Learn to say, “I can’t take that on,” or “I’m too busy,” or even give a flat out, “no.” As you grow in your career, it is natural to want to take on the world and impress your peers or your manager, but taking on too much inevitably leads to failure. People will respect you more if you can manage your time and bandwidth and know when to simply say that you can’t. Perhaps you don’t have time, perhaps you have another commitment, perhaps you just don’t know the best way to accomplish what’s being asked of you. Being transparent about this will always help you before it hurts you. Just yesterday, I was approached about doing an interview on small business landlords and their tenant relationships. In the current state, we never want to miss a media opportunity, but I also knew I didn’t have the bandwidth to participate. I had a to-do list a mile long, a half weeks’ worth of business travel and it was my wedding anniversary to boot. I simply had to say, “I can’t take manage that right now.” Fortunately, I have a great team and they scurried and found someone else to fill my place when I just couldn’t.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Courtney Ziminski.
Courtney is the vice president of property management for Baceline Investments. She has worked in the property management industry since 2006, beginning with JLL and RE/MAX World HQ. She is a licensed Real Property Administrator (BOMI), Certified Property Manager (IREM), and holds a Colorado Real Estate License. Courtney excels in maximizing the performance and investment in retail and commercial property types, and in managing diverse teams of people.
Courtney joined Baceline in 2018, eager for the opportunity to contribute to a bigger picture and make a difference in people’s lives. She oversees the property management side of the Baceline portfolio — which is comprised of nearly 80 non-anchored shopping centers and 950 tenants — and provides the high-level direction of property operations needed to maximize performance.
She’s passionate about contributing to the organization’s culture and mission to invest in communities and small businesses across the country. One of her favorite core values is “Take Ownership.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the real estate industry?
Honestly, I wish the story was more glamourous. My very first job in real estate was as an administrative assistant to the director of facility operations for a residential real estate mogul (think RE/MAX). They had just done a design/build on a Class AA office building in the Denver Tech Center and they intended to self-manage the space. I was about 2.5 years out of college, and I had yet to find my calling. I was working with a local staffing company who phoned me with the “perfect job,” and 60 days later I was wearing a hard hat and high heels walking through a construction zone as we wrapped up the build. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’ve never looked back. Check out my LinkedIn for my unique history with RE/MAX!
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
There are so many possibilities here. In property management you truly see it ALL. I have been through corporate mergers, company acquisitions, office moves, crazy tenants, violent threats, indiscretions caught on camera, and I could go on. But truly one of the most interesting and sad things that I have ever experienced was the extreme abuse of a wild animal nesting in a flowerpot on a property I managed. To keep a very long story a short a possible, an inebriated patron of a neighboring restaurant attacked a nesting goose on our property. A few bystanders were upset by the interaction and called the police. When we approached the managing partner of the restaurant for details on the customer — someone who we had clearly identified — he didn’t want to provide it. After a lot of digging, it turns out it was a perfect instance of a “good ol’ boys club,” with the manager not wanting to out his patron because he was a big wig at the restaurant. In the end, because the Canadian Goose is a federally protected species, we did obtain the identity of the patron and were able to press charges and prosecute. The abused goose happened to be the father of give nesting eggs and, after he was nursed back to health with the love and compassion of many RE/MAX employees, we witnessed three of those eggs hatch and two geese survive. If you, like most, think of geese as a rodent of the bird population, I would encourage you to do some research. They are one of the most compassionate species on the planet; they not only mate for life, but will also “adopt” orphan goslings.
I can recognize this may sound overly emotional, but the real takeaway is that you have to stand up for what you believe in. If I hadn’t, I never would have been able to bring justice to an animal that was so blatantly abused and that touched so many compassionate people.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Is anyone working on anything now that isn’t associated with COVID-19? We are entrenched in what feels like initiative number 472 as it relates to COVID. Truly, this has been my life for the last 175 days, give or take.
What’s really exciting is that Baceline Investments is leading the industry in landlord COVID response. We own and operate nearly 80 shopping centers in the Heartland, which are comprised of hundreds of mom-and-pop and other small businesses, so the challenges have been great. We have taken a very unique approach, namely that almost every person in our organization has expanded their role. I, personally, am currently co-leading a “Tenant Pulse Team,” and we are actively engaging with 100% of our tenants to ensure they stay afloat and even thrive through the pandemic.
We have committed to an all-hands-on deck and no-tenant-left behind approach, and it’s astounding how well its working! In the past three months, we’ve only lost a net total of two tenants. Some had to shutter, as one would expect, but we continue to sign new leases and renewals. It’s truly incredible how much of our tenant base that we’ve been able to retain. I attribute this to the diligence of Baceline leadership, the broader team and, of course, the perseverance of our tenants.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I could literally share hundreds, but above anything else, Baceline is a family. Our core values are at play every single day, in every single decision we make. We support each other, lift each other up, collaborate in a way that I have never experienced and thrive off of each other’s energy. There’s also an enormous amount of respect shared across the company.
