Share your stories: I’ve found that people learn best through an understanding of shared experience. Mentoring is the most direct form of this, but leaders should always be encouraging by example. I always encourage any opportunity for my team members to learn additional skills or more about an area of our business by reaching out and connecting with others.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders of the Real Estate industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Plesh.
Karen is a senior-level executive with a passion and expertise for improving and directing operational platforms that drive revenue and reduce costs delivering increased value to owners or shareholders.
She is responsible for the development, implementation, and oversight of all property management initiatives throughout the Hunt Military Housing Portfolio of 34,000+ homes to maximize overall portfolio performance and profitability. Karen is experienced in analyzing and recommending income and expense expectations along with designing detailed operational or repositioning plans in the acquisition of multifamily real estate. She thrives on producing extraordinary results from exceeding financial expectations, to identifying and developing the leadership skills in others that support an environment of operational excellence and fosters a culture of communication, collaboration, and respect.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?
The appeal of real estate has always been about customer service and what I could do to create the best experience possible. My career began in hospitality and this is where my love for helping people came to light and sparked an even greater interest in finding ways to improve the customer journey and the overall experience.
After my career in hospitality, it was an easy transition to multi-family. I took a short-term job helping to lease apartments and found myself engaged in the process of helping people find homes. I was a matchmaker in many ways, and I felt a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment in contributing to the community. When I began with Hunt, it became even a more meaningful job, as I was not only finding family homes, but I was also serving our military service members. Nothing makes me prouder than helping those who serve our country and protect us day in and day out. Serving with passion is honestly the key that underlies everything we do at Hunt. Every day is an opportunity to help our military families enjoy their homes and create memories, and to establish a sense of community and belonging.
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?
Most everyone in real estate remembers the challenges of the financial crisis. By 2007, I was a Senior VP at Morgan Properties in Pennsylvania. The company had just completed an acquisition of a major portfolio, one that doubled the size of our portfolio from 16,000 to over 32,000 apartment homes. I can tell you there were many challenges presented during the early years of the recession, ultimately providing an unmatched learning experience. I had no choice but to lead and inspire our team to achieve positive results, all while running a streamlined and super-efficient operation. We focused on positivity and controlling what we could, which was service excellence, and on supporting the communities where we were located by giving back. In those communities, we partnered with the Red Cross, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, and Operation Homefront on multiple initiatives to raise funds and to give back.
Post-recession, my company had considered moving to a publicly traded entity. When the underwriters reviewed the results that we posted over the past 5 years and never saw a decline in results over the recession years, they asked, “How did you do that?” It was not any secret or formula; it was simply the human factor. Even in the toughest crisis, a motivated team — with an inspired purpose — can make all the difference.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
When you work with the military, every day proves to be exciting as well as challenging. One thing that stands out is our new branding effort and how we will infuse that into everything we do at 40+ communities and share our brand identity and values with the outside world. A new brand communicates that things are changing, growing, and evolving.
From the email signature, to how we talk about the company to new signs, it is an exciting time as we update and look to the future of Hunt Military Communities.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our Operations team’s singular focus is to serve our military families, ensuring that they are comfortable in their homes and supported in their communities. We take great pride in providing 5-Star Service. This is how we evaluate service requests and it is a way to recognize the valued work we deliver every day to our military residents.
5-Star Service is based on a set of values that we hold ourselves to including:
- Appealing Homes: At Hunt Military Communities, we are committed to providing the highest- quality housing for our military families. We endeavor to ensure that our homes foster the well-being of military families Worry-free living is the standard we aim to achieve.
- Thriving Communities: At the heart of every community are the people who live there. HMC is committed to being a supportive and thoughtful resource, and provides ongoing activities that create a true sense of belonging.
- Service Satisfaction: HMC strives for 100% satisfaction in all that we do. We are accountable for understanding the challenges that our residents face and delivering exceptional service.
- Committed Employees: We are committed to hiring talented and enthusiastic individuals to be part of the HMC team. We recruit people who want to work as part of a strong, unified team and be a part of something bigger than themselves. HMC employees are characterized by their integrity, kindness, and selflessness, and are committed to doing the right thing.
- Responsible Stewards: As a partner with the Department of Defense, we are aligned in our role as long-term stewards of the communities we operate. HMC maintains welcoming communities for our residents and their families, and we are committed to the sustainment of these communities for today and into the future.
