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updated 2:54 PM UTC, Jul 28, 2018

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Builders' long-time CEO Anderson, who planned to retire at year end, told it's time to go now

When Sam Anderson accepted the job as CEO of the Master Buildings of King and Snohomish Counties 16 years ago, his key assignment was to change the image builders had with the community and the legislature of being confrontational and obstructionist.


So over the following decade and a half, Anderson turned the MBA into a respected organization that supported housing as well as environmental concerns, became a philanthropically visible entity and a political force, both locally and at the state level.


Anderson announced a few months ago that he would be retiring at the end of 2013, but in a dramatic turn of events Monday, the leadership of the organization that Anderson built into the nation's largest and most respected homebuilders organization told him they wanted to "make a change" now.


Anderson said he was advised by the five-member leadership group that includes the current and past president that his contract was being bought out and that, as he put it, "I was told it was time to move on."


Chief operating officer Rick Miller was named to serve as acting CEO while the association looks for a replacement for Anderson, which the leadership said would happen by the end of the year.


The only formal explanation for the action, which one longtime member said reflected underlying issues some members had with Anderson, was that the executive group felt it was time to make a change.


The formal release announcing Anderson's departure made a point of praising what he had achieved during his tenture as CEO.


"They told me they were giving me a good severance package and I told them, 'this is not about finances, it's about dignity, respect and appreciation.'"


So in a single meeting with the departing CEO, the organization's leadership may have made it more challenging for a new CEO who will have to overcome any community ill-will left by the manner of Anderson's departure.


The developments Monday followed an interview I had with Anderson last week that was designed to put in perspective his decade and a half with the organization whose image he remade in a way that has brought respect to the MBA. There was no sense at that interview that Anderson expected his departure to be imminent.


"When they hired me, they said, 'we are a black hat group; make us a white hat group," Anderson recalls of when he arrived to assume the role as head of the two-county builders group after a decade as general counsel and director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association.


"Why should we be thought of as a black hat group since, as home builders, we provide a basic human need," Anderson recalls thinking.


Asked, during the interview last week at the homebuilders headquarters in Bellevue, what he views as his single biggest accomplishment, Anderson replied without hesitation: "Helping the organization become a highly respected corporate citizen."


In the years prior to Anderson's arrival, the negative image of the homebuilders' association was due largely to the fact that the image of the local group was tainted by the image of the statewide Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), which . found pleasure in an take-no-prisoners approach to dealing with governmental entities and lawmakers.


My first interview with Anderson was soon after his arrival in the late '90s and he made the point he was ready to do battle with the BIAW to make it clear to all that his organization's views were in no way represented by the statewide group, even exploring the possibility to dropping BIAW membership.


"I came with a sword in hand to conquer," Anderson said with a smile during our interview a few days ago.


"BIAW reflected horribly on our industry," he says now. "They were so far to the right that it was easy to make us look moderate," but he emphasizes that the relations between the state group and his association are now excellent.


In battling to create a new image for the group in the early years after his arrival, he positioned MBA as a homebuilders association that would work across party lines for the benefit of housing.


One of his first "white hat" steps was to create a Built Green focus for the builders in 2000, one of the earliest focuses on environmental concerns by any organization and led to national awards, and broad community recognition.


Then he conceived Master Builders Care Foundation that has allowed the organization to gain respect from an array of nonprofits and elected officials across the region.


An irony of Anderson's departure was that, in anticipation of transitioning the organization to new leadership in a changing environment, he oversaw implementation of a new governance structure, reducing the size of the board and streamlining the activities of the executive committee.


I asked Anderson in the week-ago interview what kind of person his successor would need to be.


"The new person will need to be the face of the MBA, one who will help to solve community problems and be considered by everyone to be a positive player," he replied, noting that he didn't expect to be part of the selection process.


It was the executive committee, in its first meeting under the new structure, that decided Anderson wouldn't even be around to meet his successor, whenever that person is selected.

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