There is nothing to fear. Every problem might not always have a solution, but it will lead to a new opportunity. Every time I’ve felt a solution was not what I wanted it has forced me into an amazing opportunity. I didn’t know it at the time but in retrospect it turned out much better than I expected.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Langers.
Kimberly is responsible for overseeing and coordinating the activities of the asset management and development team, marketing, technology, business strategy, and operations, along with helping Rastegar Property Company achieve its business goals. Previously, she held the Regional Operations Manager post at Herbalife Nutrition and was dedicated to improving distributor and preferred member experience in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada, and the Caribbean. Before that, Kimberly supervised manufacturing for Coca-Cola and production for Merle Norman Cosmetics
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I have always loved to build and fix things as long as I can remember, or perhaps I knew that I was gay from such a young age, and doing “tomboyish” activities, such as building and fixing things, just came naturally. Anyway, let’s save the gay-self-discovery story for another day. My childhood dreams were to work in aviation and to build or fix airplanes. After graduating from high school, I followed my childhood passion and obtained an aviation maintenance certification. I was offered a job by a major airline at the time. However, 9/11 happened and the airline industry went into a hiring freeze, which caused that major airline, who offered me a position, not able to hold their end of the deal. I thought to myself that maybe this path was not meant for me and began to explore other career paths. I signed-up with multiple staffing agencies and applied to hundreds of jobs. I interviewed with over 50 different companies and some did make me an offer; however, I did not accept any offers because I felt that those companies lacked diversity. At this point in time, interviewing became exciting, as I grew extremely comfortable after doing so many of them. My confidence increased and my people-skills sharpened after each interview, and I knew that eventually I would connect with the right company that was meant for me. One day, one of the staffing agencies sent me to an interview for a 90-day-assignment with a supply chain management company in Valencia, CA. I walked into the interview feeling excited and confident because — well, I had been doing so many of them. The interview went so well, and I was offered the assignment on the spot. Ninety days later, I had a permanent job with this company, and that was how I got into the supply chain management industry. Supply chain management was my newfound passion and I stayed in that industry for 18 years. I held various supervisory roles for two-third of those 18 years, which gave me the experience to coach and mentor my employees towards success.
My passion for aviation was like a “puppy love” or a crush, and my career in the supply chain management industry was like a long-term relationship with a high school sweetheart. It was not certain if we were going to be married, as I have not had any other serious long-term relationships. I decided to take a break from this long-term relationship and paused my career in the supply chain management industry in California to explore the real estate industry in Texas. I joined Rastegar Property Company in early 2019 as Director of Operations and was promoted to Chief Operations Officer after a year with the company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I joined Rastegar Property Company in early 2019, the company had just acquired its initial two multifamily properties, and it did not have an in-house property management and construction project team to manage and renovate these two properties. I was thinking of sourcing a project management and construction company from outside of our business. However, I decided just to build one instead of outsourcing it, and of course building things was something I enjoyed doing, so I built a property management and construction team from the ground up. Building a project management and construction project team was something I have not done; this team involved many people from various background, such as property managers, maintenance technicians, leasing agents, construction managers, contractors, specialty sub-contractors, etc. I was familiar with implementing technology for teams to work out of centralized systems to have the necessary information to manage multiple projects and achieve the company goals. This team was completely different from the teams I oversaw when I held various supervisory roles in the supply chain management industry, as they were all from the manufacturing background. The interesting thing about this was not about me building a successful property management and construction project team from the ground up. It was about me realizing I had to shift my leadership style, from a coaching style where I mentored a group of people with the same background to unlock their potential, to a laissez-faire style where I monitored though the systems, and I implemented a group of highly skilled and experienced self-starters to provide regular feedback based on their work performance.
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?
