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Opinion Editorials

The questionable timing of Errol Samuelson’s departure from Move, Inc.

(Editorial) A key figure at Move, Inc. resigned without notice last week, leaving many wondering how his move to Zillow will have an impact on the real estate industry.

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The difficulty of quitting

In my life, I can count the number of times I’ve quit a job with no notice and a “shove it” note on one finger. I was accidentally included in an email from a boss who made a cruel comment about me. It was one in a long chain of abusive statements toward me and everyone else. I had worked enough 90 hour weeks for this man, so I printed out the email, circled his statement, wrote “ADIOS” in red Sharpie, handed it to him, and walked out that minute. I was immediately hired to be the Marketing Director at a real estate firm, and then began working here, so it all worked out for the best.

I have no regrets. If you’ve ever seen The Devil Wears Prada, you’ll understand my plight. He deserved it. But not all bosses deserve a nasty red sharpie note, but it happens regardless.

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When Errol Samuelson, former president of realtor.com and Chief Strategy Officer at Move, Inc. left to become Zillow’s Chief Industry Development Officer, it appeared to me to be a red Sharpie note to the ol’ boss, but instead of handing it to him personally, he called it in. I’ve been pondering the timing of the departure and what it means for the industry.

The timing of Samuelson quitting

We had known for some time that Move would be in an investor’s meeting all day on Wednesday, an event that everyone knows does not permit interruptions. Steve Berkowitz, CEO of Move, Inc. told us that while Samuelson was not expected to be in the day-long meeting, he was aware of it. Additionally, Berkowitz said that he had a standing appointment with Samuelson on Thursday in person to go over his 2013 objectives and review his 2014 goals. In other words, he quit the day before he had to meet with the boss to discuss his performance.

These two facts confirm to me that the timing was choreographed purposely. Was this designed to hurt Move’s chances with investors or hurt their stock? “That can’t be determined,” Berkowitz told us. He tells us that while in the investor meeting, he ignored a call from human resources, then the legal department, and realized something was afoot when his Chairman rang his cell phone – he stepped out, learned the news, and called Samuelson.

In less than a minute, Berkowitz says he congratulated Samuelson, asking only that they hold off on announcing the departure for 24 hours. Within the hour, Zillow published a well crafted press release on the subject. Berkowitz is keeping a positive outlook, noting that “business is business,” but quitting in this manner is nowhere on par with my red Sharpie note, and it seems to violate basic business ethics, particularly given the fact that every Move, Inc. strategy in Samuelson’s brain has gone to Zillow who one Move, Inc. insider opined is “known for their drama,” particularly with the timing of press releases, lawsuits, and the like.

A slight change in tone

Berkowitz’s statements have been extremely courteous so far, but we noticed a slight change in the tide when he asserted to us that Samuelson “was privvy to the strategy, but was not involved in the day to day operations. We won’t miss a beat at all.”

Although the feeling inside of Move, Inc. seems to be that Samuelson burnt a bridge, the overriding feeling is that it was completely unnecessary.

Berkowitz echoed a feeling we had here at AG, noting that Samuelson was one of the most outspoken critics of Realtor.com competitors, and to see that change overnight is like a Republican becoming Democrat with no explanation.

Moving forward, Berkowitz noted that their “direction is solid,” their “value is strong,” and that they will continue to live up to the promises they make. He opines that their current team is extremely strong, and that combined, they have more industry experience than any of their competitors. They have restructured Samuelson’s role, and recent promotions will take care of the company strategy, which Berkowitz notes he has always driven, no matter who reported to him.

“People’s actions define them.”

Berkowitz says that this departure has him concerned for the industry. “Remember this: people’s actions define them.”

One topic Berkowitz sidestepped was the reaction of the National Association of Realtors, simply leaving it at the fact that Samuelson was privvy to their strategies as well (which we can imagine they’re likely somewhat annoyed by).

My interactions with Samuelson have always been positive, so I was surprised at the choreography of this departure, and I do think that Zillow has one hell of an industry leader in their midst, but climbing the wall and kicking down the ladder behind him seems unnecessary, and although Berkowitz wouldn’t say it, I will – this feels designed to hurt Move, Inc. in favor of Zillow. From where I stand, it didn’t have to be that way, and it actually hurts Zillow’s relationship with NAR, informed brokers, and informed agents who butter their bread.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. andreageller

    March 10, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    I think in this day and age there is no graceful way of going from one competitor to another for either party. As with all things it’s timing.

