Man of the People
Man of the People
“This is my Miami,” Moe Veissi cheerfully banters, surveying the city’s vertical contours from across Key Biscayne Bay. “I built these [buildings] in my spare time on the weekends.”
While no one is quicker with a quip than Veissi, his underlying pride in the city is easy to understand. A Miami resident since his family descended on the sleepy enclave from Cicero, Ill., in 1948 when he was 2, Veissi has seen the city blossom from a culturally isolated backwater to a major international megalopolis. “There’s no better place in the world. I love being here,” says Veissi, looking out at the glistening skyline from one of his favorite local restaurants, the landmark Rusty Pelican.
It’s a rare treat these days for Veissi, the 2012 president of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, to linger for more than a long weekend at home thanks to a grueling schedule that keeps him on the road two to three weeks per month, conferring face to face with REALTORS® across the country.
And while Veissi, who turns 66 on Jan. 30, is perfectly at ease texting, e-mailing, or video chatting on Skype, he much prefers meeting people face to face. Whether it’s in a ballroom with thousands of attendees or in a conference room with just a handful of folks, he is, at the core, an emotional connector. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel,” he says, citing poet Maya Angelou’s wisdom as central to his values system.
The exuberance that defines his leadership style helps explain Veissi’s success in business as well as his steady trajectory through the local and national real estate association ranks. He became president of his local board—then known as the Coral Gables Association of REALTORS®—in 1981, six years after he opened his own brokerage, Veissi & Associates, which handles everything from land acquisition to residential sales. As he became increasingly known and respected at the local and state level, Veissi was elected president of the Florida Association of REALTORS® in 2002 and named the state’s REALTOR® of the Year in 2003.
More than 40 years since he opened the business, Veissi and his wife Matey (pronounced mate-ee), a former college political science instructor who is now co-owner of the brokerage, have weathered the area’s significant downturn and are thriving by juggling a mixture of distressed and conventional sales. “There are a lot of opportunities here now. There’s been a lot of international investor interest here over the past year, especially from Latin America and Europe,” Veissi says.
Veissi has been an affable but fierce competitor since his high school football days, when he became known as Moe. “My coach said he didn’t want a defensive tackle named Maurice,” Veissi says. “So he started calling me Moe and it stuck, though my parents never liked it and refused to use it.” Always “big and loud” as a kid, Veissi says he was never the sort who merely blended into the pack on the defensive line—or anywhere else: “I called the plays on behalf of the linebacker because people could hear me better.”
No challenge ever seemed too daunting to Veissi. When 2008 NAR President Dick Gaylord asked Veissi to be his RPAC fund-raising chairman, Gaylord had a very specific mandate: Raise $10 million. Never mind that real estate markets were tanking in many parts of the country and that no RPAC chair had ever raised more than $7.3 million in any year. Veissi, who says he’s much less motivated by the idea of winning than by “not losing,” took on the job and raised $10.3 million.
How'd he do it? “We went out and touched people,” he says. “You can be a guru of electronic communications and send out as many postcards and e-mails as you like, but in the end success is about emotionally connecting with people in the room, whether it’s 150 people or 1,500.”
Taking on Your Issues
Veissi’s gift for connecting will be critical in the year following approval of a $40 national dues increase, dedicated to strengthening NAR’s advocacy muscle. For him, the need was right and true: “If you don’t have a strong advocate, someone who cares about you and your business, you’ll wither and die.” And he’s not referring merely to his own role as president. “I work as a team with my upcoming presidents, vice presidents, CEO, and 15 liaisons to NAR committees, as well as others who are active in committees. It’s the leadership team structure that enables us to be effective on the members’ behalf,” he says. When members question the approach, “I remind them they pay for insurance for their car, boat, or home. This is inexpensive insurance on their business.”
Veissi is intent on ensuring that members get the greatest possible benefit from their investment with the association. His video podcast “Mondays With Moe” lets members stay up-to-date not only on NAR political initiatives but on other programs, products, and services the association provides. “I don’t want people to view us as a group of elitists looking to promote our own agenda. Our agenda is the members' agenda, as well as that of future and current property owners.”
‘Lucky to Have Him’
Veissi’s close friend R.J. Collins, a former Florida Association of REALTORS® president who worked with Moe to help overturn a proposed sales tax on services in the state, says the new president’s strong communications skills will serve NAR members extremely well. “He’s one of the best communicators I’ve ever met. That, along with his legislative strengths, will surely make a difference for members,” Collins says. Another friend, Tom Salomone of Coral Springs, Fla., who will serve as vice president and director of REALTOR® Party Activities in 2012, agrees that Veissi’s member-driven focus is a hallmark trait. “His core values are honesty, integrity, passion, and commitment. We’re lucky to have him in this position.”
