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Layoffs, return-to-office anxiety, sky-high interest rates, a wounded housing market and a rattled real estate community. I have a job for you, CEO of the largest real estate services company on the planet.
Welcome to Anywhere CEO Ryan Schneider’s world.
In his previous life as an executive in the dog-eat-dog credit card industry, Schneider could pull a few levers to grow his market share. With money and a scientific eye for ROI, banks can buy customers.
He excelled for nine years at Capital One before joining the real estate industry, which is a morass of intermediaries, customer confusion and opaque relationships.
In this dreary housing market, data-driven Schneider could spend a billion dollars to buy agents, brokers or consumers and not move the market-share needle much at all.
He was an outsider who is still learning the insider real estate game.
The top thing that “I learned in the last five years is how much more there is to learn,” said Schneider in an interview with Inman this week.
The fragmented real estate industry can be infinitely more frustrating than rule-based retail banking.
But after five-plus years on the job, Schneider’s feathers are not easily ruffled by the messy real estate industry. And all he sees is opportunity.
“When the top five firms only represent 15 percent of the market, it is wide open. Compare that to banking where the top five banks have upwards of 50 percent share.”
“It’s an even playing field with all real estate firms facing the same difficult environment,” he says.
Brains and humility trump charisma
A quintessential GenXer, Schneider is a steady, inclusive and collaborative leader, a man of his generation. In that spirit, he recognizes that it is the “wisdom of crowds that is smarter than any single executive or expert.”
Steeped in East Coast traditions, Schneider attended the elite Williams College, established in 1793, with an annual tuition of $65,000. He earned his Ph.D. from Yale University, which sits at the tippy top of the intellectual pyramid of American education.
However, he doesn’t carry himself as a blue blood nor as a man of the people. Schneider is an ambitious and practical corporate doer.
Not bubbly but not cold
He likes technology, but Schneider is not a nerd, though he favors the tech-bro wardrobe.
He’s decisive, but the 53-year-old executive carefully orchestrates controversial decisions like spreading out company layoffs. He prioritizes smart corporate communications without being too slick.
He is respected by partners, customers and employees but he keeps a professional distance. In business, Schneider is not a hugger, but he loves iconic rocker Queen songs.
One executive told me, “I like Ryan and respect him, but I never had dinner with him and we have no plans to go golfing, hunting or fishing.”
Realtor Greg Kiely saw someone “who doesn’t lead through sound bites and PR quotes. He doesn’t lead through investor presentations and spreadsheets. Ryan gets down with his people and lets them work through problems to solutions.”
“Being a good learner is core to my management style,” said Schneider. “I make better decisions when I listen and learn. Being curious is who I am”.
When he took over at Realogy in December 2017, Schneider inherited a sprawling enterprise with seven distinct brands and eight different business lines. And a $3.38 billion debt load. That worked when the housing market was strong.
He consolidated operations, cut some business lines and shaved the debt to $2.7 billion and extended maturities. But the debt looms large with rising interest rates and credit tightening on corporate lending.
The balance sheet headache is tricky when transactions are stunted, like they have been the last nine months.
Anywhere lost $453 million in Q4 2022. Q1 is a pivotal quarter.
These financial realities would seemingly limit the company’s ability to grow market share, drive industry consolidation and innovate.
Schneider says that is not the case.
“We have the financial resources to make investments.” He is focused on three areas: franchise sales, lead generation and luxury.
Anywhere has not been leading the digital reinvention of real estate, but Schneider says it must be a priority because the consumer experience is so bad.
”A company of our scale can make a difference.”
Since Schneider took over the top job, the company stock has sunk from $14.50 a share to $4.99 as of Wednesday afternoon. To be fair, competitors’ stocks have seen similar plunges.
Investor patience has been tested, but it has not turned hostile. They need their CEO’s steady hand.
The business challenges are the same at most real estate companies — the housing market dip has been unforgiving.
“I try to block out macro concerns and focus on what we can control,” Schneider told me.
Which leader do you bet on in this situation? Humble, strategic and smart, Schneider seems well suited for the grind.
Brokers or agents? Who do I serve?
The real estate industry has always had a hard time figuring out who its customer is.
Schneider is no different. Years ago, he declared that agents were his customers, versus brokers, who his predecessor Richard Smith professed his loyalty to.
Last year, he changed the company name to Anywhere and inferred that he was going after the consumer. Nothing has materialized on that front.
Besides a new CFO and a publicity exec, Schneider waited to bring in his own executive team.
But lately, he has been in a hurry to remake the Anywhere C suite.
Last year, he fired the popular Coldwell banker chief Ryan Gorman who recently said about his tenure at Anywhere, “I am positively bursting with gratitude for our time together.”
Women in charge
Three big executive hires at Anywhere are punctuated by the fact that they are women.
Some insiders say that she and Ryan now run the Anywhere show — period, full stop.
All Generation X.
Right now it’s lonely at the top of any real estate company.
Fortitude helps. Remaining calm is important. Flexibility is necessary. And having the right team is essential. But the most important attribute may be staying optimistic, which seems to drive Schneider.
“Last year at this time the housing market was growing and today it is a different environment,” he says. “But that creates opportunity.”