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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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goodbye

goodbye

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.

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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

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms. 
 
Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.
 
The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.
 
And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.
 
We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.
 
That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

I just got furloughed. Now what?

(EDITORIAL) Some companies are furloughing employees, betting on their company’s long-term recovery. Here’s what you can expect and should plan for in your furlough.

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Are you furloughed? You are not alone! What now? What does “furlough” even mean? How will I get money? Will I still keep my insurance?

A furlough differs from a layoff in a few ways. Whereas a layoff means you are definitely unemployed, a furlough is at its core unpaid time off. Not all furloughs are created equal, though the basic concept is the same: to keep valued employees on ice without being on the hook for their pay until a financial turnaround occurs.

The good-ish news is that a furlough means the company wants to keep you available. When a company is unable to pay their employees for an extended (often indefinite, as is the case with COVID-19 closures) period, they may opt to furlough them instead of laying them off. This virus has decimated whole industries, at least temporarily.

Furloughed employees are forbidden by law to do so much as answer a work email or text while furloughed–or else the company must pay them. The first large waves of COVID-19 furloughs are in obvious sectors such as hospitality (Marriott International), airlines industries (Virgin Atlantic), though other industries are following suit with furloughs or layoffs.

Some furloughs may mean cutting employees’ hours/days to a minimum. Maybe you’re being asked to take off a couple days/week unpaid if you’re hourly, or one week/month off if you’re on salary. With the COVID-19 situation, though, many companies are furloughing bunches of employees by asking them not to work at all. This particular furlough will last ostensibly for a few months, or until business begins to bounce back, along with normal life.

So, what are your rights? Why would you wait for the company? Can you claim unemployment benefits? What about your other work benefits? I’d be lying if I said I knew all the answers, as the furlough packages differ from company to company, and the laws differ from state to state.

However, here are some broad truths about furloughs that should apply. I hope this information helps you sort through your options. I feel your pain, truly. It’s a tough time all around. I’m on your side.

The first answer people want to know is yes, if you’re furloughed and have lost all or most of your income, you may apply for unemployment benefits. You can’t be expected to live off of thin air. Apply IMMEDIATELY, as there is normally a one or two week wait period until the first check comes in. Don’t delay. Some states provide more livable unemployment benefits (I’m looking at you, Massachusetts) than others, but some income is better than none.

Also, most furloughed employees will likely continue to receive benefits. Typically, life and health insurance remain intact throughout the length of the furlough. This is one of the ways companies let their employees know they are serious about wanting them back as soon as it’s financially realistic. Yet some other benefits, like a matching 401k contribution, will go away, as without a paycheck, there are no contributions to match.

Should you look for a job in the interim? Can you really afford not to? What if the company goes belly up while you’re waiting? Nobody wants that to happen, but the reality is that it might.

If you absolutely love your job and the company you work for and feel fairly confident the furlough is truly short-lived, then look for a short-term job. Thousands upon thousands of positions have opened up to meet the needs of the COVID-19 economy, at grocery stores or Amazon, for example. You could also look for contract work. That way, when your company reopens the doors, you can return to your position while finishing off the contract work on the side.

If the company was on shaky ground to begin with, keep that in mind when applying to new jobs. A full-time, long-term position may serve you better. At the end of this global health and economic crisis, some industries will be slower to return to their former glory–if they ever do. If you’re furloughed from such an industry, you may want to shift to something else completely. Pivot, as they say. Now would be a good time.

The only exceptions are “Excepted” government workers in essential positions, including public health and safety. They would have to work while furloughed in case of a government shutdown (and did previously).

Furloughs are scary, but they offer a greater measure of security than a layoff. They mean the company plans on returning to a good financial situation, which is encouraging. Furloughs also generally offer the comfort–and necessity–of insurance, which means you can breathe a bit easier while deciding your next move.

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Opinion Editorials

The cringe inducing and lesson learning tale of Poor Jennifer

(EDITORIAL) Video conferencing is becoming the norm, so make sure you don’t end up like poor Jennifer. Take some extra time and precautions against exposure.

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poor Jennifer

Ever had that bad dream where you were giving a speech, but realized you were totally naked? If so, you’ll join us in cringing at the true life tale of “Poor Jennifer.”

We are all Poor Jennifer. We love Poor Jennifer. We stand with Poor Jennifer. Take a deep breath and prepare to relate far too well to a story this mortifying. You’ll want to tell her you feel for her and perhaps even offer up your own embarrassing anecdotes to let her know she’s not alone. Jennifer’s story serves as the ultimate cautionary tale for Zoom calls.

Working from home is a luxury/burden that was still surprisingly rare until the COVID-19 crisis sent office workers home in droves. IT departments across the country–and across the world–scrambled to ensure they had solid firewalls and valid VPNs locked and loaded on everyone’s computer. Everyone signed up for video conferencing tools. Zoom became a household name overnight, though other options are available, too.

Nearly everyone’s reality has drastically changed over the past several weeks due to the novel coronavirus–and in some cases overnight. With this global pandemic comes uncertainty, anxiety, and dread, meaning few of us are working at our own full mental capacity. Many professionals find themselves working at home, using new tools, and with new, often rambunctious, noisy, or needy coworkers, AKA children, pets, or life partners. It can be jarring, disconcerting.

If you’re used to participating in conference calls in an office environment, whether video or audio, you take them at your desk. Working from home can tempt one to mute the audio call and do some multi-tasking. Nobody can see you or hear you once you mute the phone, after all, and not every part of every call is important for your particular piece of the puzzle.

I’m not proud of it, but I’ve walked the dog or loaded the dishwasher while I muted a conference call during another department’s report. It’s not ideal, but I have to tell you…it happens. I am thanking my lucky stars today that we kept video conferences to a bare minimum at work.

What does this have to do with Poor Jennifer? Well, Poor Jennifer was on a team video conference call when she answered another call: nature’s. Yikes. Zoom caught it all, and her colleagues’ faces told the story. We see confusion, discomfort, then disbelief. By the time one of her colleagues tries to tell her, she obviously already caught a glimpse of herself on the porcelain throne and took care of the problem.

The whole scenario was over practically before it began, yet it’s a moment that will live on forever, because one of Poor Jennifer’s inconsiderate coworkers went ahead and posted the Zoom feed online. NOT COOL, BRO. As for Poor Jennifer, please know we get it. The world is coming to a standstill, and this weighs heavy on our heads. Your accident serves as a warning to all of us coping with a strange new world. And yes, we laughed a little, awkwardly, because we were taken by surprise and felt uncomfortable for you.

Please know, Poor Jennifer, that it could happen to anyone. Know that we’re on your side. Know that we think your coworker is in the wrong 100% for posting it. Most importantly, know that any minute now, some other unsuspecting soul will unseat you from your internet throne of ignominy. This is the beauty of the internet and our ridiculously short attention spans.

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