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Property Management: No Longer the Stepchild, but Leadership Challenges Continue

Published Thursday, February 21, 2013
by Matt Slepin and Bill Whitlow, Terra Search Partners


Nevertheless, there remain significant hurdles in finding forward thinking, impactful people to lead operations, particularly in our industry’s larger organizations. Why is this the case and what is the industry doing about it?

Multifamily housing, at least the property management side, is a people intensive business. People most typically start in property management from the ground up, at the site level. Most start in leasing, maintenance or site management and are young people seeking entry-level jobs versus a clear goal to starting a career in real estate.

If they are talented and stick with the business, they will be promoted into multi-site management and oftentimes into VP roles. Some obtain (or start with) college degrees, but a surprising number of VP level property management professionals have not completed college.

The investment disciplines have the opposite dynamic. Graduates from top-flight schools and in particular MBAs, are drawn to acquisitions, development and finance. These are the young people recruited into organizations as future-leaders and they are rarely gaining early experience in property management.

Our challenge lies in the gap between these different career paths in the business. In the past (some people call it “old school”), moving up the property management hierarchy generally brought out the leadership skills to just run more and more properties and more and more people. But, with the changes in the industry to a more corporate model, particularly in the REITs, leaders in property management require a different skillset than can be found on the path up from the site level.

Marketing skills, financial skills, technology skills, strategic thinking, and a deeper understanding of the non-property management different disciplines are now required for the top tier of leadership in property management. The skills gained by the future-leader types on the investment side are just the types of tools needed in the top tier of management, particularly if they are combined with some meaningful experience in operations. But these twain are not typically combined.

Looking over the evolution of the industry, Fred Tuomi, the EVP and President of Property Management at Equity Residential, who is retiring next month after 34 years in the industry and almost 20 years with EQR, notes that the increased emphasis on operations is “due to longer term investment horizons and public ownership and have been enabled, and indeed driven, by advanced business intelligence tools.”

Tuomi adds that “in the past, property managers were expected to be generalists; the business today is driven by specialization and therefore a culture dependent upon extreme collaboration as well as compliance.” Property managers today grow up in this environment and “this model will hopefully allow for more career ladders within the industry and more entry by those from other lines of business.”

With this gap in the candidate pool for senior management, many companies have looked outside of the industry to attract talent to come in mid-career, but success has been spotty. Some have recruited professionals from the hospitality industry as leaders in multifamily management. But while our sector can learn a lot from hospitality, finding people with the right fit and a long-term commitment to our sector has been a challenge.

Switching people over from hospitality to multifamily might be most successful in the middle ranks versus the top leadership ranks in the business. Over the years, the industry has also recruited military officers into the business; they bring in a strong hierarchical people management discipline, but have sometimes struggled to learn the creativity and innovation needed in the private sector.

One company famously hired a generation of talent from disparate sectors such as the rental car industry, but they did not successfully integrate that talent over the long term into the business.

To address this, companies have been changing their training and recruiting models. They have been actively recruiting young people, including college graduates and MBAs, to build a career in the business, starting them at the site level, but articulating a clear career path up the ladder.

Now, with the different discipline tracks in property management such as marketing or technology or renovations -- and people hired at the site or in corporate roles in these different disciplines both at entry level and mid-career -- multiple career paths are being established. This strengthens the business model. They are now training and mentoring property management professionals, not just for their immediate job requirements, but also for broader leadership skills.

We’ve not yet seen rotational programs, where college grads or MBAs come into the business and rotate through the investment and property management disciplines, but that is likely the future for creating broad career paths and future generations of multi-disciplinary leaders.

Property management in the multifamily business has evolved significantly beyond the stepchild syndrome, but there are still challenges. Even with the revolutions in business model and business practice, we have a shortage of strong leaders who can take the discipline to the next level and an even shorter list of leaders who might move from property management up to COO and even CEO of our leading companies.

And, given the number of women across the board in property management, we have far too few in the executive suite. As our industry evolves its recruiting and training/career path practices, worthy leaders to take these enterprises to the next level will be found both from within the property management ranks as well as other disciplines within the business. Stay tuned, because the property management discipline will continue to increase its importance, impact, and overall leadership profile within our companies, far, far beyond those stepchild days.

Matt Slepin is the founder and managing partner and Bill Whitlow is a partner at Terra Search Partners—an executive search firm focused exclusively on the real estate industry. The company has worked with some of the largest multifamily developers across the nation. Headquartered in San Francisco, the firm also has locations in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington DC. For more information, please visit or e-mail bill at or matt at




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Latest News

Published Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Exciting Times for NVSAA! 
Introducing Our New Billing Structure


This is a very exciting time for us! We are offering more opportunities for our members than ever in key areas: Education, Legislative, Networking.

We are also creating ways to do business better. This allows us to build upon our foundation, and facilitate future growth.

The Nevada State Apartment Association is pleased to announce a streamlined billing structure for our membership. We are moving to a calendar year membership cycle where all members will pay their dues in January and enjoy membership benefits through December of that year.

The goal is to shift our entire membership to this more efficient billing cycle by January 1, 2017.

As such, it’s important to begin the process now. Handling membership in this manner is in line with many other Associations across the country and is design designed to minimize confusion on expiration dates and make the budgeting process easier.

Our goal is to make the transition as easy as possible:

If your membership renewal falls due between September 1, 2015 and December 31, 2015. You will receive an invoice that includes the remaining months of 2015 and all of 2016. Conveniently, your membership will be paid through the end of 2016. The remaining association members expiring in 2016 will receive prorated invoices to finish out next year’s membership. This process puts us on track to begin annual billing for the association, as a whole, in 2017.

Thank you for your cooperation as we make these changes! YOU are what makes the NVSAA the premier multi-family housing association in the region. Let’s keep going and growing!

If you have questions, you can reach me at 702.862.0165

My best to you,

Shelly A. Cochran

Executive Director


Published Friday, April 17, 2015

Record-setting tourism and the strongest convention attendance in several years are driving employment growth and creating apartment demand Las Vegas. Job growth is well above the national average, spurring developers to complete projects that were mothballed since the recession. In addition, multifamily permitting is trending more than 60 percent higher as builders rush to keep up with demand for rental space. While more than 1,400 apartments have been completed during the past year, vacancy fell sharply and concession activity nearly halted on well-located properties near employment hubs. The leisure and hospitality sector is providing the biggest job gains in the economy, although more corporations are relocating to the metro due to its position as a travel destination and the lack of a state income tax. The new workers hired by these companies are choosing to rent in prime areas to the southwest of the city, close to shopping centers, freeways and the Strip. Single-family housing costs in these areas are above the metro average, spurring strong rental growth and pushing vacancy down. Tightening operations will lift rents up 3.4 percent this year, more than 100 basis points above inflation.

Published Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You can be THE FIRST to know what's happening in the Las Vegas housing market each and every month. FastFacts is the e-newsletter that tells you exactly what's going on in both the new and existing home market in terms of volume, prices, and trends.

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