Career view: Stephanie Smith, portfolio operations director at Atlas Residential

Career view: Stephanie Smith, portfolio operations director at Atlas Residential

This week’s career profile looks at the growing Build to Rent sector of housing and speaks to Stephanie Smith of Atlas Residential, a company that develops and manages new homes development across the UK and North America.

Please tell us a little about yourself, Atlas Residential and your role there.

As portfolio operations director for Atlas, I oversee all operational aspects for the company and teams within the UK division. With our first three sites actively operational or nearing completion, our team has many projects underway. From continuing to grow and define how we adapt our North American best practices in the day-to-day customer services to upgrading to a new property admin and accounting system with CRM through Yardi here in the UK, we are cementing our commitment even further to this market and our continued success.

Can you tell us about your career path, from education to training, work experience and previous roles?

Like many others in US property management, I was on a very different path, focusing on a career in music psychology while growing up in New York. My move into residential occurred when I was looking for a larger apartment in Denver, Colorado due to needing more space when my daughter was born.

While talking through new apartment options with our leasing consultant, she mentioned they were looking for a part-time leasing person. She thought I would love it since I had a lot of experience with people and sales, having worked in office and retail as a teen. I agreed to meet with Julie Owens, my first property manager, and shortly after started as a leasing consultant with Metric Property Management in the US, where I quickly moved up within the company. Further roles through my career included property and area/regional manager for groups, such as Laramar Group, Alliance Residential, Carmel Partners on both wholly owned and third-party owners.

My last role prior to moving to the UK was with CompassRock Real Estate, where I was national director for IT and training. The company was a new venture, having started as a management arm acting on behalf of CW Capital, which grew to approximately 25,000 units in slightly over a year and is still acting on a vast third-party portfolio.

Are there any projects and/or mentors in your career to date that have been particularly inspiring?

I have been extremely blessed to have had several iconic mentors in my career path. My first was Claudia Cohn, back then the regional manager at Feld Property, who is an amazingly smart, effective, and strong leader. I still live by the phrase she taught me very early on to “inspect what you expect!”. There were many other lessons that she gave which helped shape who I am today, but this article is far too short to list them all!

I can name so many more supportive people who believed in me, helping me grow both as an individual and within my career, like the one and only Carol Levey, owner of Levey Enterprise and IT Partners, or Mary Wessler, now with ConAm in the US.

Each site I was on, whether high-end towers or a receivership in dire need of love and care, has taught me something new and provided a new perspective into proper care and management.

What is it about your current role that you most enjoy?

It may sound cliché, but my favourite part is the people. From helping to build teams and help others reach their potential as my mentors have helped me is the most important part of what we do.

Happy (and accountable) employees mean happy residents. Sometimes the best part of the day is when I am working on one of my sites with the team and meeting a new resident who has chosen our community for their home. I’m not sure which smile means more – the resident at having that security and comfort, or the leasing consultant who has helped them find a new home for their family!

Are there major HR differences in working for a company with a US connection and does Atlas look for particular personal and skills qualities in applicants for jobs there?

The US and UK may have many parallel lines, but there are just as many differences, as well.

We look to build our teams off of personality and base skill sets, where we can create a balance within team members who have greater ambition than just what their job spec states. While we do use job descriptions as a guideline so teams are aware of expectation, I have always found you can teach skill, but you cannot teach willingness to smile and learn new skills. A “whatever it takes” mentality is one of the most important traits a candidate can bring.

I have found, in my five years living here, that this is slowly being adopted in peer’s companies, who had been a bit more traditional in that a job description is hard and fast.

Another massive difference is the diversity level. The US multifamily market is largely female driven, including in board roles, whereas in the UK this is just being realised with firms like Grainger and Atlas appointing females into top, decision-making roles.

Do you have any particular ambitions ahead for your career path?

Yes, many, but the most important is to grow and learn something new every day and to support my teams and residents in the best way I can.

With national new homes targets increasing, what are the career prospects at Atlas?

We foresee rapid growth within the organisation and, as such, a greater potential for strong career paths to develop within the varying facets of the Atlas property management and development ladder. We have recently made key hires within our Asset and Analysis team, as well as on our sites. However, as we continue to add more sites, we have plans to further add teams in areas which are more defined, ie fully marketing focused or health and safety, for instance.

What’s your advice to those considering or applying for a job in UK housebuilding right now?

I often speak with people who are curious about the emerging market and are vacillating about entering a new field. Whereas other strong candidates who are already in the sector may be, to put it gently, a bit jaded about past chapters in the housing industry where they’ve not been able to engage fully with a spirit of customer service. Many are very hopeful and excited about Build to Rent and are welcoming to a challenge. Whether in development or construction where candidates can build a strong, well-designed “four walls” which will stand the test of time, or if they are more a customer facing, front line type of person, both can affect people’s lives as you help them find that perfect home.

We are seeing candidates coming forward and recognising the potential of the new face of property. For these forward-thinking parties, I always advise them to look into which role and career path would be right for them – this is an exceptional time to enter the property market where change can truly be affected.

 

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