Shifting customer expectations is changing how we work and lead teams. Women influence 83% of all consumer spending in the United States so Carrie Antrim had a conversation with Kesha Fisher and Nicole Wray, both of Greystar, to consider how revenue goals and performance are influenced by women.
The last guests of Day 2 of the Multifamily Women® Summit are Nicole Wray and Kesha Fisher, who both work for Greystar.
Fisher works in Newport Beach as the Senior Director of Real Estate. She started as a Regional Manager and was promoted to Senior Regional Manager for the Development Team, then went to Director and finally Senior Director. She’s been with the company for seven years in total. Now, she oversees assets for development on the West Coast, and her portfolio is 100% lease-ups.
Wray is based in Scottsdale, Arizona and is the Managing Director of Real Estate for Greystar. She started there in 2010 as a Regional Manager, and from there was promoted to Director, then Senior Director, and finally Managing Director. Today, she oversees all assets in Arizona and the corporate office. In total, she says they have about 44,000 units, 130 buildings, and are the largest corporate office in the company.
Carrie Antrim, the Chief Operating Officer of Multifamily Leadership and Co-Founder of Multifamily Women®, begins the conversation by bringing up the amount that women contribute to the nation and world’s GDP. She gives the statistic that the total contribution is $26 billion in labor every day in the United States alone.
“How important is it that those voices – our voices – are represented in the higher levels, at the table with the decision makers?” asked Antrim. “And how does that affect every decision that’s made?”
Wray answers first, reflecting on her own career with Greystar, where she was promoted from within several times.
“That growth for women can happen and does happen,” said Wray. She says Greystar has several women at the very top at the Executive Director level. “It’s still not uncommon, for any of us, I’m sure – I know I walk into a room with developers or big mega-institutional clients – to be the only woman in the room, the only one not wearing the grey suit. That’s fine by me, but I still do notice. But I would say overall, it has been getting better.”
She says she sees women taking advantage of opportunities more often and in a more strategic way.
“Don’t be afraid to kick down a few doors,” said Wray. “Sometimes you need to be a little relentless in standing up for yourself. And sometimes it takes a few years to get comfortable enough in your own skills and your own capability, but it’s key.”
Fisher says she believes it’s important for women to have a seat at the table, not just because they’re women.
“I’m a double-minority – I’m a woman, and I’m a woman of color. In my position, I’m the very first woman of color. So being at that position in development and construction, I’m typically the only woman in the room. Speaking on development and speaking on construction is not typical for women,” said Fisher. She says that it took a while to learn.
Fisher says it’s also important to ensure other women are there with you, and that you’re paying it forward.
Finding Future Leaders
“How are you identifying future leaders, both within the organization, who you see and work with every day, but also outside the industry, bringing new people in?” asked Antrim. “Are there certain traits or characteristics that you’re looking for?”
“Mindset trumps skill,” Fisher answered immediately. “I think that’s the one thing I look for. I can teach you how to look at a report. I can teach you the Greystar way, but I can’t change your mindset. I can’t make you more excited, I can’t give you the energy, I can’t give you the grit that it takes to be in this position. So if you have that mindset, I’m willing to spend the time, I’m willing to give you the attention, I’m willing to teach you to get there.”
Wray says Greystar has a sort of mantra that they “hire for attitude.”
“I think as you move up through the ranks, you realize there’s a big difference between being a great leader and being a great manager,” said Wray. She elaborated, “Leadership is by far more difficult.”
She says she spent 20 years learning certain skills that she’d use in day-to-day affairs, and now as a leader she uses just about none of those skills as she oversees about 1000 employees.
“Leadership is drive, competition, humility, vulnerability,” said Wray. “It’s not about wearing your power suit and walking in. I’ve kicked down a few doors in my day. I love the velvet hammer approach, if you know what I mean. It’s having that ability to walk into a room as a leader and inspire and motivate, but also be real. Don’t be afraid to shed a tear or be goofy.”
Wray says you have to carry humility with you. Of course, they’re looking for above-average intelligence, too, but mindset plays the greatest factor in what determines managing as opposed to leading.
Fisher says about 80% of your workday as a leader is dedicated to interacting with people. You have to be kind, and that’s easy to forget for folks who’ve been competitively vying to move up in the ranks. You have to remain empathetic along the way.