What’s really unique is that last piece. Every idea that comes across the table at Baceline is recognized and considered, whether it’s from a woman, man, executive VP or administrative assistant. Our very best initiatives are driven from people of every gender, race, age, educational background, demographic background, etc. You get the point. Respect and an open mind are part of what keeps the Baceline heart beating.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is another one that is tough to answer in short. I actually have to go backward a bit for some of them.
My current business partner is one of the best things that has ever happened to my professional career. I have never had the equivalent of a business partner, nor have I ever needed one more than I do now. In short, I highly recommend finding a person who is strong where you are weak, who is smart when you’re feeling spacey and who can truly finish your sentences. It will help if they can also make you laugh. You’ll never look back.
I also have three significant professional mentors, including two former bosses from RE/MAX and one client. My first mentor at RE/MAX was also my boss: Kevin Kirk. He was the first person who said to me, “You’re good at this. You can do this. This can be your career.” He was right. I will be forever grateful.
The second is a client who saw me for all that I was, even when my company didn’t support me the way they should have. Scott Lyle saw something in me as a third-party property manager that my employer did not. He encouraged me when things were hard and promised me there was light at the end of the tunnel. Scott couldn’t have been righter, and I found it!
The third, my last boss at RE/MAX, Susan Zimmerman, was the SVP of HR. It was a unique reporting relationship, but someone had to be the boss, and she was. Susan taught me how to be truly tough, how to own my knowledge, how to talk to the C-Suite like I was among them and not just aspiring to be. I have never learned so much in such a short time than I did from Susan.
I would be remiss not to mention three other really important influencers in my career. One, my mother, who was a “boss babe” before it was even a thing. She provided an immense amount of inspiration, likely without even realizing it. Now she tells me I work too much. The other is my best friend, Lindsey, who always swore one day we would take on the real estate world together, and now we are. And my husband, Micah, who puts up with the stress, the bad days and the long hours, but was simultaneously more excited than I was when I had the opportunity to do this interview.
There are so many more people I’d love to call out, but the truth is that It takes a village. I am eternally grateful for mine.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. The real estate industry, like the veterinarian, nursing and public relations fields, is a women dominated industry. Yet despite this, less than 20 percent of senior positions in real estate companies are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what do you think is the cause of this imbalance?
If you look around, there is still a “good ol’ boy” stigma in the industry. While women are becoming increasingly prevalent in residential real estate, commercial real estate is still a highly male-dominated industry. Not only do they hold more leadership roles, but studies have shown there’s a significant pay gap.
Beyond that there are still plenty of Boomers and Gen Xers in commercial real estate, a space where they’ve spent most of their careers. That makes it hard to get ahead. I have been lucky to have worked for organizations that value and focus on women in the industry, which has been tremendously helpful in my growth, but I still recognize the disparities and barriers that exist for many women.
What 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender balance going forward?
From my perspective, we need to continue to advocate, educate and support each other! It’s 2020 and there is no reason for there to be income or title disparity between men and women. I still talk to college age (and older) women who have no idea what a career in commercial real estate can look like. It seems as if women remain associated with residential real estate and men remain associated with commercial.
Baceline does a tremendous job of hiring and investing in women and empowering them to grow, not only within our company, but also within the industry. We also encourage participation in industry organizations (BOMA, IREM, DORA, CREW, ICSC, etc.) that are tremendous avenues for advocacy, education and networking.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I don’t personally have children, but I think there are still major challenges when it comes to bearing a child, being a mother and holding executive positions. I honestly believe that is one of the bigger obstacles that exists, sadly, and I fear we may not see it resolved any time soon.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the real estate industry?
The fact that real estate is so dynamic always has and always will excite me. The ever-changing landscape, the new challenges (think global pandemic), the constant shift — it makes real estate inherently stimulating and there is always an opportunity to learn and grow.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
In this moment in time, the three things that concern me most are COVID-19, space utilization and politics/governance. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear-cut solution for any of them.
COVID-19 is certainly not the first global pandemic, nor the first economic crisis the US has seen, but it is the first that has impacted me significantly as a relatively young leader. I was working during the 2008 recession, but in a very different capacity and didn’t affect me as much. COVID-19 has had resounding impacts on the economy and real estate in general. My fears relate to what a “new normal” looks like, particularly with regard to how humans interact and utilize space. Will we ever pack an office full of people again? Will restaurants ever seat at full capacity? Will more and more purchasing shift to e-commerce? Will we lose the ability to interact on a human level?
