From the ‘Bridge’ to REALTOR® Leadership

January 10, 2020

- By Eric Berman

If Kurt Thompson had access to the app or any number of review sites back in 1997 when he started as a small real estate investor, there’s a good chance he might not be a REALTOR® today. While that might be hard to imagine if you know Kurt personally, it was the difficulty in finding a good real estate agent that eventually lead to him getting his license.

“The main reason I got into real estate was because I was a real estate investor, looking to acquire rental units,” said Kurt. “Unfortunately, my experience had been mixed when dealing with agents at the time. I had to do so much of the work myself. I did eventually find a great agent, she actually encouraged me to get licensed. So, I did that in 1997 and then bought my first multi-family home.”

From the ‘Bridge’ to Athol

Kurt Thompson was born and bred in the ‘Bridge’, also known as Cambridge, Mass. During the last month of his senior year in high school, his mother became a first-time homebuyer in the central Massachusetts community of Athol, “The cost of a two-bedroom, third-floor walk-up with no elevator in Cambridge, was the same cost as a single-family home in Athol,” said Kurt. “My mom said, ‘I didn’t want to be in the city anymore,’ so we moved.

Cambridge > Training Camp > Boot Camp

As a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, Kurt was a very successful heavyweight on the wrestling team and placed well at both the state and New England meet, “Wrestling was a lot of fun and taught me quite a bit,” he said. “It’s just you alone on the mat with the other guy. There is no team, there is no support, but you still have to think about the team because you have to score to win the meet.”

In 1989, Kurt made the short trek from Cambridge over the Mass. Ave Bridge to Commonwealth Ave and Boston University. He was recruited as a wrestler and started in general studies before he made the switch to accounting and ultimately marketing. Kurt enjoyed Boston for two years but made the decision to transfer to Fitchburg State University, close to where his mother was living after she moved from Cambridge. There he transitioned into accounting, and ultimately marketing, and was a founding father of the Eta Tau Chapter of Sigma Pi Fraternity International.

At that time as tensions with Iraq lead to Operation Desert Shield and later Desert Storm, he felt the pull of serving his country and enlisted in the Army Reserves at Fort Devens, “That experience in college made me feel like I wanted to protect the country. I was pretty charged from everything that was going on and the military was the best way to do my part,” he said.

Kurt can attribute a lot of how he approaches working with people in both his real estate business and volunteer leadership positions to that experience serving in the military.

“Camaraderie and the ability to coalesce around a mission or an objective and to work with a group of professionals that were committed, at a very deep level, to supporting positive outcomes was huge,” he said.

Yet, Kurt quickly discovered that being in the military wasn’t like growing up in Cambridge, where he was surrounded by diverse cultures and thought.

“Cambridge has a very unique culture and growing up there, you didn’t realize that the rest of the world wasn’t diverse like Cambridge was. You just assumed that’s the way the world worked. When I got to the military, it was a very different situation. Very few of the people I was with in the Army had that level of global understanding that I received just by growing up where I did,” he said.

“It was helpful to hear perspectives from people that had very different experiences and very different views. Sometimes that could be a little scary, sometimes it could be a little interesting, but it did teach one thing; respect was important,” he said. “Even if you didn’t agree, as long as you had a shared vision and you could respect each other, you could get whatever you needed to get done, done.”

After basic and advanced training school, where Kurt became an Army Counterintelligence Specialist, he continued to go to college during the week and practice real estate on the weekends, except when he had to drill. Kurt also made a service branch transfer into the Air National Guard after being attached to the 157 Air Refueling Wing out of Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire.

REALTOR® Volunteer

Kurt became a REALTOR® in 1997 and like many REALTORS® who start to volunteer for the REALTOR® Association, it happened because another REALTOR® took the opportunity to ask Kurt to do it. However, when you’ve been a very active volunteer like Kurt, actually remembering who asked him was difficult, “I think it might have been Darlene Sodano who asked me to get involved at the local level [North Central Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®]. And then when she stepped up to president-elect, she asked me to chair finance and become treasurer and it just kept going from there,” he said.

