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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.