At Hunt, we know this also means having the best trained and most inspired team members — both those in our offices and those who are maintaining our communities. For example, all of our maintenance team members receive a free, custom fit pair of Red Wing Work Boots as part of their uniform. Why? Because we believe our greatest asset is our people. They are the lifeline to everything we do internally and for our residents. By providing them safe, comfortable shoes they know we are investing in them as a person and as a trusted member of our team. We believe in walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
Our employees are also provided the opportunity to participate in our “Smile Bucks” program. They are authorized to spend up to $100 per month to help brighten a family’s day or to make a tough day just a little bit better. This could include dropping off a pizza dinner to a family who has just moved in, or bringing over some new toys for kids as they unpack their household goods. We get to know our residents, and this program empowers our employees and connects our team members with our residents. Most importantly, it is truly just the right thing to do to show we care.
It is the human touch that elevates us from being ordinary to extraordinary.
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?
No one can really achieve success without having people believe in them. For me, it started with having a really supportive father, but I’ve had the good fortune of working with so many great mentors over the years. I also try to be a good student of operations and leadership, so I can continue to hone my craft. While I continue to study successful leaders and companies, I also went back to school and earned a Master’s Degree in in Organizational Leadership. I was able to learn from many great professors and bring back that learning to my team.
What I’ve really learned is to the importance of paying it forward. As a leader you have to care about your people. People don’t just want to be led, they want to be inspired.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I can really only share my story, and hope that it may help lead and support other women. For example, I am open with the fact that my education was completed in stages. This has inspired others on my team to go back and complete their degrees, or seek graduate programs. But I think it is also important to note that a great career is not always about formal education. I also believe that passion, drive, and determination produce exceptional leaders. A successful leader is one who is not only concerned about their own growth, but the growth of those they support. Great leaders are tenacious, kind, sincere, and understand the value of celebrating successes, however big or small.
In my experience, mentoring and direct support are critical factors in advancing women’s leadership in real estate. As more women share their stories and pay it forward, positive things will happen.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
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?
In this industry, intuition is often in the eye of the beholder. That said, the greatest successes I’ve seen have come when I’ve held to a few core values that inspired our achievements.
- Know your business: Inspire others to hone their craft. Leadership is most effective when it’s informed. Encourage your team to do their homework.
- Share your stories: I’ve found that people learn best through an understanding of shared experience. Mentoring is the most direct form of this, but leaders should always be encouraging by example. I always encourage any opportunity for my team members to learn additional skills or more about an area of our business by reaching out and connecting with others.
- When preparation meets opportunity, success is the only outcome: I once worked with a professional mentor who really stressed this value. I’ve found you can only grow in your responsibilities if you’re well prepared. Preparation helps people push out of their comfort zone and grow in their careers.
- Prepare for the downside: Positivity is important but being prepared for negative events is just a best practice. In any role I’ve had, understanding the risk profile of the thing that mattered was critical to managing events when the inevitable gray clouds appeared. Since we’re in the business of helping people, it’s important that we constantly review and refine our processes, so that we can always be improving.
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. 🙂
When I think about leadership, it is about paying it forward, whether that is accomplished with employees or with communities and residents. HMC does that a few different ways.
- Our employees: This year we launched the Leadership Academy at Hunt and just graduated our first class. The Leadership Academy is a way to advance people in the organization, to expose them to many aspects of the business, and then have them mentor the next class. The ‘students’ come from many aspects of our business, all of whom put in the hours to learn, grow, and be mentored. I look forward to when we are on our 10-year anniversary and can look back to all we have accomplished.
- Our residents: We have many programs that help and assist our residents, ranging from assistance with childcare to our recent Valentine’s Day Hunt Heart program, in which we brought residents together to create care packages for those who are deployed. We also gave a Valentine’s Day treat or flower to military spouses in our community, since Valentine’s Day can be a lonely day for those whose partner is deployed.
- Our communities: Each year in September, our teams participate in Hunt Helping Hands, which is an initiative in which we encourage employees to go out into their communities and give back. We have employees that donate time to soup kitchens, collect items for those in need, or spend the day painting to revitalize a local mural or park.
How can our readers follow you online?