We all make mistakes and sometimes have self-doubt, as no one is perfect, unless they are arrogant pricks. One of my first projects for Rastegar Property Company was to renovate its initial two multifamily properties, and after building a successful construction project team, I was ready to get started. I met with the contractors to do measurement of the space for renovation. Once I had all the internal and external dimensions measured, I began to source materials, along with all the fun tasks of bidding and negotiating with vendors. My favorite materials to source were the kitchen cabinets because most people just love to have bright and attractive cabinets in their kitchen. The perfect cabinets for the renovated space were purchased and finally installed, and so I thought. The last tasks were the installation of appliances to complete this beautifully renovated kitchen. I sent the same contractor who did the measurement of the kitchen to pick-up a fitting refrigerator. He called me when he came back on- site with the refrigerator and told me that something was wrong because the refrigerator did not fit the designated space in the kitchen. He and I were 100% in agreement that we had accurately measured the space of the kitchen. Somehow after the back-and-forth exchange of our telephone conversation, I began to doubt myself that I had ordered the wrong size for the cabinets. I arrived on-site and saw the installed cabinets were shifted and unaligned as if they were about to be removed, as the contractors were struggling to fit the refrigerator in the designated space. They suggested to me that we should remove all the cabinets and purchase smaller ones to re-install. After observing their ridiculousness and hearing their absurd conversation, I told the contractors that the problem was not the size of the cabinets but rather it was the size of the refrigerator. I sent the same contractor who did the measurement of the kitchen to pick-up a fitting refrigerator because I thought he had known that the designated space was for a 30-inch-refrigerator, but I was wrong. The contractor picked-up a 36-inch-refrigerator to fit the designated space for a 30-inch-refrigerator. The problem was resolved after he came back with a 30-inch-refrigerator and we did not have to remove or re- install any cabinets. I learned that I should never assume math was everyone’s favorite subject in grade school and that sometimes to solve a problem you have to have another pair of eyes take a look.
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?
There were several different individuals who helped me along the way during different stages in my career, which got me to where I am today. However, I will share with you a story about an individual who helped me get to my first supervisory role. He was a young plant manager at a manufacturing company where I first started working in the supply chain management industry. He was extremely innovated and always pushed his subordinates to be creative and find a solution to improve every process. There were people in upper management at this manufacturing plant who did not like him because he was creating significant changes, especially when those changes had proven results. This young man changed the manual labor process to automation, which was not a popular thing to do in manufacturing at the time. He made the manufacturing process more lean, and at the same time he also improved the technology to track labor and productivity. He reduced the overall cost effectively and efficiently. I am grateful for him because he saw potentials in me and helped me get to my first supervisory role. He taught me that changes were possible.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I am not an impulsive decision-maker, and I do require a lot of time to finalize things that are important for me to do or say. The evening before a stressful or high stakes meeting, I would get on the treadmill and run a 5k. I find that the limited time I was able to carve out for running can be utilized in conjunction with thinking and mentally preparing for any factors and/or data to support my suggestions and/or actions in the next day’s meeting.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
California has a very diverse workforce, and this allowed me to be exposed to diversity but not necessarily inclusion. I have held various supervisory roles and led different groups of people when I was working in the supply chain management industry in California. From these experiences, I have learned that inclusion and diversity are two things that must go hand-in-hand in order to create an environment for equal opportunities. As leaders, we must create an environment where not only different people from different races, sexual orientations, and genders, can coexist, but an environment where they also feel valued and included as a team. It is important to have a diverse executive team because we want people to see a representation of themselves in their company or organization. This creates a culture of trust because different perspectives are being contributed to the decision-making process impacting the company as a whole. Having diversity allows for growth and expansion, which can take a company globally.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
You must be aware of unconscious bias, and you must be the change you want to see. You must use your position of power to hire and promote a diverse workforce, and you must create an environment where your employees feel valued by setting them up to win big and achieve goals as a team. By creating this professional work culture, it will overflow into their personal lives outside of work, and it might even create a positive impact in our society. At Rastegar Property Company, I am a representative of the LGBTQ community. I am open about my sexuality. This openness can be perceived as a vulnerability by some people. However, I hope that by me being true to myself, it will inspire others to feel more comfortable about their sexual orientation and feel more inclusive or represented in the professional environment.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As an executive at Rastegar Property Company, I do not do just a single job or just work during business hours. I do many different jobs every day, even on Sunday, and I am involved in every segment in the company. I cannot clock out because I have a responsibility to be available 24/7 to everyone, whereas a leader can clock out after the day is over. To be a successful executive, I have to know how to do every important job that adds value to the company.