    • agbenn

      March 11, 2014 at 10:33 am

      In some ways I agree with you Andrea, but in this case when discussing two publicly traded organizations, timing is everything. The timing and rush are certainly questionable. Big businesses do this everyday, but the cloak and dagger style of leaving is suspect when you put it with a publicly announced investors meeting. The move was designed to at minimum embarrass Move, but even that failed because although he had a title, he wasn’t involved in execution according to the article, and Move.

      Funny thing about real estate, most R’s spend a lot of time avoiding these types of individuals, so the role he was hired for will only place more distrust on Zillow for the foreseeable future. I have good friends at Zillow, but the ethos is gone and seems it could be a top down problem.

  2. basic_business_ethics

    March 11, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    I agree that the timing seems to have been designed by Zillow to damage realtor.com, it is shocking to me that Errol went along with it.

    Getting poached is one thing, but giving zero notice and being announced as starting a job at a top competitor that same day is another.

    Samuelson should have resigned, and then later re-emerged at Zillow.

    Zillow and Errol may have just made the already treacherous waters of securing MLS feeds and favor with NAR even more turbulent.

    It may hurt realtor.com in the short term, but I doubt this is a long term win for Zillow.

  3. BawldGuy

    March 11, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    We all have a choice when it comes to how we unilaterally end any relationship. We can be a real man or woman, or we can be less. Grace is a choice if we’re the ones making the decision to leave any relationship. Class too is a choice. To believe otherwise is unfortunate.

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Opinion Editorials

Study says women need to be seen as “warm” to be considered confident

(EDITORIAL) A new study reveals that despite progress, women are still successful when they fall into a stereotype. Let’s discuss.

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About 15 years ago, I took a part-time job in a mental health clinic handling bookkeeping and billing. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I attacked the job with what I felt was confidence. For the first few days, I simply felt as if I was an imposter. I kept asking questions and pushing forward, even though I didn’t make much progress. Within just a few days, I felt the hostility of the office manager.

It got progressively worse, and I couldn’t figure out what the heck I’d done to make her so confrontational with me. I thought I was pleasant and respectful of her position, and I was getting along with the other employees. When I talked to our boss, I was told that I intimidated the office manager. HUH? Me? Intimidating? I was a complete mess at the time. I could barely put together a business casual wardrobe. My emotional health was so fragile that I rarely went anywhere new. And she found me intimidating?

Researchers have been studying how people judge others. Susan Fiske, researcher out of Princeton, found that competence and warmth are two of the dimensions used to judge others. Based on that research, Laura Guillén, Margarita Mayo, and Natalia Karelaia studied the competence and warmth at a software company with 236 engineers.  Guillén and her team collected data at two separate times about these engineers and their confidence and influence within the organization.

They found that “men are seen as confident if they are seen as competent, but women are seen as confident only if they come across as both competent and warm.

Women must be seen as warm in order to capitalize on their competence and be seen as confident and influential at work; competent men are seen as confident and influential whether they are warm or not.”

We encourage women to be confident, but based on current research, it may not be enough to close the gender gap in the workplace. A woman must be seen as helpful and dedicated to others to have the same influence as a man. As a woman, it’s easy to be seen as the #bossbitch when you have to make tough decisions. Those same decisions, when made by a man might be considered just “business as normal.”

I guess the lesson is that women still have to work twice as hard as men just to be seen as equals. I know that I have to work on empathy when I’m in an office environment. That office manager isn’t the only person who has thought I’m intimidating. I’ve heard it from it others, but you know what?  As a self-employed writer, I’d rather be seen as undeterred and daunting than submissive and meek.

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Opinion Editorials

“Starting a business is easy,” said only one guy ever

(OPNION EDITORIAL) Between following rules, finding funding, and gathering research, no business succeeds without lifting a finger.

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While browsing business articles this week, I came across this one, “Top 10 Business Ideas You Can Start for Free With Barely Lifting a Finger.” These types of articles make me mad. I can’t think of many successful freelancers or entrepreneurs who don’t put in hours of blood, sweat and tears to get a business going.

The author of the article is Murray Newlands, a “VIP Contributor.” Essentially, he’s a freelancer because he also contributes to Forbes, HuffPro and others. He’s the founder of ChattyPeople.com, which is important, because it’s the first business idea he promotes in the article.

But when I pull up his other articles on Entrepreneur.com, I see others like “How to Get Famous and Make Money on YouTube,” “Win Like A Targaryen: 10 Businesses You Can Start for Free,” and “10 Ventures Young Entrepreneurs Can Start for Cheap or Free.”

I seriously cannot believe that Entrepreneur.com keeps paying for the same ideas over and over.

