scandal.

Today, several industry leaders play a behind-the-scenes role pulling the levers of the associations engines.

Alan Yassky

In the mid-1990s, the California Association of Realtors had a great public awareness campaign that attracted NAR’s interest. The national association sent Alan Yassky to California to negotiate with the California Realtors for the rights to their campaign.

Within three hours, the deal was sealed, Yassky said, and NAR had rights to what has become an “unbelievably successful” campaign. Yassky downplays his role in the process, saying he was simply asked to go. But others have said if it weren’t for him, NAR might not have obtained the campaign.

Yassky has participated in many negotiations over the years, including the original Homestore talks.

“It’s been fun to do,” said Yassky, broker/owner of Rockland Realty in Spring Valley, N.Y.

While he doesn’t dwell on his successes, others clearly have noticed his commitment. Last year, he received NAR’s prestigious Distinguished Service Award for volunteering his time, talents and energy to the real estate industry.

The award honors members who have served with distinction at the local, state and national levels in organized real estate. Recipients are generally recognized as leaders whose performance and involvement in political and community activities have been extraordinary. All recipients have held the qualifications to serve as NAR president but have never sought the position.

Inman Blog: Industry pros give their take on everything from home ownership, foreclosures, mortgages and real estate life to the weather, our economy, and politics. Check in daily to get the scoop.

Yassky served as NAR treasurer and chair of the finance committee from 1998 to 2000. He also served in a variety of other national committee roles, and in various state and local leadership positions.

Yassky currently serves as a NAR representative on Homestore’s board of directors. He continues to be involved for various reasons, among which is the sense of being a part of something larger than himself.

Nestor Weigand

Nestor Weigand, CEO of JP Weigand & Sons, has a voracious appetite not only for the latest in industry trends, but news in general. His daily reading consists of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, the local paper of whatever city he happens to be in that morning and any other paper he can get his hands on.

Yet, the 1988 NAR president insists he’s not very smart.

“If you were really bright, you wouldn’t do some of the things I’ve done,” Weigand said.

Weigand counts among those things his 1990 challenge of the incumbent Kansas governor for the Republican slot, despite pleas from the Republican Party not to run. Even Senator Bob Dole told him the only Republican running for governor was the governor, Weigand said. Still, Weigand went for it and with very little name recognition managed to come within three percentage points of the incumbent.

But it was still a loss, and one that Weigand said taught him humility. Yet that defeat hasn’t slowed him down, and he continues to be involved through activities like moderating real estate panels as he did in California recently.

Weigand enjoys serving the broader picture and working with all types of people. He inherited his work ethic from his father.

“He said if you don’t work seven days a week, you’re not working,” Weigand said. “I never forgot that.”

Joe Hanauer

While many NAR leaders who received stock options in Homestore sold their shares, Joe Hanauer held onto his formidable investments, showing his loyalty.

Hanauer has served on the Homestore board of directors since 1996, where he’s played a key role in helping to grow the Realtor.com site. He is principal of Combined Investments LP, which directs investments in companies primarily involved in real estate and financial services. Hanauer also is a former chairman and director of Grubb & Ellis Company and a former chairman of Coldwell Banker Residential Group.

Hanauer is credited as being instrumental in creating the relationship that permitted NAR to outsource the operation of Realtor.com. He also facilitated a partnership among NAR, Homestore.com and LoopNet.com, which helped LoopNet become a top commercial real estate Web site company.

He is a mentor to many leaders in the association and fights to the bitter end.

When the Council of Real Estate Brokerage Managers bestowed its annual “Hall of Leaders” award on Hanauer, the EVP of the managers’ council said Hanauer’s accomplishments seem to go on and on.

From the time that Web entrepreneurs first looked poised to cut agents from the real estate transaction, Hanauer has advocated that the industry be first out of the gate and stay unified with services such as Realtor.com.

Dick Gaylord

Dick Gaylord, a real estate broker with RE/MAX Real Estate Specialists in Long Beach, Calif., spent one day last week in Colorado. He hopped a 7½-hour flight from there to Hawaii for one day and then headed back home.

In the past 45 days, Gaylord has traveled to Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland and Illinois to name only a few states. As this year’s political fundraising chair for NAR, he spends a lot of time on the road.

“I would be lying if I said it didn’t keep me busy,” Gaylord said. He enjoys working with so many different colleagues from across the country as well as being on the “cutting edge of all the information coming out.”

The schedule and work are good training for Gaylord, who hopes to become NAR president in 2008. He’s focused on motivating and encouraging more NAR members to get involved in the organization.

“No matter what the issues are that we’re focused on, I know that if members are asked to help, they’ll be there,” he said. “We’ve got to ask them to help.”

Communication plays a large part in Gaylord’s NAR activities. He checks his e-mail at least once an hour when he’s home and not in a client meeting, and often finds himself sending association-related e-mails at odd hours.

“People joke that I don’t require a whole lot of sleep,” Gaylord said.

When Richard Mendenhall was president a few years ago, he and Gaylord often communicated via e-mail in the wee hours of the morning. Such dedication makes it difficult to understand how he manages everything.

“I do it. Period,” he said.

Joel Singer

The CEO of the California Association of Realtors started as a young researcher at the Los Angeles trade group. An economist by training and the son of trade unionist, Singer was instantly passionate about his job, providing C.A.R. with critical research insights that helped stem a move by banks in the early 1980s to stop assumable loans. The bank fight was essential to keeping a starving housing market from dying.

Since that time, Singer has built a professional team and powerful presence in California while providing intellectual and strategic advice to NAR on finance, technology, research and government policy issues.

He played a critical role in the formation of Realtor.com and was one of the first industry leaders to push for home listings on the Web.

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to samantha@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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