Texas REALTOR®: What are the most important decisions you have made as a leader?
Vicki Fullerton, immediate past chairman: Surrounding myself with good, qualified people, and then identifying the leadership qualities of other people and asking them to become engaged.
Cindi Bulla, secretary/treasurer: I’ve learned the leadership advancement process is integral. It’s frustrating for some because it moves slowly, but you learn something from every step. The person elected at the local level becomes your voice at the next level, and so on.
Tray Bates, chairman-elect: Getting involved. I came into this as a commercial practitioner, with that real myopic focus. The decision to get involved in local board leadership, or at the state level, has been such a huge enhancement to my personal growth, my career, my networking, and my knowledge about the industry.
Where do you go for advice or information?
Tray: I go to my key people who I know will give me unfiltered advice. Cultivating those key people around you is important for anyone in a leadership role. I also stay up-to-date on a number of publications and try to read as much as possible.
Vicki: I have a great deal of confidence in some of my mentors and other people who’ve been there along the way with me and have the same experiences. You rely on their judgment because they will shoot straight with you, and that’s the key in my evaluation.
Cindi: When you volunteer, you serve with other volunteers, and those are the givers. You’re elbow-to-elbow with bright people who are gathering information and sharing it with others. Vetted sources of good, accurate information are at your fingertips.
Travis Kessler, CEO/president: We have an exercise in the Texas REALTORS® Leadership Program where we ask attendees to think about someone they view as an effective leader and consider what that leader does to be successful. Use those traits to model your own leadership style.
How did you find your first mentor?
Cindi: I didn’t go in search of mentors; they found me. Past TAR chairmen Brooke Hunt and Leslie Rouda Smith always say one of the primary jobs in leadership is to find your replacement. I was fortunate enough to encounter people who identified and encouraged me. I’ve kept those mentors, and they’re still the people I can trust to be honest with me. Those are the people you need to keep you grounded and make sure you stay focused on the mission.
I had a local association executive who struck a perfect balance between strong leadership and executive management, making sure the member was responsible for bringing in the ideology and mission. Amarillo Association of REALTORS® Association Executive Denise Price helped me understand my role and hers from the very beginning and that has made every journey easier since.
Tray: I am still close to many of the mentors I started out with. And as I grew into leadership roles, I developed new mentors. It was my mentors who approached me about getting involved in leadership at TAR. There are so many talented people around that you develop friendships and relationships at all levels of the association.
Vicki: As your experience broadens, so does your circle of mentors. You pull in people from different aspects while still maintaining the core group.
Travis: I look for mentors who run effective meetings. I also look for mentors I think are good speakers. … Find a mentor you can trust who will give you honest answers. We also all need mentors we trust and are knowledgeable in certain topic areas because we can’t know everything ourselves. Having mentors who are credible influencers also increases your ability to effectively spread your message.
Who is the best boss you’ve ever had?
Cindi: My first job in Amarillo was a savings and loan position back when the industry was already going down. I had no experience for the position. When I went to interview, the new CEO told me she had been hired to go down with the ship—the people who hired her didn’t think she knew, but she did—and she was hiring me for the same reason. She said, “I know you don’t have any experience, but we can either come out of this like heroes or we’re no worse off if it fails.” I said, “You know what? That sounds like a challenge.”
Travis: The best boss I’ve ever had has been the REALTOR® organization. I’ve only worked for the REALTOR® organization my entire career. I started with TAR out of college, and to be the CEO has been my lifelong journey and aspiration. The number one lesson I learned in my early days of working at TAR was be respectful of others and they will respect you. The second was that if you surround yourself with effective people, you’ll grow personally and professionally. The third lesson was to always go beyond expectations. All this came from early bosses in the REALTOR® organization.
Tray: Earlier in my career I worked for a group called CMD Realty Investors in Dallas, and my boss there was Bob Gibbons. He recognized my talents and allowed me to exercise them to meet the vision and goals. I was able to excel there and become a top producer. I’m a third-generation real estate broker, and that experience helped me decide it was time to come back home and bring what I had learned to my family.
Vicki: Back in my corporate days at Northern National Gas Company, I was hired to be the program coordinator and aquatics director and develop a women’s fitness and aquatics program for our corporation. And when I talked to my boss, Bob Gaita, I asked what his expectations were. He said to use my experience and develop a program employees and their families could use. Beyond that, it was mine. He trusted me. When I wanted to expand a program, he’d say, “Go ahead; show me what you’re going to do.” He had confidence that I was going to do it.
I left to move to Texas. At the time, I didn’t know what my next career was going to be, but I had the confidence to know that if I could start something from nothing and develop it into a full-fledged program, I could do anything. And when I couldn’t find a job in corporate fitness in Houston, real estate came into play.
Can you remember the piece of advice that has most affected your business?
Cindi: I can, and it was given to me by someone I consider a mentor: 2008 TAR Chairman Randy Jeffers. I remember opening my business and being overwhelmed by all the rules I had to be in compliance with. Randy agreed the rules are important, but he also said that when in doubt, just do the right thing. To pretend I am the consumer and do exactly what I would want done. Almost every time you’re going to find that is what the rule said in the first place.
Tray: At the association level, always remember the member, and do what’s right for the member. At the business level, always do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. That’s real simple. I’ve talked to my kids about that, too. It just plays well for everybody.
Vicki: My brother was the head of the legal department for commercial real estate at a firm in Dallas, and he said, “Vicki, I don’t ever want to represent you in a court of law in the state of Texas. So don’t practice law. Fill in the blanks; answer the questions if you know the answers; if you do not have the answers, say “I don’t know, I will get back to you.” It has stuck with me, and it has served me well.