David Pekel Out as CEO of NARI

NEW: NARI board votes unanimously to name Elsie Iturralde, CAE as interim CEO

authors Patrick O'Toole | November 9, 2021

CHICAGO—NARI, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, announced its separation from David Pekel who served as its CEO. It is the second departure of a NARI CEO in three years. The previous CEO, Fred Ulreich resigned in June of 2018.

A press release announcing Pekel’s departure from NARI did not say whether he quit or was terminated. Members of the organization’s board of directors contacted by Qualified Remodeler said they were unable to comment on the matter.

News of Pekel’s departure from NARI on Nov. 3 comes at a time of tumult in relations between the national organization and many of its chapters. In recent months, five chapters have left the organization and one had its charter rescinded.

In May the national board made the unprecedented decision to cut ties with its Washington, D.C. chapter. The decision to terminate the chapter was complicated by the spread of a misdirected email by NARI’s board chair, Doug King. The email disparaged the D.C. chapter’s longtime executive director Angela Hubbard who was also serving on the NARI national board at the time.

Many of the chapters that have left NARI have since reorganized under the Professional Remodeling Organization banner, or PRO. These include organizations in New York City, Boston, and Richmond, Va., among others.

The 2021-2022 NARI Executive Committee. From left, Andy Apter, Chris Egner, Doug King, Dennis Gehman, and Jason Hensler.

The dispute between NARI and its chapters goes back to August of 2020 when NARI national sought to increase member dues, an increase that was later cut in half by NARI and postponed one year. What followed was a list of grievances drafted and signed by 15 NARI chapters. A summary of the grievances boiled down to alleged poor communication and a lack of coalition building efforts to support initiatives directed by national.

Another area of contention was the process by which Pekel was named CEO. Pekel, a remodeler from Milwaukee, previously served as a volunteer leader with NARI and stepped into the interim CEO role on an unpaid basis when Ulreich was dismissed. Then as now, an outside firm was hired to vet candidates, but some said they saw the process as opaque, an allegation that NARI and Pekel strongly dispute. Pekel eventually interviewed for the CEO role to be made permanent. The board later followed the positive recommendation by consultants that Pekel get the job.

Throughout this past spring and summer, Pekel and the NARI board of directors appeared to be working in lockstep on a plan to contend with chapter complaints by hosting a series of Zoom meetings with individual chapters. These meetings occurred over many weeks rather than in a single large meeting as had been proposed by the chapters.

Pekel and the board also showed a unified front in its plan to roll out a marketing program designed to increase its membership among at-large members in places where no local chapter exists. This plan included the rollout of a new online member-communication hub and an emphasis on its company accreditation program as well as other certification programs. The organization also made a splash by supporting a NASCAR team.

Iturralde Voted Interim CEO by Board

The national association said on Nov. 9 that longtime staffer and chief operating officer, Elsie Iturralde, had been named interim chief executive by a unanimous vote of its board. The board is being led by Chris Egner who stepped in to fill the leadership post vacated by Dennis Gehman, a Philadelphia-area remodeler, who took a medical leave from the organization earlier this fall. Gehman offered an extensive explanation of the board’s actions to Qualified Remodeler this spring in contending with chapter dissent.

Iturralde will hold the post while the board conducts a search for a permanent CEO. The board had earlier said it had retained the services of an executive search firm to vet candidates for the position.

“Elsie has played a key leadership role in the growth and stability of NARI,” said Egner. “We are confident in her ability to maintain the momentum of the leadership team in service of, and programs for, NARI chapters and members.”

Critics Unmoved by Pekel’s Departure

The reaction to Pekel’s departure varied from muted to scathing. Many from leadership of chapters no longer affiliated with NARI told Qualified Remodeler that Pekel’s departure was, in effect, ‘too little, too late’ to undo actions already in motion. Others said that it amounted to no change whatsoever because the same board remained in place.

Patrick Bentivenga, a leader of the PRO organization in New York, released a statement from the boards of the six PRO chapters.

Regarding this news on the departure of David Pekel as CEO of NARI, the Board of Directors of PRO, on behalf of the six PRO Affiliates, wish to clarify a couple of statements (made in NARI’s announcement) from the PRO point of view. As to ‘looking forward to the future, [NARI] says its focus will be on engaging chapters and members in its ‘strategic process’” – this is exactly what the 15 chapters tried to get NARI Leadership to do last winter and spring, to no avail. What was sought was more involvement in how decisions were made, more transparency in how NARI conducted its business – both operationally and financially – and more respect for chapter leadership and Executive Directors.  In regard to ‘building a strong core of directors’, it was this same ‘core’ of officers and directors who refused to respond as requested to the 15 chapters concerns, and this same ‘core’ of officers that signed off on a letter inviting the chapters to terminate their chapter agreements and leave rather than continue to seek dialogue and reform. Within the new PRO network, a community has developed that embodies trust, transparency, and mutual respect. We have created a space that honors and values the affiliated organizations, leverages the talent of each to benefit the whole, and supports a collaborative effort to grow together and best servethe remodeling industry. The fact that our six PRO Affiliates left NARI is not solely based on the leadership of Mr. Pekel, but also on failed leadership and an unsustainable strategic direction put forth and supported by the NARI Officers and Board of Directors. That leadership team remains in place today.  

The PRO Board of Directors

In its release naming Iturralde as interim CEO, the NARI board expressed optimism about its current opportunity, despite the challenges of finding a new leader.

“At this dynamic time in the remodeling industry, quality remodelers are in high demand,” Egner added. “That’s why NARI will continue to engage chapters and members in strategic planning to focus on priorities that will enhance our members’ businesses.” QR

Update: A previous version of this story said that Fred Ulrich was dismissed. NARI officials note that he resigned.

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