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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 and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, 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

DNA tests are cool, but are they worth it?

(OPINION EDITORIAL) DNA tests are all the rage currently but are they worth potentially having your genetic makeup sold and distributed?

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Over the last few years, DNA testing went mainstream. Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have offered easy access to the insights of your genetics, including potential health risks and family heritage, through simple tests.

However, as a famously ageless actor once suggested in a dinosaur movie, don’t focus too much on if you can do this, without asking if you should do this.

When you look closely, you can find several reasons to wonder if sending your DNA to these companies is a wise choice.

These reasons mostly come down to privacy protection, and while most companies do have privacy policies in place, you will find some surprising loopholes in the fine print. For one, most of the big players don’t give you the option to not have your data sold.

These companies, like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, can always sell your data so long as your data is “anonymized,” thanks to the HIPPA Act of 1996. Anonymization involves separating key identifying features about a person from their medical or biological data.

These companies know that loophole well; Ancestry.com, for example, won’t even give customers an opt-out of having their DNA data sold.

Aside from how disconcerting it is that these companies will exploit this loophole for their gain at your expense, it’s also worth noting that standards for anonymizing data don’t work all that well.

In one incident, reportedly, “one MIT scientists was able to ID the people behind five supposedly anonymous genetic samples randomly selected from a public research database. It took him less than a day.”

There’s also the issue of the places where that data goes when it goes out. That report the MIT story comes from noted that 23andMe has sold data to at least 14 outside pharmaceutical firms.

Additionally, Ancestry.com has a formal data-sharing agreement with a biotech firm. That’s not good for you as the consumer, because you may not know how that firm will handle the data.

Some companies give data away to the public databases for free, but as we saw from the earlier example, those can be easy targets if you wanted to reverse engineer the data back to the person.

It would appear the only safe course of action is to have this data destroyed once your results are in. However, according to US federal regulation for laboratory compliance stipulates that US labs hold raw information for a minimum of 10 years before destruction.

Now, consider all that privacy concern in the context of what happens when your DNA data is compromised. For one, this kind of privacy breach is irreversible.

It’s not as simple as resetting all your passwords or freezing your credit.

If hackers don’t get it, the government certainly can; there’s even an instance of authorities successfully obtaining a warrant for DNA evidence from Ancestry.com in a murder trial.

Even if you’re not the criminal type who would worry about such a thing, the precedent is concerning.

Finally, if these companies are already selling data to entities in the biomedical field, how long until medical and life insurance providers get their hands on it?

I’ll be the first to admit that the slippery slope fallacy is strong here, but there are a few troubling patterns of behavior and incorrect assumptions already in play regarding the handling of your DNA evidence.

The best course of action is to take extra precaution.

Read the fine print carefully, especially what’s in between the lines. As less scrupulous companies look to cash in on the trend, be aware of entities who skimp on privacy details; DNA Explained chronicles a lot of questionable experiences with other testing companies.

Above all, really think about what you’re comfortable with before you send in those cheek swabs or tubes of spit. While the commercials make this look fun, it is a serious choice and should be treated like one.

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Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new study to be published in the next Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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Opinion Editorials

Avoid the stack, conquer busy work as it comes

(PRODUCTIVITY) It’s easy overwhelmed with emails and a stack of real mail. But tackling as it comes may help to enhance organization and productivity.

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A few weeks ago, I was walking through my office (also known as my bedroom after 5 p.m.) and I noticed a stack of mail that I had tossed aside over the course of the last few months. While they were non-urgent, this collection of paperwork had been opened, read, and left unattended.

Now, this was a classic move of mine – leave a mess for Future Taylor to clean up. So, imagine my surprise when Present Taylor woke up and decided to put an end to “the stack.”

I sat down, went through everything, and took care of what needed to be done. Even though my wallet took a few hits, it felt great to have this cleared up and off my desk.

Right then and there, I made it a rule to let things only cross my desk once (unless there’s some extenuating circumstance in which it requires me to come back to it; i.e. my favorite sentence on this paperwork “This is not a final bill.”) There’s no point in drawing out the stress that “the stack” induce.

This led me to finally attacking something that’s been on my to-do list since I created my Gmail account in 2009 – create an organizational system.

I set aside some time to create folders (for individual projects, people I communicate with frequently, etc.)

While this is all stuff that you may have already implemented, my point is that this increase my productivity and lifted a weight off of my shoulders I didn’t acknowledge was there.

So, I encourage you to find one of those menial tasks that has been on your to-do list forever and tackle it.

This can include, organizing all of your electronic files into folders, updating your phone and email contacts, or going through all of your desk drawers to get rid of unneeded items. Organizing and freshening up your workspace can help increase your focus.

Once you’re organized and in gear, try the “let it cross your desk once” method. When an email comes in, respond to it or file it. When a bill comes in, pay it. You may be surprised at your rise in productivity.

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