The president’s theme for 2012, “REALTORS® are the heart of the deal,” should resonate strongly with members, as it applies on several levels. “I want to make sure REALTORS® stay in the center of any transaction. I also know that REALTORS® have a heart. They are going to hold people’s hand. They have almost a familial role with their clients,” he says.
Veissi possesses a strong belief that NAR needs to be an advocate for not just REALTORS®, but consumers as well. With the American dream of home ownership in peril for so many, he says it is NAR’s duty to send a strong message to lawmakers in Washington to support the interests of the vast majority of taxpayers who are either home owners or aspiring home owners. “If the [qualified residential mortgage] proposal passes, it will take most people from nine to 14 years to save enough for a down payment,” he says. “That’s not okay. The public needs an advocate.”
Despite triple bypass surgery last May, Veissi feels ready to tackle the challenges ahead. “I’ve lost 25 pounds and feel much better,” he says. “I am a food-aholic, but I’ve made changes. No more fast food or sausages.” Veissi wasn’t too fazed by the procedure. It’s nothing compared to the fact that he was once, briefly, declared dead, he says. He was 25 years old, and his car was struck by a drunk driver. “I probably wouldn’t have made it, except the driver stopped and flagged down help,” he says. Today, Veissi keeps things in perspective with the help of meditation. “Once or twice a day I make a point to tune everything out for a few minutes, no matter where I am. It’s like self-hypnosis. It helps with stress reduction, focus, and even sleeping,” he says. “It’s great for decompressing the mind and body.”
What also keeps him centered is having family involved in his business. Veissi focuses on commercial and land sales, while Matey gives her full-time attention to the residential side of the brokerage. Their sons Mallory, 34, and Maurice Jr., 32, have real estate licenses as well and are involved part-time with sales. Both sons have outside business ventures as well. Mallory has an information technology business and Maurice Jr. is involved with setting up medical diagnostic centers. “They both have vision and like being entrepreneurial,” he says, avoiding the obvious reference to the apples falling close to the (family) tree.
When he was 16, Maurice Jr. asked a big favor of his parents: Could his friend Miguel, neglected by his parents, join the family—indefinitely? The Veissis said yes. Now 33, Miguel is a special response team member with the Metro-Dade County police and a veteran of several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Army Reserve. Although he reunited with his own parents as an adult, “Miguel will always be part of our family,” Veissi says.
Veissi, the younger of Ella and Jack Veissi’s two children, says his parents were extremely tolerant and open-minded people, well ahead of their time, enrolling Veissi in one of Miami’s few racially integrated public high schools in 1960. His father Jack had moved to the United States from the Tuscan region of Italy as a child. When Veissi was 2, the family left Illinois for Miami because “my dad hated the winter.” Jack, who had worked in factories, managed tourist shops when he got to Florida. “My family valued loyalty. We were very emotional. There was a lot of yelling and hugging. We were the kind of people who cried over a great meal,” he says. Though he jokingly credits his elder sister Jacqueline with inheriting the bulk of the genes for intelligence in his family, Veissi proudly graduated with a business degree from Florida Atlantic University, where he met Matey during a political science class.
Veissi’s entrance to real estate was precipitated by his parents’ passing. “My mother died when I was 18 and my father died when I was 20, and there were a lot unpaid medical bills,” he says. “I felt obligated to take care of the debt, so I got my real estate license when I was 21.” He worked for the next four years for two Florida land development companies. “I learned a lot about the business, including what not to do. I became good at reading contracts,” he notes. In 1972 he joined a Red Carpet Real Estate franchise as a salesperson and later became a manager. He helped grow the fledgling business to three offices with more than 100 salespeople, but after a few years Veissi was ready to strike out on his own. Veissi & Associates’ first office was a 77-square-foot closet-like room. His first client thought the petite space offered a distinct advantage. “He told me that buyers would have to go outside to change their mind,” Veissi chuckles. His company eventually grew to three offices, though he has scaled back to one in recent years. His biggest coup, he says, was getting Matey to join him in the business in 1981.
“He needed me initially to handle the financial end of the business. It’s worked out really well,” she says. Veissi’s strengths, she says, are bringing people together and finding ways to make even the most difficult transactions work out. “He is very intuitive about putting deals together.”
And even as he tends to the vicissitudes of his own business, the business affecting all NAR members is his greater priority this year. “If more people appreciate what the association is doing for them, I will have done my job. We are here to promote the free exchange of real estate in this country and around the world.”