March is Women’s History Month. To mark the occasion, we have gathered stories and advice from the women who once served as president of this Association. Past Presidents Kay Gerken (2004), Elizabeth Mendenhall (2010), Sharon Keating (2013) and Brenda Oliver (2019) shared with us their favorite memories, greatest achievements and best lessons learned during their terms.
- What was the best lesson learned during your term as president?
Kay Gerken: All the initiatives, issues or problems will not be resolved during your presidency. Keep your Leadership Team apprised of your goals and expectations and look to them for input and execution.
Elizabeth Mendenhall: Trust in the members. I remember a time when there was a rumor in the “halls” that the Leadership Team was hiding some information from them. You have a decision to make. You can let rumors fester or address them head-on. I was super nervous going before the Board of Directors because I knew that some of them did not know if they could trust us. It was a great opportunity to remember to trust in the members. We addressed the rumors head-on, shared with them the information that we knew and also what we did not know. We let them make their own decision with all of the information. The members will always lead you in the right direction, you just need to trust them enough to give them all of the information to make their decisions.
Sharon Keating: I learned so much, but what stands out the most is the importance of thinking ahead—envisioning the future for our Association and planning for success.
Brenda Oliver: My presidential year saw some wonderful economic development programs and increased conversation about the inclusivity of membership. Perhaps it was a reflection of society in general—that minorities were demanding more respect and consideration—and the fact that staff and leadership pivoted and embraced initiatives to support members who felt undervalued showed us that our diversity is our real superpower. It has enhanced our position as a business leader in our state and garnered increased respect from the National Association of REALTORS®.
- Tell us about your favorite moments or greatest accomplishment(s) as Missouri REALTORS® President.
Kay Gerken: Actually I have three. One, getting the bill passed that protects licensees from litigation regarding property condition if a third-party inspection is performed. Two, initiating the recognition of local board presidents with an eagle. Third, being the seventh woman since 1936 to serve as President of the Association in 2004.
Elizabeth Mendenhall: I was fortunate enough to be the President the year that the Association passed a ban on transfer taxes for real estate in Missouri. It was a huge cooperative effort with the National Association of REALTORS® and involved changing the Missouri constitution with a vote during the general election. It was awe-inspiring to see the members rally behind something that made a real long-lasting impact on real estate and affordability in Missouri. It was not my accomplishment, it was thousands of REALTORS® across the state who took ownership of their roles as property protectors and protecting the public so they can achieve the American Dream.
Sharon Keating: We did a lot of changing when I was on the Leadership Team, but I’m proudest of O2. We completely redesigned the organization, the decision-making structure and even the logo.
Brenda Oliver: During my term in 2019, I was able to head a successful transition from our 30-year-old building into a better located, more modern and well-proportioned office space. We had a wildly successful Capitol Conference in the gardens at the Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City, as well as a rooftop after-party for RPAC major investors. I traveled to Cannes, France to work with NAR staff and elected members for the MIPIM conference, making many new connections for Missouri. The Governor of Missouri addressed members in person at my first Board of Directors meeting. We instituted what has fast become one of the favorite parts of Missouri REALTORS® business conferences, the Emerging Issues Forum.
Another unique opportunity during my presidency was a trip to Toronto Canada in December for the Ontario REALTORS® Association's first-ever Capital Conference and statehouse visit. John Sebree had been inviting the Ontario delegation to our Senator’s luncheon at Mid-Year Conference in Washington D.C. for several years and behind the scenes, he had been coaching the Ontario REALTORS® on how to pull together such an event. The keynote speaker at their all-day training and rally was United States Past President George W. Bush. Sebree and I both felt great pride as we sat down front center and listened to the only other American in the room, as he talked about all things politics.
- How would you advise aspiring leaders in this Association?
Kay Gerken: Choose your committee chairs wisely. Look to those members who have attended the committee meetings faithfully, perform tasks dependably and don’t seek recognition. Choosing them to serve as committee chair lets them know you recognize their contribution to the organization. They will work twice as hard to help their committee achieve its goals, and it gives them the experience to serve in other leadership roles. The most popular member isn’t always the most dependable, or they may already be overextended.
Elizabeth Mendenhall: Do the job at hand the best you can. Always aspire to be the best in the role that you are currently in. So many are always looking for their next role, their next position or where they might go and they forget to focus on the task at hand. If you take pride in your work and do the best that you can where you are today, there will always be places for you to volunteer in the future.
Sharon Keating: Leaders today are entrusted with the future, and so they must prepare the rest of us for it. They must lead with integrity and work as a team, each year building on the work and inspiration of the past. They must be fearless, clear-eyed and ready to get in “good trouble”.
Brenda Oliver: Many members have complimented me on the humor that I tried (the operative word here is "tried") to incorporate into meetings and functions during my presidency. I believe that humor makes others more comfortable, diverts suspicion of a hidden agenda and makes challenging personalities more manageable. I read a fun quote yesterday about that subject. Bob Newhart, at age 91 said, "When it's all over, you go to heaven and God says, 'What did you do?' 'I made people laugh.' 'Get in that real short line over there.' " If I get to be in the short line, I'll be pretty happy when the time comes.