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 3: Volunteers who call the shots at NAR; and Part 5: NAR committees: The leadership pecking order.)

A massive technology venture of the National Association of Realtors was floundering financially. Though the nation was on the brink of the Internet Age, the association’s first major effort to consolidate home listings online was in deep trouble. The association invested an estimated $15 million in this unprecedented effort, the Realtors Information Network, and money problems brought the project dangerously close to failure.

Enter Robert Goldberg, a technology whiz recruited to the association in 1995 to identify problems and to salvage the effort.

“I helped uncover some of the improprieties in the past. That’s why I’m still here,” he said. In addition to this housecleaning of the fledgling network, Goldberg helped to transform the network into a separate business venture. “We were successful in outsourcing (the network) to a third party bringing outside investors and outside dollars to the table so it wouldn’t be a burden to the membership,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg is one of many NAR staff members dedicated to carrying out critical work for the association. With nearly 1.1 million dues-paying members, NAR 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.

Today, home listings from Realtors across the country are featured on Realtor.com, a Web site that is operated by Homestore Inc. through a contract with the association. Goldberg, 47, is president and CEO of the Realtors Information Network, and he also serves as senior vice president of marketing and business development for the association.

He has helped navigate the association through the woes of HomeStore’s accounting scandal. NAR is a minority shareholder in HomeStore and licenses its Realtor name to the online real estate company.

Though Realtor.com is not directly operated by the association, it is still affiliated with the association, and Goldberg and his staff are responsible for ensuring that Homestore operates the site in compliance with its contract. “We are the watchdog in terms of what they do every single day,” he said. And Homestore is still in its formative stages, he said. “It is a for-profit company that hasn’t made a profit. We are wrestling with them on an effective business model that will work.”

While a number of members post home listings for free on Realtor.com, some Realtors have chosen to enhance these listings for a fee, Goldberg said that it is one of his goals to increase the use of these enhanced offerings.

Goldberg is among the younger members of the association’s senior management team, but that’s nothing new for him. Prior to taking a job at the association, Goldberg was a senior vice president with PRC Realty Systems, now known as Interealty Corp. Interealty is a leading provider of multiple listing service systems and real estate software in North America and has more than 145,000 users under contract for its MLXchange MLS system. He worked at PRC for 11 years, and also served in management roles for business operations, sales, product marketing, product support and customer service.

It was a personal experience with a Realtor that led Goldberg to a career in the industry. “I was in the process of buying a house — I was looking to either rent or buy,” he said. It was the early 1980s, and his Realtor connected to listings online by connecting the telephone headset to a cradle that transmitted and received the electronic information. The data printed out on thermal paper. “PCs weren’t even out yet,” Goldberg recalled.

In the early 1980s, while working on an online resume-matching project that linked job-seekers with employers, Goldberg said he quickly saw the parallels to online home listings technology — and so did PRC managers, who recruited him for a job when he was in his 20s.

“I’m extremely passionate about the industry,” he said.

While many Realtors were behind the times in the early days of the World Wide Web, he said they have been surprisingly fast learners. “Their appreciation for technology continues to grow,” he said. About 20,000 Realtors have completed a technology education program in its first two years, he said. A growing number of members now participate in online continuing education courses, he also said.

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As a manager of marketing and business development programs for the association, Goldberg oversees Realtor VIP alliance programs, which offer insurance, financial services and other products and services to association members at discounted prices. He also oversees marketing communications and promotions efforts that conduct surveys and focus groups and provide materials to Realtors explaining the benefits they receive for their membership dues.

Goldberg works in the association’s headquarters in Chicago, and he sometimes travels to California to meet with Homestore executives and to meet with other potential business partners around the country. Communicating the benefits of association membership, growing non-dues revenue, and keeping Homestore viable are major aspects of his job.

“We really have to make sure that we equally represent every member in the organization,” Goldberg said. “There’s not a cookie-cutter formula. We have 1.1 million individual business people that we’re serving that come from all walks of life. It makes the challenge so great and so much fun.”

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What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com.

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