US politics and governance are scary right now, for every industry. I’ll leave that one right there.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Know your strengths and weaknesses and be able to identify the optimal person for the task at hand. The best teams and leadership groups I have ever been a part of are those who recognize that one person cannot do it all. Lean into your teammates and fellow leaders. Trust that you will be better and do much greater things together. This can be hard for some, especially because it hasn’t always been encouraged in business. There used to be a mindset that it was up to every (wo)man for herself to make climb to the top.
Frankly, I think women inherently have a harder time with this than men because we are naturally competitive with each other on a very deep and emotional level. It takes a lot of work to let our guard down and ask for help or recognize that we may not be the best person for a particular project, position or job. But that recognition often pays dividends.
Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider.” If you had to advise someone about 5 non-intuitive things one should know to succeed in the real estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
- Learn to say, “I can’t take that on,” or “I’m too busy,” or even give a flat out, “no.” As you grow in your career, it is natural to want to take on the world and impress your peers or your manager, but taking on too much inevitably leads to failure. People will respect you more if you can manage your time and bandwidth and know when to simply say that you can’t. Perhaps you don’t have time, perhaps you have another commitment, perhaps you just don’t know the best way to accomplish what’s being asked of you. Being transparent about this will always help you before it hurts you. Just yesterday, I was approached about doing an interview on small business landlords and their tenant relationships. In the current state, we never want to miss a media opportunity, but I also knew I didn’t have the bandwidth to participate. I had a to-do list a mile long, a half weeks’ worth of business travel and it was my wedding anniversary to boot. I simply had to say, “I can’t take manage that right now.” Fortunately, I have a great team and they scurried and found someone else to fill my place when I just couldn’t.
- In the same vein, learn how to manage and balance your calendar. Tap into how you’re feeling when you start each day and look at what’s ahead of you. Recognize what you are equipped to undertake and what you aren’t. Moving meetings is not a crime, but showing up to meetings and not being your best self is. You won’t be able to manage and balance your calendar 100% of the time — sometimes you will have to simply figure out how to show up. However, to the extent that you can control your days, do it. It leads to significantly higher productivity. For me, the hardest meetings I have are the tough conversations with employees who may not be showing up in the way I expect. I have to be in a very specific mental place for those meetings. If I’m not, I move them. If I want the best out of my team, I have to be able to give them the very best version of me. They understand that and have come to know it’s better to wait until I’m in the right frame of mind for certain conversations.
- There is no school for what we do. Real estate is more of an art than a science. While there are hundreds of educational opportunities, credentials, licenses, etc., none of it can truly prepare you for real life in the space. If you are interested in real estate in any way shape or form, I suggest diving in and exploring. Find a mentor who can teach you about all of the facets of real estate. I’ve spent my entire real estate career in property management — a role that some people don’t even know exists in commercial real estate. It’s a vast industry and the opportunities are endless, but it takes diving in and getting your hands dirty and, hopefully, you have someone in your life who will tell you, “you’re good at this and you can do this.” And remember if you’re mentoring or coaching someone, those few small words can make a big impact.
- It takes a little bit of guts, especially as a woman. Don’t be a wallflower, and don’t harbor good ideas. As part of my current leadership team, we participate in EOS coaching and, last year, we did a tough exercise where we all sat in a circle and told one another what we wish everyone would start and stop doing. There was an overwhelming theme in the response of what the team wanted me to start doing, which is to speak up. As one of the newest members of the team, I spent a lot of time listening, ruminating and taking it all in, but everyone wanted to hear what I had to say. It was really great feedback and, once I started speaking up, I realized that approach commands a lot more respect and I realized that I really do have a lot of great ideas!
- It’s a small world and an even smaller industry. I highly encourage being kind to everyone you encounter because you most certainly will encounter them again. I have countless stories I could share here, but I’ll pick a big one. I worked for RE/MAX world headquarters for 6.5 years before leaving for an amazing opportunity in third-party management. Three and a half years later, my former boss at RE/MAX was retiring and came knocking at my door. Because of the relationships I developed and nurtured over the years, I ended up returning to RE/MAX in a leadership role and spent more than two more years there. Not only did my relationships with the RE/MAX folks play a role in this, but the relationships I developed with vendors and service partners through the years made the transition back to RE/MAX absolutely seamless. I’ve also seen this go the other way for people, so as I mentioned, never forget that kindness goes a long, long way.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d love to see a nationwide initiative solely dedicate to mentoring women in real estate, particularly the commercial side. Studies show that women cite the lack of a sponsor or mentor as being the most significant barrier to their success in the field, and, in the US, women are less likely to have one than in other parts of the world. If we were to pool our resources toward a movement where women from all corners of the country are backed by mentors who can provide advice and actively help their careers, I think we could start to make serious strides toward closing the gender gap.
How can our readers follow you online?
They can follow me personally on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/courtneyziminski/. To keep up to date on Baceline’s happenings, they can check out our website at http://www.bacelineinvestments.com, our Twitter at @BacelineInvest or our LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/baceline-investments,
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights