#SP200 Leader Denee Evans, CMLS CEO
Editor’s note: Published by the residential real estate strategic consulting and information firm T3 Sixty each January, the Swanepoel Power 200 (SP200) ranks the real estate industry’s most powerful, influential leaders. It also recognizes leaders in several subcategories, from technology execs to social influencers.
The SP200 rankings reflect a rigorous, careful evaluation process supported by data and a detailed methodology. To help make its selections, T3 Sixty maintains a robust database, with stats and information on more than 3,000 real estate executives and leaders. It spends hundreds of hours poring over data, debating internally and verifying all candidates before settling on its list each year.
In the runup to the 2017 list, the fourth, T3 Sixty is profiling leaders and executives included on one of the nine 2016 SP200 lists published earlier this year.
In December 2014, Denee Evans became the first CEO of the MLS trade group CMLS, whose membership represents over 1.1 million real estate professionals. Since taking the helm, Evans has grown membership from 176 to 194 MLSs.
In a time of upheaval for MLSs, Evans plays a critical role in fostering the conversation, leadership and innovation that will guide the MLS industry into the future. T3 Sixty named her No. 191 on the 2016 SP200 Powerlist, which ranks real estate’s 200 most powerful leaders.
CMLS has had an active year. In May, it announced a cooperative agreement with NAR that fosters deeper relationships between MLSs and the industry trade group. The agreement gives greater MLS representation on NAR boards and outlines several joint initiatives for the two groups.
The group also recently deepened its partnership with the real estate data standards firm Real Estate Standards Organization and the MLS and brokerage intellectual property rights nonprofit REDPLAN.
Evans answered some questions from T3 Sixty about her views on leadership and the industry.
Briefly describe your career trajectory.
My career has always circled around homes.
I started my career in banking, financing and investments and soon moved to the mortgage side. Each new position was an amazing opportunity to learn and grow.
Before I joined CMLS, I served as executive director of EnergyFit Nevada, a statewide program that focuses on helping make Nevada homes energy efficient, cost-efficient and healthy.
I had come to know Shelley Specchio, CEO of Northern Nevada Regional MLS, whom I originally recruited to serve as a board member at EnergyFit. When she told me CMLS was looking to hire its first CEO and encouraged me to apply, I knew this was exactly the position and the organization I was looking for. I love this industry.
This is your first CEO role. Any surprises?
This may be my first CEO role, but I’ve been in leadership positions my entire career. At 20, I became the youngest branch manager for Bank of America — a position that introduced me to management, team development, and developing plans to outperform expectations.
As executive director of EnergyFit, I was also given significant responsibility in working with a diverse array of partners, ranging from homeowners to the state and federal governments.
I love building the team at CMLS, but leading a nationwide organization with a staff and 19 directors spread throughout the country was something new for me. I put a lot of value on face time and now I have had to recreate this environment without the benefit of proximity.
So, I make sure we hold our board meetings in person whenever possible. We hold them roughly once a quarter and time them to coincide with big industry events. For other meetings, we use video conferencing and screen shares to facilitate connection.
Evans’ Las Vegas office.
What changes did you make when you joined CMLS, why?
When I joined CMLS, it was mostly a volunteer organization. It had an engaged, working board and a part-time management firm that served as a consultant.
Within a few months of my hire date, I could see that members and the industry wanted CMLS to take on bigger initiatives. We didn’t have the right resources to accomplish this with the old model so I worked with the board to bring on in-house staff, people who eat, sleep, drink, and breathe CMLS. Now, I have three full-time staff members and consultants to help accomplish our goals.
Who have you learned the most about leadership from, what did you learn?
One person who stands out was a manager I met in banking early in my career. He was not my favorite, but I still learned a lot from him. He set big, crazy goals for us, and pushed, pushed, pushed for them.
Every week, we tracked our progress and had to answer why we were on track or not. There was never a meeting where this wasn’t addressed. We were the top banking center in our region, but looking back, his approach was pushy, unhealthy and provided few rewards for his team. But I still learned a lot.
He was right that big goals are important, that they require a living plan, and that measurement is always important. However, I learned he wasn’t completely right in his approach. You can create a positive, healthy environment for your team and still maintain accountability. Steady progress and positive encouragement can inspire teams to accomplish so much more.
Describe your leadership philosophy.
Proceed as if success is inevitable.
To do this, we work to create and share a bold vision, set big goals and develop a strategic plan to execute the path to success. While I acknowledge challenges always crop up, I look at them as opportunities to learn, make adjustments and then continue forward. This bleeds into everything we do at CMLS.
For example, when we set a goal to increase conference attendance from 700 to 750, it wasn’t grounded in just numbers but rather our ability as an organization to bring more people together to learn things that could improve their organizations and share their own perspectives with the industry.
While we had an attendance goal, the deeper goal was to expand our ability to bring people together to explore issues, provide solutions and build a better marketplace. We hit 740 attendees this year.
Routines you practice to stay on point as a leader?
One thing I do is reflect on the day so that I can keep things in perspective and apply a reality check. No matter how challenging a situation seems, it’s important to keep everyone moving forward.
I’m also a believer of coaching, and always have been. I have employed different executive coaches who push me personally and challenge me to improve myself. Most of the time the advice and insight they provide transcends my career.
My current coach recently helped me realize that work-life integration is a realistic goal. For example, when I was invited to attend the Florida Realtor convention in August, which took place over my now-7-year-old daughter’s birthday, I brought her with me. We went to LegoLand the day before the conference and at the conference I brought her on stage and everyone sang happy birthday to her.
These kind of moments — times when you aren’t afraid to express who you are — are healthy for you and everyone participating. It reminds us that we are human.
Next trip not for work?
I have none on the books right now, but our family (my husband and two children, ages 12 and 7) recently attended Burning Man, the annual weeklong party held in Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. It was my fourth year in a row attending. It is an unforgettable and personally fulfilling event, unique each and every time I go. I highly recommend it.
Evans and her family this year at Burning Man.
Favorite TV show currently watching?
I’m enjoying two shows:
- The CBS drama “Madame Secretary,” which chronicles a family woman serving as U.S. Secretary of State. I like the full picture it gives of government, how things happen and what it takes to move them forward.
- NBC drama “Blacklist,” featuring true-hearted main character who is also the FBI’s most wanted man. He’s such a bad guy, but you kind-of root for him. I like the complicated light it shines on relationships.
You have relatively fresh eyes for the MLS industry. Where do you think it’s headed?
The MLS is a critical component of the real estate industry. It’s the connector — the marketplace where homes are bought and sold. Every day, MLSs work to serve their subscribers to ensure the real estate industry’s share of the economy — billions of dollars in real estate transactions — flows seamlessly.
I believe that MLSs will no longer be reactive. They are becoming proactive in collaboration with industry partners – brokers, agents, vendors, NAR, RESO and others — and working toward the same goal. MLSs are focused on bringing more efficiencies to market and asking the question: “Does this meet the needs of my subscriber and, ultimately, the end consumer?”
MLS consolidation has to happen. The challenge is no longer whether it will happen but when, how, and what it will look like. I see my role as bringing together CMLS membership, along with brokers, business partners and other key industry stakeholders, to answer those questions.