Being a successful volunteer leader to Kurt means taking your time to really get to know the organization. He did this by sitting on multiple committees over many years. As a result of this deep commitment and volunteerism, he was recognized as the 2012 Massachusetts REALTOR® of the Year.

“Being named REALTOR® of the Year was a great surprise,” said Kurt. “I love that the award is about contributions to the REALTOR® Association and not based on sales. And I really believe that being named Realtor® of the Year opened the door for me to meet many more REALTORS® across the state.”

A Member-Centric Organization

For 2020, Kurt is committed to continuing the work from the last few years of guiding MAR’s transformation into a more member-centric organization. To Kurt, this means that MAR is focused on delivering exceptional services with high levels of satisfaction for all the REALTORS®, volunteer leaders, and professional staff who come in contact with MAR, “We’re very good in key areas like government affairs, fighting to preserve private property rights, legal issues, and delivering education like GRI, etc.,” said Kurt. “But what I also want, is for my fellow ReEALTOR®, members to know that we, as an association, care about them and that we’re committed to them on a deep level.”

To continue this progress, Kurt is focused on a series of initiatives across all levels of the Association that are designed to rebuild trust and engagement with the members through improved transparency and communication. One idea Kurt would like to roll out is for the MAR Leadership Team to conduct listening sessions across the state.

“Communication and transparency start by actively listening to the members and responding in real-time. I want to steal a page from the National Association of REALTORS® and bring in REALTORS®, volunteers, and members of our real estate family together to discuss the market and what’s important to them.”

The Volunteer Experience

Kurt is also focused on improving the volunteer experience by working with current and past leaders along with state and local association CEOs to develop and create future leaders in a coordinated way.

“It’s important for the organization to have that type of symbiotic relationship, where we honor and pay respect to the leaders that have been there and have developed that base of knowledge, and at the same time, create opportunities for them to inspire the new people coming into the organization,” he said. “Essentially, we need to create opportunities to ‘pay it forward’!”

According to Kurt, there are also opportunities to improve the volunteer experience by following the lead of ISCs (Institutes, Societies, and Councils), “These organizations have been very successful in engaging REALTORS® that may not have been involved in the traditional REALTOR® structure at local or the state level. They’ve created another pathway for REALTORS® to get involved in volunteer leadership. And they’re doing it at a very high level.”

The First for MAR

When Kurt’s term starts at 12:00 a.m. on January 1, 2020, he will become the first person of color to be president of the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® in its 96-year history. While he completely understands and appreciates the significance of this moment, his experience growing up in Cambridge has allowed him to keep his eyes focused on the future and creating more opportunities.

“I have been fortunate in that color has never been something I had to think about along the way and I strongly believe that the REALTOR® Association offers a great opportunity for all of our members regardless of race, gender, religion, orientation, or background,” said Kurt.

“As I attend meetings around the country for NAR, I find that there is great diversity both in the composition of committees and in leadership. That said, I still believe we need to do much more to help ensure that our members and our volunteer leaders better reflect the populations we serve. We need to continue to create opportunities for talented and engaged REALTORS® from a diversity of backgrounds to want to enter our industry and participate and contribute as volunteer leaders in the REALTOR® Association.”

At Home

Kurt has worn many hats as a Realtor® volunteer over the years, and he has chosen to hang them all in Templeton, where he lives with his wife of 17 years Robin, and their three daughters: Latasha, 17; Heaven, 16; and Enaya, 12. Templeton is also home to Kurt’s Mother Beverly, Kurt’s Executive Director Diane Guercio, and Listing Manager Jeannie Murawski, who have all relocated to Templeton in the last three years.

“While I love traveling and working with REALTORS® from around the state and around the country, nothing is better than being at home with the ones you love! And Templeton has been a wonderful community to call home.”

Kurt has led his five-person HomesJustForYou Team at Keller Williams Realty for seven years. While Kurt has learned many life lessons from growing up in Cambridge, his time in the military, raising three daughters, and more hours in volunteer leadership with the REALTORS® Organization than he can count, he says it all comes down to one thing,

“We need to help empower people, create collaborative environments for them to work together, Inspire them to reach for their highest potential, and together find incredible ways to achieve the goals, objectives, and the mission we have been charged to undertake!”