Texas’ Keller Williams wins back executive after Twitter dustup

Former eXp president of operations switches teams in ongoing brokerage battle

Kwx CEO Carl Liebert and chairman Gary Keller with Stacey Onnen, Keller Williams’ new head of business operations (KWX, Keller Williams, LinkedIn)
Kwx CEO Carl Liebert and chairman Gary Keller with Stacey Onnen, Keller Williams’ new head of business operations (KWX, Keller Williams, LinkedIn)

UPDATED Feb. 12, 3:10 p.m.: In an industry known for its high-profile poaching battles, a rivalry between Texas’ Keller Williams and virtual brokerage eXp is heating up.

Former eXp Realty President of Operations Stacey Onnen is headed to Keller Williams. Onnen will be the Austin-based brokerage’s new head of business operations.

Onnen joined eXp in 2018 as its senior vice president of brokerage operations. She first worked at Keller Williams a decade earlier, starting at Arizona-based Keller Williams Check Realty in 2008. She moved from there to be a Realty ONE Group regional and operations manager and then on to eXp. Onnen is credited for the rapid growth of the Bellingham, Washington-based brokerage after she joined the company.

She is “renowned for an ability to operationally scale brokerages through periods of rapid growth,” said Carl Liebert, CEO of kwx, the holding company of Keller Williams.

Onnen’s move comes during an increasingly public feud between eXp and Keller Williams. Keller Williams Realty and eXp World Holdings, eXp Realty’s parent company, are in court arguing over a temporary restraining order a Texas court issued to former Keller Williams CEO Mark Willis on Feb. 7. The order blocks Willis’ planned move to join eXp in an executive role. EXp filed a counter motion to dissolve the order the same day it was issued.

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“Mark Willis is a current co-owner of two Keller Williams Regions and a Market Center,” Keller Williams spokesperson Darryl Frost said in a statement to The Real Deal. “Due to his current ownership interests, Mr. Willis has non-competition obligations in place with Keller Williams in which he agreed not to compete with his partners and Keller Williams while simultaneously profiting off them. As a result, the company filed this lawsuit to enforce the agreements and protect the interests of his franchise partners and Keller Williams.”

Willis started working for Keller Williams in 1991, when he took on leadership of one of the brokerage’s Austin-based teams. Company founder Gary Keller appointed Willis president in 2002 and CEO in 2005. Willis is credited with leading the company’s growth and transition into an international brokerage. He left Keller Williams in 2014 to lead his own coaching company for brokers and agents and embark on other business ventures.

Two days before Onnen’s hiring was announced, EXp World Holdings founder Glenn Sanford tweeted, “It’s fun to have a competitor who diminished you in the past try to use the legal system to try to keep former team members from joining the team” but did not name the “competitor.” Sanford led a team at Keller Williams in the early 2000s.

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UPDATE: Adds statement from Keller Williams spokesperson in fifth paragraph.