Making a leader: Salem’s Kenny Parcell’s rise from humble beginnings to lead national trade association
When Kenny Parcell was a 7-year-old in the 1980s, his athletic ability earned him a spot on the All-Utah County baseball team.
While this was definitely an honor, it also presented logistical challenges.
Parcell lived in Orem and the practices took place at American Fork High School. Since his parents were both working in order to make ends meet, covering the 12 miles to be with the team was all up to Parcell.
For many, especially at that age, the obstacle would’ve been too much to overcome. But not for Parcell.
“I got on my BMX bike, put my glove on the handlebars and rode all the way on my own because I wanted to be on that team so badly,” Parcell said. “I had a specific route that I would come home so if my mom or dad got done with work, they would know where to find me to pick me up.”
He recalled how his mom told him that to be successful he needed to “work twice as hard, have twice the grit, be twice as polite and twice as good.”
Both his determination and that simple guidance have molded Parcell into a successful businessman and a leader in his field. Now living in Salem, Parcell is the broker/owner of Equity Real Estate Utah in Spanish Fork and has sold more than 3,200 homes in his 24-year career.
On Nov. 10, Parcell became just the third Utahn to be installed as the president of the National Association of Realtors, the largest trade organization in the country with nearly 1.6 million members in the real estate industry.
“Realtors are good, hard-working people,” Parcell said. “Nobody volunteers more or does more for the community than those in our profession. We are the first to go to work, the last to come home and the last to get paid. There have been a lot of good people who have believed in me and seen things in me that even I didn’t see at the time.”
Few understand the significance of Parcell’s achievement like former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who is also a Realtor and served in various roles in the same organization in addition to his political career.
“Kenny is a great person and a great individual,” Herbert said. “As a past president of the National Governors Association, I have a recognition of what we can do at a national level through the good example of Utah, sharing information and learning from each other. The National Association of Realtors does that through all the state presidents and the board of directors. I recognize how important it is to learn from each other to make the whole country better.”
Parcell’s road to the NAR presidency is one that includes perseverance, drive and, of course, unexpected-but-fortunate twists of fate.
After seeing the challenges his family endured, working hard but not having much money, Parcell was determined to get a college degree.
His athletic ability opened some doors for him to reach that goal, and he was planning to go to the University of Utah to play football. While on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, he found out that there was a chance to stay closer to home and have scholarship money to play at BYU.
That might not seem like it would have anything to do with becoming successful in real estate, but it was the first step on the path. That’s because one of Parcell’s Cougar teammates, linebacker Jeff Ellis, introduced him to his future wife, Heather.
“It changed everything because after a year, Heather and I got married,” Parcell said. “She was getting her Masters in Business Administration and I had three more years of school, so I thought why rent? I’ll see if I could own a house.”
The process of buying a home for the new couple, however, didn’t go well.
“We went to see an agent and she told me she was really busy, so for me to see if I could talk my way into any of the six homes you qualify for,” Parcell said. “So I did that and we got the offer accepted. Thirty days later we got married, closed on our home and went on our honeymoon. When we got back, the good white refrigerator was replaced by a lime green one that didn’t work. The kitchen cabinets were taken and the air conditioning was taken. I called the agent and said, ‘we have a problem.’ She answered, ‘no, you have a problem.’ Because of that, for the first six months we lived out of a camping cooler.”
Not long after that, Parcell saw a classified ad about becoming a Realtor and decided he never wanted to work through that nightmare again. He got his real estate license so he would understand the process, which turned out to be useful in the classroom when he wrote a paper about his experience.
“It was a family science class and the professor called me,” Parcell said. “She said the teaching assistant was sick and so he stumbled across my paper. She was transferring and wanted to interview me about selling his house. My very first client was my current professor, who then referred me to two other professors and that just kept growing. The first year alone I sold 15 homes, which is pretty good business.”
Suddenly he had clients, many of whom didn’t even know he was actually a BYU student. He did get his degree and had 35 job opportunities, but he already knew what career path he was going to take.