“How did you both personally develop that intentional leadership?” asked Antrim. “Does it just come naturally for both of you? Do you work at it, have you studied things? What do you do for yourself to be able to show up that way?”
Fisher says she reads a lot and asks frequent questions. Understand what other people have to offer.
“One question I always ask people that work for me is, ‘What can I do better?’ I think certain times when you reach a certain level, you think, ‘I’ve made it! I’ve done it!’ But you still have more to learn. I don’t want to be the smartest person in the room, and I can learn from someone for me, I can learn from someone for them.”
She says sometimes she still has to talk with her personal advocate to lift herself up.
Wray brings up again how quickly everything had to change during the pandemic.
“I know I found myself in Management Land, which is sometimes necessary, when you realize that you’ve got to manage your way through this process. But when you do get stuck there in Management Land and you’re very task-driven, it really does pull you away from that true leadership of looking in the mirror.”
Wray says she looks at herself in the mirror every night and tells herself, “It’s not enough, because the responsibility for others is so great.”
She warns against getting stuck in a task-driven world. We all have tasks, of course, but you always have to make time for other people. True leadership requires you to be intentional.
Fisher also says working on your EQ – your emotional intelligence – is important, too.
“You have to meet people where they are, and sometimes that may not be where you want to be. But it’s important to them, and if it’s important to them, it should be important to you,” said Fisher. “Always give them that minute.”
She elaborates on the Management Land mindset that Wray was discussing. She says you will always have individual things you need to take care of, but you should always stop what you’re doing and give people a few minutes any time people need you.
“Spend time with people, because they’ll remember that. They’ll remember that time that you spent with them and they’ll make sure that if you need something from them, they’ll reciprocate,” said Fisher. “Time is so important – it’s important to build a team. Because that’s how you build trust. You can’t build trust with tasks. You build trust with experience and with time.”
Wray says she learned about what type of leader she wanted to be by having someone in her life who she knew she wanted to be the polar opposite of. Everything is a lesson, so you should watch leaders around you and you should aspire to be the best leader in your own view. Get comfortable in your own skin as comfortable as possible, she advises.
Antrim brings up that Fisher is on something called the Global Innovation Committee.
“I’m an innovation geek,” said Fisher. “I’m all about changing processes, making things more efficient, looking at technology.” She says she started in the industry as a temp leasing consultant and never left.
“What we as an industry have done is we’ve always been very old school, we’ve always been behind as far as multifamily is concerned, and COVID pushed everybody into this technology platform, which I was already in the space. Understanding what innovation can do for your teams is priceless,” she says.
She explains technology can help you make things more efficient and less mundane, while you’re still able to learn and teach others.
“Now, we have so much technology that’s at our fingertips, and there are so many things we can continue to learn. In order to keep your on-site teams vested, they can’t keep doing the same things every day.”
Now, her team is more comfortable and understands innovation is not going to take their jobs away. Instead, it will help them grow.
Wray says you have to be understanding and accepting of change, so that it’ll bleed down to the lower levels. She says Wray is a global group, and moving that fast with so many employees means it takes a lot of guts to raise your hand. Even still, you should always raise your hand and get noticed as often as you can. Those are the people who get promoted.
Still, Wray says you have to be methodical about change, because technology can make or break a company. The industry is moving forward at light-speed.
“The sophistication level in our software and our practices is increasing, but so is our clients. On any given day, I have a number of institutional clients where they know more about what’s going on in our property than even we do.”
Wray adds that you have to be mindful of the speed at which the innovation is happening. That was important to the pandemic.
“I don’t believe in dragging people into the future. I won’t drag you. But I’ll hold your hand.”
Antrim builds on the topic of shifting customer expectations as technology has been changing so quickly.
“The shift in customer expectations – are they taking us to new places? Where do you see – is it exciting, is it scary – where do you see the future of work going?” asked Antrim.
Fisher, again, responded immediately: “It’s a little bit of both.”
She explained residents are looking for things that companies didn’t think were important until recently, like smart thermostats and smart locks. She recommends surveying residents so you learn what they’re actually after and what the best way to implement those changes would be.
“We want them to be able to go from the sidewalk to their sofa without pulling out anything but their cell phone,” said Fisher. “That’s what we’ve been striving for for quite some time, and we’re almost there.”
A lot of innovation has to hinge around how quickly you can do things or fix problems.
Wray explains that it’s difficult to maintain the human touch as things become more virtual.
