As the CEO and executive vice president of the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, Carol Seal is committed to doing whatever she can to ensure it offers the best possible services to its members and the general public. She’s also fully focused on making sure the organization is healthy, strong, and moving forward.
As Seal tends to the wellbeing of the association, she even makes personal sacrifices on its behalf, such as giving up a long weekend to learn more about being an effective association executive (AE).
It doesn’t hurt when the setting of one such long weekend is the coastal city of Vancouver, British Columbia. Flanked by the snow-capped peaks of the North Shore Mountains and the blue waters of the Strait of Georgia, Vancouver is the kind of city that makes work trips a pleasure.
Seal was in Vancouver last month for the 2015 Joint AE Institute, a conference run by the National Association of Realtors together with its northern counterpart, the Canadian Real Estate Association. The two organizations have their own annual AE Institutes, but once every five years come together to host a combined event featuring a variety of speakers covering a broad spectrum of relevant topics.
Seal has been attending the annual conference since she became a senior staff specialist at her former association in Memphis in 2003. She says the yearly Institute allows her to “see the bigger picture.”
“It’s all about what’s going on in the industry,” she says. “It helps us to do a better job.”
The conferences also provide valuable networking opportunities that broaden the pool of relationships from which an AE can draw ideas and support. “If we were going to publish a homes magazine in Chattanooga, I’d be able to email the AEs I’d met and ask them about their publication,” she says. “The AE mentality is that we’re in this together, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we want to do something.”
Beyond the education and networking benefits, Seal says the opportunity to spend time with other AEs talking about the challenges of working for a Realtor association is invaluable. “Spending time with other AEs makes me realize I’m not alone,” she says. “Sometimes I think I’m the only one dealing with a particular problem, but I’m not. We all struggle with how to increase non-dues revenues and decide which programs and services to offer.”
Above all, Seal says the annual Institutes recharge her batteries. “I come back really energized about my job,” she says.
Since that’s the case, Seal must be really wound up following the recent Joint Institute, as she not only attended the conference but led the team that planned it. As a member of the NAR’s AE committee, Seal volunteered to join the advisory board that plans the annual Institutes a few years ago. Her turn as chair came when the board was scheduled to plan the combined conference.
“When I applied to be a part of the advisory board and was then selected to be vice-chair and then chair, I didn’t realize I’d be leading the planning process for the Joint Institute, but that’s how the calendar fell,” she says.
Seal says she was thrilled to help in a larger than normal capacity. She first met with the advisory board for the 2015 event in May of last year and then traveled to Chicago last summer to review speaker proposals. Everyone touched base again in November at the NAR meeting and then arrived in Vancouver last month to see the fruits of their hard work. “It was like everything magically came together,” she says, laughing.
The four-day conference took place March 13 through 16 and featured more than 60 presentations centered on four topics (or program tracks): Best Practices in Realtor Association Management; Industry Relationships; Reengineer Your Association; and Technology and Communications. About 1,100 AEs and staff specialists representing about 700 U.S. and Canadian associations attended the conference.
Seal was especially impressed with Robyn Benincasa, a New York Times best-selling author and world champion adventure racer who opened the event. “She talked about the qualities of a good leader and building a cohesive team,” she says. “I felt rejuvenated about my role here and my ability to lead my staff and guide the board.”
Seal’s trip to Vancouver wasn’t all business. She and her husband, Scott, arrived early and took a sea plane tour that offered memorable views of Canadian wildlife, including more eagles than they could count. Once the conference began, however, Seal was all business.
With the Joint Institute behind her, Seal has returned to Chattanooga to continue serving as the local association’s chief executive. And although her plate is full, she feels more prepared than ever to handle everything that lies ahead of her. Her leading role in planning the international conference did more than benefit her, though; it also helped to put Chattanooga on the map.
“Even in a smaller market like Chattanooga, we can do some awesome things,” she says.
For more photos, pick up a copy of the Hamilton County Herald.