Chicago-based business executive Nykia Wright takes the helm Monday as interim CEO of the National Association of REALTORS®. Wright, who earned an MBA in General Management and Strategy from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and was named to the Crain’s Chicago Business 2018 40 Under 40, doesn’t shy away from a challenge. In her most recent role as CEO of the Chicago Sun-Times, she led the organization through a sweeping digital transformation and a merger with WBEZ (Chicago Public Media). (Read Wright’s full bio.) What can NAR members and staff expect as Wright steps into the interim CEO role? REALTOR® Magazine got a little glimpse into Wright’s world and her leadership philosophy.
Q: As NAR enters its own transformation, can you tell us about a transformational moment in your career?
A: I think many will agree that the most rewarding career moments often come during incredibly challenging times. When I joined the Chicago Sun-Times, the organization was facing potential bankruptcy brought on by declining readership and a host of industry-wide challenges. The weight of such challenges can be debilitating, but when I sat down with the staff and teams of journalists, I saw nothing but passion. That passion was contagious and led me to become a true believer in the organization’s mission and values. We accomplished a lot: launched a digital transformation, built consensus among disparate stakeholders and identified key areas of growth. I’m proud of these accomplishments, but what made the moment so important to me was the clear mindset shift that enabled me to lead with purpose. I arrived at the Sun-Times as a fixer; I left a believer.
What do you see as the value of NAR to real estate professionals and to the industry?
I have deep admiration for this association. In fact, I’ve followed NAR for years and, earlier in my career, even modeled my work as a franchise broker around its structure and organization. I know NAR to be a positive, driving force in the real estate industry—one that advocates for and empowers REALTORS®, who help families across the country realize the dream of homeownership. This association’s reach and impact are significant, and the opportunity to help amplify that is exciting.
How is an interim CEO like yourself positioned to drive change at NAR?
The interim position is powerful because it gives an organization enough breathing room to step back and think critically about its next chapter. There are no rushed decisions—only deliberate, thoughtful steps taken in the best interest of the enterprise. I am coming to this role to work alongside member and staff leadership as it takes steps to strengthen the organization. My experience driving transformational change for mission-driven organizations positions me to help NAR embark on the next phase of leading our industry.
What are the first steps you’ll take as interim CEO?
I know that in order to lead us well, I will need to hear from staff and members. That is why one of my first priorities is to ensure clear and consistent communications, and I intend to share an update on this soon. There are challenges ahead, but there is also tremendous opportunity. I know what a mission-driven association like ours can accomplish, and I’m confident that we can achieve every ambitious goal we have if we listen to each other and work together.
Can you tell us about your communications style?
You cannot be a good leader if you are not a good communicator. I’ve carried from my upbringing the importance of recognizing that everyone has something to bring to the table, honoring different perspectives and giving people room to express their ideas. That applies not just to how I’ll interact with members but how I’ll work with staff. Business has changed significantly over the past 20 years. What was once a contract between employee and employer today is much more about how leadership can support staff in a way that sets the organization up for success in the future.
Where do you turn for counsel or business advice?
I’ve established a network of mentors, many from Dartmouth business school, and relationships with business leaders in Chicago and around the country. I’ve formed these mentorships and friendships organically throughout my life. I have also been blessed to have family help guide me and give me advice at the times I needed it most.
Tell us more about your how your childhood shaped you.
I grew up in Atlanta in a values-based home. My dad was from Southern Georgia and my mom was from Southeastern Alabama. My parents learned early on to “dance between the raindrops.” They led their lives with a sense of purpose and rose to leadership in their respective areas. This is something they passed on to me. My parents often said to me, “Use your minutes well.” And that is exactly what I did. As a child, I kept busy. I played violin and piano for 10 years. I participated in basketball, soccer and karate. I attended the Atlanta School of Ballet. To this day, I keep myself busy with hobbies and new experiences.
It sounds like you grew up in a dynamic household. How did your upbringing affect your view of what it means to own a home?
To me, a home is the definition of safety. It is a place where dreams are made and realized and where families are created and grown. When I think of the power of REALTORS®, it’s so much more than guiding people through what is likely the largest transaction of their life; it’s about leading people to their ideal place of security. I use the word security purposefully here: It’s financial security, personal security and also the sense of belonging and authenticity one feels in their own home.