“I know everyone out there is trying to figure out how to move forward with this innovation that’s so important, change in the industry, but yet, here go our renewals. We’re not creating that stickiness within our own communities where people want to stay, because you like to live where your friends live. That’s the scary part,” said Wray.
The virtual business climate makes it more difficult to build office culture. It’s easy to forget how important the birthday celebration and cooler chit chat can be. Wray says the inability to convey emotionality over a computer screen is keeping her up at night.
Technology and innovation aren’t the only things making a company great; it’s the people, Wray and Fisher say in a tag-teamed sentence.
Since everything has been virtual, there are plenty of people that haven’t met in real life who are working together. It’s hard to create relationships that way.
A woman from the audience raises her hand to ask a question. “What is one piece of advice that has stuck with you along your career journey?” she asks.
Wray answers first: Be yourself.
“I was so driven and really wanted to climb that corporate ladder. I was always worried and anxious and driving toward that next position, and always trying to look the part, act the part. Then finally – it was actually a supervisor, a woman supervisor, who said to me (I was doing asset management) and she said, ‘Nicole, stop trying so hard. You’re it. You’re it now.’ It really resonated with me.”
She says it took her some time to be comfortable in her own skin, but she thinks it’s an attractive and magnetic quality.
“You can’t fake integrity. Being genuine and warm and vulnerable, you can’t fake it,” Wray says.
Fisher says her piece of advice that’s stuck with her is also simple: Do the right thing.
“Sometimes we lose track of what our core values are and what we really believe in. If you just do the right thing, you’re typically going to make the right decision,” Fisher says.
“And always take the high road,” Wray adds. “Even if it’s not fun, not popular.”
Wray says this year she took a poll with the Multifamily Association ahead of a gathering that the group had already spent $18,000 on. The Delta Variant of the coronavirus was spreading rapidly, and they decided to walk away from their investment to avoid the risk of illness.
“Sometimes as a leader, it’s hard to be the bad guy. But when you know it’s the right thing, it’s worth it,” said Wray.
“And at the end of the day, you have to sleep at night,” adds Antrim. “And it’s much easier to do that when you know that decision sucked and was hard, but it was the right one.”
Another audience member asks, “You said you both started at Greystar in a regional position. What got you into the industry?” The audience member jokes, “No one wakes up when they’re 12 and thinks, ‘You know what, I want to be a leasing agent.’”
“Isn’t that too bad, too, because it’s such a fabulous industry!”
Fisher says she was an accountant, and didn’t think she would be happy doing that for the rest of her life. She quit without a job lined up, and a friend recommended she try out being a leasing agent.
“I wanted a free apartment,” said Wray, laughing. “And I got it!”
She says she’d heard from a friend that if you’re a leasing agent, you can get a free apartment. So she saved up her money, got a real estate license, and then got her first job in the industry. She’s been there now for more than 25 years.
Wray says being in development is a blast. You get to boss men in hardhats around! Fisher says her hardhat is bedazzled.
“In this industry, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at – marketing, development – we have a client service team that’s phenomenal; all they do is prioritize client needs… software, training. It’s really crazy. We see people all over the world across apartments jumping into marketing and jumping back,” Wray said.
Greystar is expanding massively. They’re now a 24-hour company because they have a new office in India. They have 20,000 employees across 13 countries. One way they’re finding talent is by recruiting from high schools.
Wray loops back to how she got started. She was 22 and never got her college degree.
“I knew I wanted to be a boss of something. And young, because I was very bossy at the time, and I just thought, ‘Well maybe I’ll just make a career out of it!’ And I would have never dreamed I’d have the responsibility I have, or I’d make the money I make, or the people I get to work with as a leader. It’s a dream come true.”
Fisher says she understands Greystar can seem daunting because of its size. But she maintains, you can create a work family no matter what. She says she loves this industry because of the people in it.
“This is an amazing industry. You can be creative, you can be an accountant and do financials, you can go into marketing, you can go on the vendor side. There are so many opportunities in multifamily that people don’t even know exist.”
Fisher recommends talking with people you meet out in the world just to spread the word about how wonderful multifamily is.
“That was magical. All of that,” said Antrim, closing out Day 2 of the Summit. “My favorite part of this whole thing is, I’m pretty sure there’s a higher power working here because I think each group of women that’s been on this stage are leaving as like besties,” she laughs.
The Summit ends with a group photo and cocktails.