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The myths that I would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive is their work involves a routine and peaceful office job, where everyone caters to them. It is definitely not; at least not for me at Rastegar Property Company. Being a CEO or executive involves working in an ever-changing, fast-paced, high pressured environment, where we are needed all over the place at the same time, and where we have to perform even when we are not ready. To be a successful executive, one should be or learn to be adventurous and spontaneous.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I think the lack of opportunity to be mentored into a leadership role when you’re a young woman starting your career. At times you want to grow at a company you love, but when you look at the leadership around you, and you don’t see your reflection of yourself, you leave and look somewhere else. I think this is particularly true for women. High turnover might not always be the current generation not wanting to stay too long at one company. It might be that the companies are not adapting to the world today and are stuck in an antiquated culture that promotes and mentors’ young men. I’ve witnessed it multiple times throughout my career when men in their late twenties and thirties get mentored and promoted rapidly. Women didn’t get the same opportunity until they’re near their fifties. I think it is kept quiet, but when you see a group of young women leave at high numbers, it speaks volumes and hopefully, those companies recognize it and adapt.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought my job would be to complete projects and tasks, but it is actually more about managing people and maintaining a positive work environment while leading these people and the company towards success.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
To be an executive, you have to like people, and enjoy speaking with different people who do not share your perspectives. You also have to make a decision early on to be fully committed to the company and its goals. You cannot make this commitment just for a paycheck. You have to be brave and have the courage to speak up when you disagree with something or someone. If you tend to avoid conflict while holding an executive position, then you are not cut out for the position. You need to continue to work on conflict resolution and do the right thing at the right time, and for the greater good of the company.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
The sooner you accept who you are, the faster you can focus on becoming very good at what you do. Sometimes our insecurities distract us from our full potential, so the sooner we deal with that, the more you can focus on the growth of your career. When you’re good at what you do, you won’t be denied success. Also, be open and respectful of your colleagues and communicate. Don’t openly express frustration about someone you disagree with at work because that won’t solve anything and negatively affect the company culture. At times employees make toxic cultures feeding an ego versus serving a bigger purpose. Tell the person directly how you feel and make them aware of why you feel strongly about something they or you oppose.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
On a smaller scale, I have used my success to make some people’s world a better place by giving opportunities to those who thought they would never have one. I hope that by offering them opportunities, they will offer opportunities to other people who are like themselves. I hope this will trigger a positive chain of events.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- There is nothing to fear. Every problem might not always have a solution, but it will lead to a new opportunity. Every time I’ve felt a solution was not what I wanted it has forced me into an amazing opportunity. I didn’t know it at the time but in retrospect it turned out much better than I expected.
- Nothing happens in one day. Focus on the systems that deliver results in a long-lasting solid success. Early in my career I didn’t understand the purpose of some tasks that were randomly assigned without explanation. It was later on that I learned these tasks were transforming our workplace and supporting bigger projects and creating a difference that made the company better.
- You are not alone. Know when to ask for help. When I began my career, I thought I had to know the answer to every question in my area of expertise. I didn’t know much since I lacked experience, but I asked different managers who had been in the company and to my surprise they were always happy to give me the answers.
- Everyone will know when you are wrong. Own it. I worked around people who didn’t accept when they were wrong and it’s not a good look when your team knows you’re wrong and you won’t admit it. I never want to be that, so I always own it.
- Do not lose sleep. Be well-rested to start everyday fresh and energetic. My career has not happened outside of my life. It has been my life, so I learned not to lose sleep over it. I’m enjoying the ride!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I can start a movement it would be named, “You Are Just Like Your Fingerprints — Unique.” I would love for people to highlight their differences, let everyone know what makes them special, and offer something unique to the world that nobody else can offer. Everyone should see the beauty in other people. What makes the world so wonderful is that we are not the same.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” ―Eleanor Roosevelt. I find the relevance of this quote to my life because I do own the outcomes of my decisions. As a leader, there is no one to blame for mistakes but oneself. If an error was made, I just have to evaluate the outcome and continue to improve the process.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to have a meal and hang out with Suze Orman. I have idolized Suze Orman since I was in my early teenage years. I wanted to have her presence and confidence. It excites me whenever I hear or read about other confident women like Suze Orman, who are leaders in their field with a television platform to teach and give financial advice. Throughout the years of watching Suze Orman on television, I have heard many people who said that she gave obvious advices. However, I think she knew that even though some things are obvious, someone has to say them, so that we can hear the message and maybe not buy a Corvette when we are working at a fast food place while finishing college.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.