“There is absolutely no regrets,” Parcell said. “If I didn’t go on a mission or went up to the University of Utah, or if I didn’t get my real estate license, none of this happens for me. I didn’t have any connection to the business, but here I am.”
He said he learned early on that kindness goes a long ways.
“Everyone is struggling with something,” Parcell said. “If you can be a little more empathetic with people, you have a lot more compassion. It makes a big difference.”
His business grew and he enjoyed significant success through the 1990s and early 2000s. He actually had no inclination to get involved with the Realtor trade association until a colleague invited him to volunteer.
“I didn’t do anything with the state or local boards until another Realtor, Randy Smith, called me up and asked if I had considered running,” Parcell said. “I asked him about the time commitment and when he said it was probably a couple of hours per week, I said I was too busy. He said, ‘Kenny, no one has been more blessed than you from this industry’ and then hung up. I thought about it and called him back about five minutes later to tell him he was right.”
That conversation led Parcell to get involved first at the local level in Utah Valley, becoming the president in 2008, before going on to serve at the state and national levels.
As he got to know other industry professionals throughout the country, he decided he wanted to serve them at the highest level.
“People gave me opportunities on committees and I built relationships,” Parcell said. “I got to see you could make a difference on a national scale. You can help people with homeownership across the country. The average net worth of a renter is $8,000 while the average net worth of a property owner is $340,000. To put more people in the marketplace to build wealth is something special.”
While uncommon for smaller states to have members become presidents of the national association, it is even rarer for an individual to run completely unopposed. But Parcell had such strong relationships that no one chose to run against him.
“I always say it is better to be prepared for an opportunity than it is to have an opportunity and not be prepared,” Parcell said. “I feel I’ve served at enough high-level capacities that I should be prepared for this opportunity.”
He comes in as the Realtor organization is facing challenges, including inflation and skyrocketing interest rates, that are making real estate more difficult for many to afford.
“I believe that smooth sailing never made for skilled sailors,” Parcell said. “I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve been through some challenging markets. I’m still in the business. My kids like to eat year-round so I’m out there hustling every day. Every member can know that their president is going through the same things they are.”
His goal as president for the next year is to show members throughout the country how much they are appreciated.
“We’re going to go to them and explain that they are the brand — that the brand is us,” Parcell said. “We all bring something good or bad to the Realtor brand. We also want to show Congress how passionate we are about the value of private property rights, homeownership and fair housing for all.”
Even though he has duties and responsibilities to such a large organization, he still feels that it is important to focus on his own personal improvement.
“There are three things I always do to evaluate my day: Do something hard, do something fun and do somethings for someone else,” Parcell said.
Wherever he goes and whatever he does, Parcell said he is proud to represent his home in Utah Valley.
“I love our community,” Parcell said. “That’s why I live here. It’s not just because I was raised here but I love the values, the lack of crime and the way we value business. I’m proud to be an American but I’m also proud to live in Utah Valley.”
Herbert said that Parcell’s story is a remarkable one and exemplifies the concept that hard work brings success.
“He is the personification of the American dream, the ability to have upward mobility,” Herbert said. “People have been coming to our country since its inception, not for any guarantees but for an opportunity to be the best they can be. Kenny dedicated himself to improvement. He was going to work hard to find a way to make himself better economically and spiritually. He has surrounded himself with great people who have motivated him to be better, while he in turn motivates them to be better. He is literally an embodiment of the American dream of self-improvement and upward mobility, who has then expanded his role to touch people nationally and worldwide.”
Parcell said his advice to anyone facing any of the same challenges he faced early in life reflects what his mother told him so long ago.
“I think if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will believe in you,” Parcell said. “There has to be something that gets you out of bed in the morning — and that’s got to be you. You’ve got to get up in the morning and believe that you can do great things. You can’t expect somebody to do it for you. The world meets nobody half halfway. If you want something in this country, you can be anything or you can go get anything you want if you want to put in the time and hard work to be the expert of your craft. You have to be the one who will do what the average person won’t do.”