It’s making decisions with integrity so that you can lay your head down at night and know that you’ve done the right thing.
Christine Richards is an esteemed real estate professional with over 30 years of operational experience. Prior to joining the Core Spaces team, Richards served as the executive director for Greystar Real Estate Partners where she oversaw their domestic-owned and managed student platform. From 2001 to 2018, she was at EdR (Education Realty Trust) with her final role as Chief Operating Officer. Chris got her start in the industry as a leasing consultant at Trammell Crow/Gables Residential.
Currently, Richards is an advisory board member for College House, a student housing market research platform, and holds a seat on the New Memphis Board of Governors, an organization that recruits and retains top talent for the local Memphis community. Additionally, she is a past member of numerous student housing boards and committees within the National Apartment Association (NAA) Student Housing Committee; Institute of Real Estate Management; and the New Memphis Organization. She is a certified property manager (CPM) and previous held chair positions with the NAA. Aside from real estate, Richards also co-founded Richards Heating & Air, LLC specializing in mechanical contracting services for residential communities.
Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I found myself working in real estate management while in college studying for my education degree. I moved from Iowa to Memphis for the summer and found a temporary position answering the telephone for an apartment complex. While finishing up my education degree, I continued to work part time at the company as the activity director for three different properties and would lease apartments on Sundays. In my last semester at college, they offered me a full-time assistant manager’s job. I took the position and the rest is history. Now, I’m the senior managing director and president for Core Spaces management company.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
It’s just having a voice and using it both at work and in general. For a recent example, I spoke on a panel at the Student Housing Business Interface Conference that was about women in leadership. Within that group there was a 22-year-old male who was listening intently. A day later, he came up to me with a little card that had a long ‘thank you’ note about how much he appreciated what I had to say. It made him reflect on how he interacts with his female coworkers and how he never really paid attention to this before. That’s the true disruption — it is directly going to change the experiences of the women that work with him, and as a leader, will stay with him for the rest of his career.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve only gotten in trouble twice over my 30-year career. When I was 21 and just getting started in real estate management, I had one resident who wasn’t the nicest woman. She called the front office about something broken in her apartment and instead of filling out the proper paperwork for the maintenance tech, I wrote not-so-nice commentary about the resident on it and handed it to the maintenance worker. The worker — who is my husband now — always followed policy and used that same piece of paper to write the resident a note. So, one side said ‘thank you for letting me fix the issue’ and the other side said ‘she’s not a very nice person.’ Looking back now, while it was a funny mistake, I was mortified. It taught me that most policies are put in place to protect employees and the company. Since then, writing procedures and policies has become my passion, they are there for a reason.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
When I was a community manager, I had an asset manager from our ownership group, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, named Mike. I was only 23, just graduated from college and was still learning my way through the industry. Mike, who is about 20 years older than me, became my mentor and it was beneficial to have someone who was both approachable and had more experience than me, but made sure to treat me with respect. His approach made me feel comfortable enough to ask him questions and I learned a lot about the bigger picture of the business. We keep in touch to this day. I also had another mentor, a female executive in real estate and development, and she was an incredible mentor because she really forged the path for the rest of us to come and move forward into the executive level.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
There was a group in our industry that took this whole approach to marketing and resident events and being the ‘cool spot,’ but they did it with sexuality and alcohol. That group of folks came in and sort of disrupted the industry because now residents are saying, ‘I can go to your competitor and get alcohol.’ Meanwhile, over at our property, I’m doing resume writing workshops. That type of marketing was a disruption, but not necessarily a good one. They have one incident that goes wrong and the bad PR kills them forever.
Capital partners don’t want to be a part of that. I’ve watched it happen a couple of times within the student housing industry. They also don’t get to hire the quality people because they built a reputation on what was trendy. There’s no long-term value. I think if there’s anything that can stand the test of time, it’s going to be kindness and good customer service. It’s making decisions with integrity so that you can lay your head down at night and know that you’ve done the right thing.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
A CFO once said to me, before my first earnings report presentation as Chief Operating Officer, ‘you know more about your business than they do; act like it.’ That was probably the best advice I’ve ever gotten because it flipped a switch in my brain. I’ve been to every property, I’ve run them, and I know everything about those deals, and no one is going to make me feel like I don’t. I really do know my business so it’s all about reminding yourself and having confidence in it.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I came away from the Interface Conference with a different perspective. I’ve always used my voice but maybe it’s a little bit louder now because it has made a substantial impact. I got a lot of comments after the presentation. Walking away from there, I thought, alright, I’m at a stage in my career now where I can really coach, advocate, and educate, and hopefully inspire some other folks. I think that’s the most important thing for me, using my voice to help shape our next generation of leaders and the environment in which they lead.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? (Within student housing industry)
The challenges for women, in general, surround confidence. Men aren’t confident either, they just hide it better than we do. We all have the same inadequacies. Men have the same emotional gamut that we have. It’s just that most can be more stoic. One definite disparity that I’ve seen is that if a woman is speaking more confidently, then she gets a label, whereas a man who speaks and says the same thing, maybe even with arrogance, it’s much more acceptable.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
About 25 years ago, I took a leadership class and we read Walk the Talk by Eric Harvey and Steve Ventura. It’s been 25 years and I still say, ‘but are we walking the talk?’ If you’re going to say it, do it. If you’re not actually doing what you say you’re going to do, words become worthless. I’ve read so many professional development books, I always have one that I’m reading at some point or another, but I want to say that Walk the Talk was probably the most powerful because it’s just that simple.
You are a person of great influence [within your industry]. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
That’s a tough question. If I could inspire a movement, it would allow everybody to just quit their jobs, volunteer for a living and help people but we can’t do that. Maybe it’s to make sure to fit your passions into your life somehow and allow your passion to inspire what you do in your work.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was just starting out in my management career, a colleague told me, ‘You’re not responsible for anybody’s job but your own. If you don’t manage this issue, you’re not managing your own job.’ This was said to me after lamenting over an associate and has always stuck with me. Despite my efforts to mentor and coach said associate, they were underperforming and weren’t meeting their responsibilities. I had to realize that it is no longer my duty to mold them into a better employee and that if they wouldn’t make the changes, I’d have to let them go. At work, I’m only responsible for myself, not anyone else.
How can our readers follow you online?
They can follow my LinkedIn page — Christine Richards | LinkedIn.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!