In 2016, John Mosey suffered a health crisis so severe it put him out of commission for nearly half a year and left him so debilitated that when he signed his discharge papers, he couldn’t even complete an “X,” let alone his own name.
At that point, Mosey, who is now 72, could have retired from his job as CEO of Minnesota-based NorthstarMLS. But there was work left to be done. Mosey’s first job in real estate was selling MLS books in Toronto in 1975, pre-internet, when most agents were still using tear sheets. With his decades-long work at real estate tech firm Moore Data Management Services, he pushed the envelope, introducing new technology to an industry that has been historically resistant to change, evolving slowly.
“There’s a slow-to-adopt characteristic to the industry,” Mosey told Inman in an exclusive phone interview. “There’s a reaction before there’s adoption. And the reaction is ‘No.’ Then quickly, and I think this is just probably true in any industry, those who see the opportunity and the value in something will quickly grasp it and run with it and succeed. And those that were reluctant to adopt, play catch up.”
But, despite accolades from his peers, when he considered his work at NorthstarMLS, which he’d helmed since July 2002, he felt he’d come up short, particularly as he saw other MLSs taking bold steps toward consolidation.
“It’s puny, how little we’ve actually accomplished,” he told an audience of hundreds of MLS executives in October 2017, months after being discharged. “Personally, I’m ashamed for my part in this failure. We’ve worked at this for over a decade and achieved next to nothing meaningful and it’s a travesty. It’s a dark spot on a career that I’ve attempted to do good by.”
Five years later, Mosey announced Friday he will retire after 47 years in the industry and 20 years at Northstar. Mosey told Inman that he didn’t know when his last day would be, but that he expected it would happen by the end of the year, after Northstar’s board of directors scours the nation to choose his successor.
By then he’ll be ready to hand over the reins. After his health scare, no longer confident that he had an unlimited amount of runway to do everything he wanted to do, “I came back with a vengeance,” he said.
Northstar made some staff changes, terminated a vendor contract, signed on with a new core service, stepped up its support of industrywide initiatives such as the Broker Public Portal, MLS Grid and Upstream.
And after 15 years of attempting to convince surrounding MLSs to merge with them, Mosey came up with an alternative: creating a shared database and listing input system, the Common Data Platform, which attempted to address every objection a smaller MLS might have by allowing them to keep their own identity, their own rules, their own administration.
The database is compatible with all major MLS interfaces, minimizing change for agents, but allowing MLS partners access to a wider inventory of listings.
Now, more than 96 percent of Minnesota Realtors have access to shared listing data through the platform without having to pay for multiple MLS subscriptions, either because their MLS has joined the platform as a partner or because the platform inspired so much trust that the MLS decided to merge with Northstar.
“This will grow eventually, until someday in the future where I think there’ll be a dozen or 20 MLS services across the country or at least databases,” Mosey said. “And we’ll just grow into each other.”
During Mosey’s tenure, Northstar has grown from about 7,500 subscribers in 2002 to 22,000 now.
“John has had a vision of creating an MLS ecosystem where information sharing and economies of scale can transcend geography and political structures,” said John Fridlington, CEO of the Saint Paul Area Association of Realtors, one of three NorthstarMLS shareholder associations, in a statement.
“He has taken NorthstarMLS from its infancy and through adolescence and into an ever-more successful and future-focused period.”
In a press release, Mosey’s peers praised him as a “visionary” leader who leads by example.
“John encourages other MLSs to control their destiny when it comes to their data,” said Art Carter, CEO of the California Regional MLS.
“He helped show the way that if you could develop that piece on your own, it put you into a much stronger position to do some of the things you need for your brokerage community.”
Carter also highlighted Mosey’s straightforward manner.
“One of the things I admire about John is that if he agrees with you, he’ll tell you; and if he disagrees with you, you’ll hear that, too,” Carter said. “He is always the consummate professional. If there was a Mount Rushmore of MLS execs, John’s head would be among them.”
As he prepares to ride off into the sunset, Mosey says his legacy is to have “done good” by the industry.
“I’ve worked hard for making it a better place,” he said. “The real estate industry has been good to me too. It’s been a two-way thing. I feel like I’ve done things that have made it a better industry and that works better for Realtors. I like them. I think they do a magnificent job and are great people to work for. I’m proud of the things I’ve done that have changed things for the better.”
Regarding his post-retirement plans, Mosey thinks Northstar’s board may decide to keep him on as a consultant to help with the transition, but otherwise he hopes to fill his days with grandbabies and “‘me’ time.”
“Part of what made me successful over the years is that I do dive in,” Mosey said. “Full-time for me is all the time in my job. It doesn’t leave a lot of ‘me’ time. My kids will tell you that they didn’t feel like they lacked for that attention, but at the same time, there’s lots of books I want to read, lots of places I want to go.
“I just want to be able to do stuff that I want to do this moment instead of stuff I have to do or feel obliged to do because it’s part of the job.”