typing.jpgThe Collier Companies operates student housing. One of the critical factors with student housing is the annual “turnover” every August, where 60 percent or more of your Customers move out and move in within a period of a few days.

A huge number of apartments must be inspected, cleaned, painted, and punched for needed repairs in an extremely short period of time. A huge number of new Customers (and their parents, who pay the bills) will see your property for the first time during “turn,” and they will almost instantly form an opinion about the quality of the property and the quality of its management. The quality of your turn greatly affects your new Customers’ move-in experience and thus your reputation and renewal rate for the next year. This is doubly true for luxury properties, where people are truly expecting a “resort experience.”

Our company has grown 20 percent via building new properties but 80 percent by acquiring existing properties. The third quarter of the year (the turn quarter) is an extremely challenging time to acquire student housing, but sometimes the deal shakes out that way.

We entered into a contract to acquire a significant asset built a little over a year ago in an 85/15 joint venture with a major investment bank. The asset itself was a thing of beauty, well designed and well built. The management team, however, left something to be desired.

Closing was set for the end of August, major re-trading was occurring on the contract/deal, and we were exceedingly concerned about the quality of turn because we would inherit any and all problems and dissatisfied Customers. The cachet and, literally, the “good will” of the property were on the line.

So into the breach we sent an “observer,” a young lady with no formal authority BUT a great deal of grit, fortitude, and a strong sense of the importance of taking care of Customers.

Here are some emails to and fro from the front line of leadership, edited for brevity:

From: NSC
To: Jamie

How are you doing up there?

Eric, Jason, Laura, and Chris (new reg service mgr) are up tomorrow if you want some PPMT/CE company!

I really, really appreciate what you are doing. You are making a tremendous difference, having a significant impact.

I’m very proud of you!

From: Jamie

There are many challenges that must be overcome to provide the level of service desired and deliver the product expected.

I was fortunate enough to have dinner with the group who arrived tonight and get some tips from the pros. They are going to stop by in the a.m. to show support on site and help to add validity to my position here.

The office staff I have won over, but the service staff continues to be a challenge. Laura is planning to replace them asap and I am afraid the punches are not going well, which means a lot of complaints on move-in day.

The staff includes 16 community assistants who act like they work for free and none of whom are strong enough emotionally to handle a bad move in. My concern is that the parents are going to agressively tear them down if things aren’t perfect. Expectations are very high for a property this new and the residents are from affluent families.

The move in was bad last year and the following year of management was horrible. The reputation of the property is in limbo and it is so important that we start off on the right foot.

I can do this, but any words of advice would be greatly appreciated.

From: NSC
To: Jamie

As to the Service TMs, I suggest you talk to Chris. To whatever extent Eric can spare him from SG, he is yours.

Your challenge with the personnel is a combination of motivation and lack of training/skills.

Re motivation: They say that in the final analysis soldiers fight and die not for their country but for the solider next to them and out of a sense of pride.

In this case, people will perform not for the property or for PPMT but rather out of

1) empathy for their fellow students/human beings who might just as easily be themselves or their brother or sister, (or son or daughter in the case of the Service Team) and/or

2) because they have a sense of pride, of self esteem, fairness, because they are not quitters, because good folks keep their commitments, because turn is part of what they signed on for, by golly, and they enjoyed the relatively easy times/money and now it is time to deliver. Because “no one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62. My mom sent me to Sunday School every week of my life between ages 5 and 12. I guess some of it stuck!)

3) To the CAs, it may even be sold as a growth experience: learn to deal with this, and you can handle anything. What they will learn is a transferable skill set, dealing, negotiating with people in high-energy situations. They will look back on this and it will strengthen them, give them confidence in the future. If you can learn to stay cool, calm, and collected through this, if you can still project confidence and persuade and influence, these are “soft skills” that will leverage ANY hard skills. This is a Personal “360-degree” Leadership training course at its best!

4) To some degree, you are leading by example. You are there and you really don’t have to be. We don’t even own the place yet. Heck, there are major contract points still up in the air, but you are there because you believe in the deal, believe in doing your best always, day in and day out, believe in persevering as long as there is a flicker of hope. And as bad as things are, they would be MUCH worse if you were not there.

With the parents, I suggest the truth: You are in essence a volunteer at the property. You are there to help and represent the incoming management/ownership but you a) have no magic wand and b) until the cavalry arrives in early September, there are limits to the power you have as well as the resources you can call on and that is the hard reality. Beyond that, if they insist, they are welcome to call the regional headquarters of the current management company. (Eric: If you wish to opine anywhere, be my guest. CE is essentially being PPMT for a while and it is your team that will inherit the legacy of our actions/inactions.)

Congrats, Jamie! You are undergoing a trial by fire. This saga will become one of the “Legends of CE,” one of the foundational stories we tell people and new hires to express who we are and what we believe in, what we are committed to as a Team, what our company culture is all about. It is in our deeds that our words and beliefs take life.

Again, I’m very proud of you and I believe in you.