Gary Keller announced on Tuesday he would be resuming the role of CEO at the namesake company Keller Williams, which he co-founded in 1983. It’s the first time in more than two decades Keller will serve as CEO and it’s a decision that didn’t come as a surprise to many in the industry.
One real estate industry executive, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, told Inman that, “people who pay attention are not too surprised.”
“Running a big company like [Keller Williams] is probably tough, especially when they are trying to change so much about who they are,” the executive said. “Gary ran it when it was smaller and before all of their talk about technology, so it will probably be fun for him to learn something new as well.”
“We wish him luck in his competition with eXp,” added the executive, who neither works at Keller Williams nor eXp Realty.
EXp Realty declined to comment for this story, but Keller and Glenn Sanford, the founder of the virtual cloud brokerage eXp Realty, have a history spanning more than a decade. Sanford was a top Keller Williams agent for three years in the early 2000s and Keller considered acquiring the vendor of eXp Realty’s virtual world last year.
Terry Trexler, an agent with eXp Realty, said he was not surprised by the executive shift, given the tenor of Keller’s appearance at Inman Connect in San Francisco in July, which was Keller’s first industry conference appearance outside of a Keller Williams event.
“This is just my opinion but after how [Keller] acted at the last Inman interview where he seemed upset, out of touch, arrogant, and disrespectful; I expected to see him want to ‘take the lead’ and attempt to go head to head with [all the people and companies] he disrespected,” Trexler told Inman. “My opinion is he feels threatened by the new landscape.”
Compass CEO Robert Reffkin, another real estate industry executive whose company has leaned heavily on new technology, wished Keller well when asked by Inman.
“I welcome and respect anyone whose mission is to uplift the industry,” Reffkin said. “Gary Keller has long been a positive figure in real estate, and I wish him success in this new chapter.”
For many Keller Williams agents, the announcement was a cause for celebration. Some no longer with Keller Williams didn’t appear happy with the way ousted CEO John Davis was running the company, especially with growth slowing in recent years.
According to an internal summary of year-end numbers obtained by Inman, agent count grew by just 7.2 percent in 2018, down from 12.8 percent in 2017, 15.1 percent in 2016 and 17.8 percent in 2015. Davis was also notably in charge of running the company’s growth initiative, which added more than 100,000 agents since its inception in 2011.
Davis will no longer hold any corporate role with Keller Williams, but a company source says he continues to maintain ownership in multiple market centers and regions.
Carla Thompson, a real estate and business coach in Colorado, saw that static growth first hand.
“For five years, I was team leader of one of the larger [Keller Williams] offices (about 450 agents),” Thompson wrote on Inman Coast to Coast. “In the last four years since I stepped away, the market center has barely grown.”
Thompson said the leadership at the office was forced to cut their cap of what they were charging agents by one-third and the office will need to recruit more than 200 agents to return to its current level of profitability.
“[Keller] has always stood on ‘volume is the key,’” Thompson added. “That metric will continue.”
“The more interesting observation is that this first market center lowering its costs to a point where it needs to be 750+ agents to make significant enough money to create decent profit share means that driving revenue through the brokerage model is no longer their primary focus,” Thompson added. “They will concentrate on growing agent count to have the database to up-sell their technology offerings.”
Others praised the decision and the technology focus that Keller and newly-promoted president Josh Team will bring. Dozens of comments celebrated the decision and expressed hopeful thoughts for the future of the company under its new leadership on the original Inman story about the leadership shuffle.
“Josh [Team] and Gary [Keller] will take us to the next level as we officially leave the real estate arena and surge to the top of the technology industry,” Joel Feldman, a Keller Williams agent in Maryland, wrote in a comment on the original story.
“Gary [Keller] has always been the visionary you could count on and with Josh [Team’s] tech-savvy we are poised to take more territory,” added Kristen Sapp Cole, the operating principal at Keller Williams North Arizona Realty, in a comment.
Chris Suarez, the operating principle of Xperience Real Estate Keller Williams and the leader of the expansion coaching program for Keller Williams International shared a note he wrote on Facebook about what the decision means from the inside of Keller Williams.
“The real estate industry is going through a storm,” Suarez wrote. “A welcomed one. One we have prepared for. And one that requires work. It will take a lot of hands on deck, and it will take the most skilled captain. The biggest message in [Tuesday] evening’s news is that Gary Keller is on the deck. He has stepped back in to man the helm of the ship. As leaders of real estate offices, real estate teams, or businesses outside of our industry, there is a lesson here. Get ready to step back in and do the work this year.”