If you attended the Colorado Real Estate Journal’s 14th annual Property Management Conference and Expo in February, you likely heard a panel discussion highlighting the careers of an exciting group of young commercial property management professionals. As is typical in this type of panel discussion, the opening question was, “How did you get into this business?” And, as also is typical, the response was generally something akin to “I fell into it.”
As a fellow property professional who “fell” into the industry over 30 years ago, this is a sentiment that I understand and have continued to hear repeatedly over the years. As the demand grows for the diversity of talent necessary to respond to the ever-increasing knowledge base required to perform the various disciplines within our industry so too is the demand for uniquely sophisticated and talented professionals.
With the industry’s growing exposure within the market through associations such as Building Owners and Managers Association International and others, young professionals are actually making a choice to enter into our industry. I’ve been fortunate to experience the benefit of meeting and hiring several of these young professionals, each with an initial career choice dramatically different than what they eventually chose. Their diverse backgrounds dovetail into what we do on a daily basis proving the benefit of diverse knowledge.
Whitney Travis Kelly. Whitney Travis Kelly is a lawyer … yes, a lawyer. I must confess, I was hesitant to consider her as an addition to the team. I wondered if her background was too different and if she would be challenged enough by her proposed new role as assistant property manager. Any property manager interviewing Whitney had to ask, why commercial property management?
As a lawyer by education and training, Kelly practiced in bankruptcy and creditors rights.
“Unlike a lot of lawyers, I like numbers and gravitated to the bankruptcy code in law school,” she said. “While practicing, I represented a lot of banks and landlords in claims and preference litigation and breach of contract disputes, and got very comfortable interpreting contracts and leases – particularly default provisions – and calculating amounts due thereunder.”
Kelly became interested in property management when she saw a job posting for an assistant property manager. The job description included several skills she had developed as a lawyer – lease analysis, collection and ensuring compliance with the lease – in addition to new things she wanted to explore, such as learning the industry, developing relationships with tenants and with peers within the industry as well as problem solving, she said.
Kelly interviewed over 30 professionals in the real estate world over a four-month period as she explored her career move. When she interviewed at 1670 Broadway, I was intrigued. How much of what we do has some level of legal impact? Of course, almost everything we touch has a legal impact in this litigious world.
I suggested to her that she may find that she “practices” more law on our management team than she did in a firm. I was right. Today, Kelly brings a variety of talents and experience to the team filling a niche that I didn’t foresee needing before meeting her.
Ellen Wilcoxen. How do you top adding a lawyer to your team? Hire a medical student. Ellen Wilcoxen initially pursued a career in medicine. But, due to the unending pressures and intense competition within the industry, Wilcoxen entered commercial real estate as our tenant services coordinator. Why commercial property management?
“I left medicine seeking a career that was still challenging, but also enjoyable,” she said. “I chose my career based on its collaborative nature, which encompasses professionals from various fields; it felt approachable and exciting.”
As she began her career, growth opportunities in the field became apparent and she enjoyed the exposure to diverse fields, including law, business, mechanics, tenant relations and accounting, she said.
“I greatly enjoy being in touch with the transformation Denver is currently undergoing; this is assisted by abundant extracurricular learning and networking opportunities through my membership in Denver BOMA,” said Wilcoxen. “1670 has a very team-oriented, open-door approach; employees of every level are encouraged to have a degree of property ownership and enthusiasm.”
We desperately need bright, knowledgeable and enthusiastic engineer team members ready to respond as advances in technology dictate how we run our buildings.
Jeremy Andrews. Jeremy Andrews didn’t fall into this industry – he was born into it.
“My father was a graveyard engineer at a downtown building,” he said. “I remember walking through chiller plants and mechanical rooms while my dad performed routine rounds. I always looked up to my dad and wanted to do what he did. As a result, I haven’t had a job outside this industry.”
As the assistant chief engineer, early demands of the job were more mechanical and less technologically demanding. For example, the vast majority of mechanical control was pneumatic; direct digital controls were a new and expensive alternative for efficient heating, ventilating and air-conditioning control, he said.
“Today, things move at a much faster pace,” he said. Engineers must be technologically oriented and must stay on the cutting edge. Complex automation systems and even more complex analytic systems are just a very few of the basic tools necessary to effectively operate a building and respond to owner demands for efficiency, he said.
“Today’s engineer should be comfortable with analyzing data, both historic and real time,” Andrews said. “He/she must be able to comfortably work with the management team as a ‘team’ member.”
Krystal Sears. While Krystal Sears somewhat “fell” into the industry, starting her career at 1670 Broadway and working her way up to property manager, her tenure has allowed her to formulate some observations about how we perform our tasks and about how we, as an industry, can further expose our industry as a career path of choice.
“To draw more diversity of knowledge and experience into the industry, I think the biggest challenge is making people aware of it as an option,” said Sears.
There are many ways to increase industry awareness to help you hire the best and the brightest, she said. A few years ago, 1670 Broadway hosted a tour for University of Denver real estate graduate students. “For little to no expense, we introduced a class of young professionals to the option of a commercial property management career,” she said. Other options may include social media, career fairs and building tours for schools as well as mentoring and internships.
“Keeping good, hard-working team members can be difficult,” she said. “Some get bored and are off to the next adventure. The management team at 1670 Broadway attempts to avoid stagnation and limitations set by job descriptions by involving and exposing engineering and management team members to a little of everything. It helps to expand each member’s knowledge base. We learn something new all of the time, which keeps each day as its own adventure.”
Together, each of the young professionals contributes to a well-rounded team. It’s an exciting view of what we can expect from our future industry professionals that prompts us “old-timers” to be open to considering new paradigms in backgrounds and experience when building our teams.