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In his travels around the state, Adam D. Cockey Jr., president of the Maryland Association of Realtors, found that local real estate boards wanted to develop leaders, but often lacked the resources to put together top-notch programs.

"Since I've been in this business, we've felt we had a lot of great leaders, but they didn't know how to get into the system of the various boards," said Cockey, a 28-year real estate veteran and a vice president at NRT Mid-Atlantic Inc.

"We needed to present opportunities for anybody who desired to get into a leadership role. It's been very hard to move up if you're not on the buddy plan."

So Cockey revamped a leadership program he'd developed five years ago as president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors to train local real estate professionals. He refined it with the help of MAR officials, giving it a statewide focus and broadening the curriculum to include a range of real estate and business issues.

That polished and updated version -- the MAR Leadership Academy -- graduated its first class of 19 students last month and will begin its second class in October.

The academy, organizers say, is a way for MAR to connect real estate professionals from across the state, train students for leadership roles and teach them to think critically about issues affecting the industry.

Richard A. Mendenhall, president of the National Association of Realtors, said the academy is part of a growing national trend among state and local real estate associations to encourage potential leaders in their ranks, and counted four similar programs across the country.

"It's clear for the people who go to these types of training courses how much better prepared they are for leadership positions," Mendenhall said.

The academy also fills a broader need in the real estate profession, where leadership ranks have been hit hard since large brokerage firms began buying smaller independent firms.

"Originally, you had a leadership out there because you had a lot of brokers out there," said Gilbert D. Marsiglia, 62, past president of GBBR and an independent broker in Lutherville.

"Today, you don't have a lot of leadership because people go to work for the big companies."

The academy, which costs $495 and includes materials, may seem pricey, but Cockey said it's cheaper for MAR to organize it and draw applicants from around the state than to have local Realtor associations run programs. To participate, students fill out an application and interview with members of an academy committee.

Also, running the academy from a centralized location enables MAR to attract many top speakers and lecturers, Cockey said.

The academy included sessions on organizational leadership, communications and public relations, strategic planning, legislative affairs, technology, and parliamentary procedure and association governance.

Participants came from as far as Allegany County and the Eastern Shore to attend the daylong seminars at MAR's headquarters in Annapolis.

For many, the highlight of the academy was the legislative affairs session. That included a visit to the State House and a presentation by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor.

Several students also regarded it as a great networking opportunity.

"You get to meet a lot of experienced people, and if you're starting out in the business, it helps you avoid a lot of problems by talking to people who've been around," said Josh Harrison, 28, a residential sales agent at Realty Executives Main Street USA Inc. in Upper Marlboro.

For Sue Pakulla, 52, the academy was a chance to brush up on her professional skills.

"Because I've done this for so long, I wanted to make sure I'm never stale," said Pakulla, who is a manager of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA's Columbia office and a board director of the Howard County Association of Realtors.

"I wanted to refresh my skills because when you're dealing with volunteers, sometimes you have to motivate your membership."

Elizabeth Skidmore, who owns the realty firm Robison & Skidmore in Allegany County, attended the academy's six monthly sessions.

"I think it primarily helped me as far as managing my business, which in turn will help my associates and the customers they serve," she said.

"It gave me a lot of insight in management techniques."

Skidmore said it also helped gain her exposure to real estate professionals and business practices from other parts of the state and long-range view of issues affecting the industry.

With increased legislation over the years, Realtors have to navigate a range of issues, from environmental and consumer protection to financing and diversity.

"The need for education and the need to keep up with the industry has completely changed," Skidmore said. "When I started in the business, the contract was two pages, and now it's roughly 27 pages."

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