The Hurry-Up Generation

Millennial managers seek challenges, mentoring and a fast track.

Millennial Managers Seek Challenges, Mentoring and a Fast Track 

By Paul Rosta, Senior EditorHabitat Romania trip_1

Last year, a 20-something property manager for Colliers International requested some time off. The building he had been managing in Washington, D.C., had just been sold, and it would be a few months before his next assignment started. Rather than asking for a vacation, however, the young man arranged a two-month leave of absence and traveled to Peru, where he volunteered in an orphanage.

That adventure exemplifies qualities that many associate with the new generation of property managers, as well as other young real estate professionals: a thirst for challenge, a desire to serve others, a flexible mindset about work. For this generation, flexibility means more than permission to work at home, noted Karen Whitt, COO of U.S. real estate management services for Colliers International. “It needs to be a core principle.”

As Baby Boomers by the thousands prepare to retire, training their successors is taking on fresh urgency. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a growing number of people are making real estate management a career of choice rather than chance. Nevertheless, some experts contend that the profession must further step up mentoring and recruitment.

All too often, some leading executives contend, the industry is unwittingly discouraging its own talent pool by placing too much weight on experience.

“We are not reaching out to these sharp, young, educated-but-inexperienced people as critical additions to our teams,” said Joe Greenblatt, 2014 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management and president of Sunrise Management, a San Diego-based multi-family specialist.

IREM, Building Owners and Managers Association International and other groups sponsor outreach programs and networking opportunities; despite these efforts, Greenblatt finds that young people often feel frustrated about the lack of responsiveness from prospective employers. “I think it is a missed opportunity, and it’s going to become more and more important as the skill set of seasoned real estate managers becomes outdated,” he warned.

Managers of all ages say that 20-something professionals tend to share some distinctive traits. To begin with, Millennials prize mentoring. “You absolutely have to spend the time communicating back and forth,” said Dee Headley, an Indianapolis-based vice president for Cassidy Turley and chair of IREM’s advisory board on student and academic outreach.

Young managers agree, like Va’Shajn Parr, who joined La Jolla-based Capital Growth Properties Inc. as an assistant property manager last summer and works on two portfolios comprising 33 properties. He suggests that mentors should provide “articulated expectations—the more specific, the better. You’re potentially setting someone up to not perform at their full potential if they’re not sure what they’re doing.” (For more insights from Parr, click the button at right to see a video interview.)

In order to have the most impact, feedback should be individually tailored, noted Kacey Morris, director of property management for Prologis Inc. in metropolitan Atlanta. Comparing herself to a player-coach to the four young managers on her team of 14, she explains, “I’m more successful when I’m communicating things (the way they want them to be communicated) and mentoring the individuals the way they like to be mentored.”

Another essential Millennial quality is zeal to take on challenges right out of the gate. “At this stage of our careers, our generation has a ton of energy,” noted Kent Bell, a property manager for Washington Real Estate Investment Trust. “We want our contributions to be important.” Bell added that more chances to shadow senior managers would be valuable to a group that he describes as “a very hands-on generation.”

Creative Challenges
Colliers’ Whitt likes to devise creative challenges for her best and brightest young managers. Spotting an opportunity to gain insights from a tech-savvy generation, last year she handpicked a nationwide group of seven to explore how technology will influence the next phase of real estate management. Rather than a report as the end result, she expects something less formal but no less stimulating: “a conversation about what they think we should do.”

Besides posing challenges, veterans should also be tuned in to causes of frustration. “Senior managers need to not be afraid of letting go of their responsibilities,” advised Ashley Cooper, who graduated from San Diego State University with a real estate finance degree in 2007 and now manages four properties in Charlotte, N.C. As with any profession, learning the ropes of real estate management involves some routine tasks.

The solution, say veterans, is to explain why each of those tasks is important. “Nobody is better than anybody else,” Headley said. “We’re only as good as the guy who scrubs the toilets.” An idea that trims operating expenses by a relatively modest $10,000 per year, she noted, adds to the property’s value.

For mentors, the biggest challenge can be managing expectations in a profession where advancement seems to arrive too slowly for some ambitious newcomers. “They get discouraged if they’re not promoted in a week,” Headley noted. “A year and a half or two years to someone in that age group, it’s like you’re telling them it’s 10 years.”

Prologis’ Morris makes it clear that advancement is a structured process, but she is constantly ready to go to bat for her protégés. Her promise: “I will mentor you to whatever level I can get you to, and support you if you decide to go elsewhere.”

This story appeared in the January issue of Commercial Property Executive  magazine.