Tom Phillips, co-founder of mid-Atlantic multiple listing service giant Bright MLS, is leaving his role as CEO of the organization next month, amid an avalanche of complaints from real estate agents frustrated with the multiple listing service’s software system.
The MLS is also taking on a new chief technology officer and a tech consultant.
Phillips has headed Bright MLS since its launch two years ago and grown it to about 95,000 agent and broker subscribers in six mid-Atlantic states.
Brian Donnellan, Bright’s chief operating officer will serve as interim CEO while the MLS’s board of directors search for a new CEO.
Phillips, along with Bright consultant and former chief strategy officer David Charron, spearheaded the merger of Bright’s predecessors, MRIS and TREND, to usher in what they called “the next era of MLS.”
Under Phillips’ leadership, Bright itself has joined forces with other mega MLSs in a think tank called the MLS RoundTable to commit to a plan to rebuild the technology behind property listings across the U.S. and streamline the delivery of listing data for real estate agents and brokers.
But it appears the much-ballyhooed MRIS-TREND merger has not worked out as planned. Despite oft-repeated assertions by MLS leaders that “technology is never the problem” when it comes to MLS mergers, agents have littered Bright MLS’s Facebook page with complaints about the system malfunctioning.
Nearly 800 Bright subscribers have even formed a separate, closed Facebook group called “Bright MLS Nightmares and Support.”
Asked whether Phillips resigned or was fired, Bright spokesperson Rachel Henderson told Inman via email, “Tom was not fired, he did not resign and he was not asked to resign. He and the [board’s] executive committee had discussions and reached a mutually agreeable plan for him to depart.”
Asked whether Phillips was leaving because of agent complaints, Henderson said, “No.”
“When you evolve something as important as the MLS for 95,000 real estate professionals, there are going to be challenges. Now that we are on a unified platform, our No. 1 priority is creating a great experience for all of our subscribers,” she said.
“He was committed to reaching this milestone. Now, having met it, he feels he can responsibly pass the baton,” she added.
Henderson said Phillips had brought “tireless dedication” to “an ambitious, challenging and ultimately successful endeavor.” Phillips, who is 55 years old, “is exploring a number of opportunities” in regard to future employment, she said. His last day will be March 15.
“He has no regrets,” Henderson added.
That did not seem to be the case for many of Bright’s subscribers, however.
“I AM SO FRUSTRATED WITH Bright MLS! We converted from Trend in [December] and there are so many problems with this system,” wrote South Jersey agent Gwen Mazzeo on Bright MLS’s public Facebook page.
“This is the only MLS I can use, THIS IS MY JOB, I NEED THIS SYSTEM TO WORK PROPERLY!! Who’s idea was it to take us from a perfectly good product to this inferior one??”
The problems reported by agents seemed widespread rather than isolated to one part of Bright’s system. Subscribers condemned Bright’s poor customer service, lack of responsiveness, data inaccuracy, and features that didn’t work, were missing or lacked utility.
Some of the reported issues appeared to cause the agents much alarm, and even anger. Bright’s service area covers 40,000 square miles throughout the mid-Atlantic region, including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia. Its subscribers serve over 20 million consumers, according to the company.
Some help may be on the way. As Phillips departs, two new faces have joined Bright. Frank Major, former chief information officer for Amify, a software and data company whose customers are Amazon marketplace sellers, joined Bright in October as its chief technology officer (CTO), according to his LinkedIn profile.
Major has “a proven ability to build and mature IT organizations” and “extensive experience building successful strategic plans and delivering large-scale systems and services in a variety of sectors,” Bright said in a press release. Major has also previously served as chief architect at PenFed Credit Union and held similar roles at Capital One, USAA and Freddie Mac, the MLS said.
Also bringing technology chops is Mark Lesswing, CTO for the National Association of Realtors until he was let go in July after an organizational restructuring. Lesswing will be a dedicated consultant at Bright. In a press release, Bright touted that, “Prior to joining NAR, Mark was involved in major corporate turnarounds.” He is currently chief blockchain officer for DomiDocs, a blockchain company for real estate documents, according to his LinkedIn profile.
“We’ve surpassed a lot of milestones in 2018 and navigated huge change along the way. But we begin the new year staying close to our original mission to build a better MLS for our subscribers, and with a renewed energy to help drive their business forward,” Phillips said in a statement.
“The additions of this superstar duo of experts in Frank and Mark is integral to this goal. Their extensive industry and technology expertise will help us continually evolve, champion change and provide subscribers with the tools they need to succeed now and in the future.”
Before Major’s hire, there wasn’t previously a formal CTO role at Bright. Rather, the MLS “had many strategic partners and advisors working to achieve a successful conversion,” Henderson said.
“As we are growing, we felt it was important to create an internal role to help take Bright forward into the future.”
Both Major and Lesswing will be in charge of “enhancing the MLS experience and creating innovative solutions” for Bright’s subscribers, according to Henderson.
“We remain focused on making system changes and upgrades that improve subscriber satisfaction with the system and offer new training and support. Many steps have already been taken, and more will be announced soon. This continues to be our no. 1 priority.”
Charron, who emphasized he was not speaking as a company spokesman, acknowledged that Bright and its customers had had challenges and said Bright was a “Herculean effort that is ongoing.”
“This was a monumental effort that’s going to provide great value to Bright subscribers for years to come. Tom of course was instrumental to this effort as he guided the company since inception. He is stepping away and now Brian Donnellan is stepping up. Bright is fortunate to have Brian in place,” Charron told Inman via email.
“In 2018, Bright facilitated almost $100 billion in residential real estate transactions. But there is no question that achieving this incredible volume was more difficult than anticipated.”
Bright’s board is now starting a nationwide search for Phillips’ replacement, which Henderson said “will take the appropriate amount of time.”
“The board is looking for a leader who is passionate about innovation, data-driven and creating the best user experience for subscribers. The next CEO should have an entrepreneurial spirit who will be well-positioned to build on the strong foundation Tom created, and continue to drive the company and the industry forward,” she said.