The business ideas that are suggested are pretty varied. One suggestion is to offer online classes. I wonder if Newlands considered how long it takes to put together a worthy curriculum and how much effort goes into marketing said course.

Then, you have to work out the bugs, because users will have problems. How do you keep someone from stealing your work? What happens when you have a dispute?

Newlands suggests that you could start a blog. It’s pretty competitive these days. The most successful bloggers are ones that really work on their blog, every day. The bloggers have a brand, offer relevant content and are ethical in how they get traffic.

Think it’s easy? Better try again.

I could go on. Every idea he puts up there is a decent idea, but if he thinks it will increase your bottom line without a lot of hard work and effort, he’s delusional.

Today’s entrepreneurs need a plan. They need to work that plan, rethink it and keep working. They have to worry about liability, marketing and keeping up with technologies.

Being an entrepreneur is rewarding, but it’s hard work. It is incredibly inappropriate and grossly negligent to encourage someone to risk everything they have and are on the premise of not lifting a finger.

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Opinion Editorials

New age stranger danger: teaching kids about AI

(OPINION EDITORIAL) The world is changing and so is technology. As tech changes so must we, in teaching kids about the dangers about AI.

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When I was younger, when my siblings and I would come home from school, we were required to nourish our minds for an hour (study, homework, read, do math practice, whatever we were feeling that day) and then we were banished from the house until dinner.

We had to go outside and create our own fun. We rode bikes to friends houses, we went “fishing” in the creek, sometimes before we left the house we’d search the couch for loose change and go to our favorite corner store and share a bag of skittles.

Our neighborhood was a safe one — it was one of those ideal 90s neighborhoods where our house was seated on the end of a cul-de-sac so there was little traffic and there were enough kids on the street to field two kickball teams.

Each parent on the street was allowed to reprimand us and there were rarely any locked doors. As a 10 year old it felt like ultimate freedom. But, with that freedom came a very important lesson in strangers and what to do if we were ever approached by one.

I’m sure stranger danger is still a thing taught by parents and schools alike but we went from don’t talk to strangers online or get in strangers’ cars to getting online to request a stranger to drive us somewhere.

With the advancement of technology has come a readiness to bring strangers in (/near / to) our homes. The most invitations coming from those personal assistants many homes can’t seem to function without.

Alexa, Google Home, Bixby or whatever assistant you may use are all essentially strangers that you are willingly bringing into your home.

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a college kid that didn’t know that the microphone on those things are always on — as such is true with the Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger apps.

In a recent article from Rachel Botsman (BOTSman, hmmmm), she describes the experience her three year old had with an Alexa.

Over the course of the interactions, her daughter asks the bot a few silly questions, requests a few items to be bought, asks Alexa a few opinions, she ultimately sums up her daughter’s experience as saying, “Today, we are no longer trusting machines just to do something, but to decide what to do and when to do it. The next generation will grow up in an age where it is normal to be surrounded by autonomous agents, with or without cute names.”

I’m not a mother and I’m definitely old enough to be extremely skeptical of machines (iRobot anyone?) but the effects smart bots will undoubtedly have on future generations have me genuinely concerned. Right now it seems as harmless as asking those assistants to order more toilet paper, or to check the weather or to see which movies are screening but what will it become in the future?

A MIT experiment cited in the Botsman article 27 children, aged between three and 10, interacted with Alexa, Google Home, Julie (a chatbot) and, finally, Cozmo (a robot in the form of a toy bulldozer), which are all AI devices/ toys.

The study concluded that almost 80 per cent of the children thought that Alexa would always tell the truth.

Let me repeat that — 80 PERCENT OF THE KIDS BELIEVE THAT THE AIS, CREATED BY COMPANIES WHO WANT TO SELL PRODUCTS, WILL ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH.

The study went on to conclude that some of the children believed they could teach the devices something useful, like how to make a paper plane, suggesting they felt a genuine, give-and-take relationship with the machines.

All of these conclusions beg the question, how can we teach kids (and some adults if we’re being honest) about security and privacy in regards to new technology? How do we teach kids about commercialism and that as innocent as they may seem, not every device was designed altruistically?

We are quickly approaching an age where the strangers we introduce our kids to aren’t the lurkers in the park with the missing dog or the candy in the van, but rather, a robot voice that can tell a joke and give you the weather and order +$70M worth of miscellaneous stuff.

So now, it’s on us. Children of our own or not, we have to start thinking about best practices when it comes to teaching children about the appropriate time to trust in a computer. If the 5 year olds with smart devices are any indicator, teaching kids to be stingy with their trust in AIs will be an uphill battle.

This story was first published here in October of 2017.

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