AMP Interviews with the biggest movers and shakers in the Apartment Management Industry
As her name implies, MJ brings joy to everyone she comes into contact with! You can find her spotlighting industry peers during a Facebook live segment every Friday on behalf of the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Apartment Association (GCNKAA) – the same association that presented her with the 2021 President’s Award. Speaking of awards, if there was a proud mama award, she would be top of the list!
I love dissecting words and looking for greater meaning like the word Apartment. What sets you “Apart” and why are you “Meant” for the multifamily industry?
I would say the thing that sets me apart in this industry and in life, is that I genuinely want to connect with people. I love getting to know people and I'm fascinated by human behavior and life choices. I love to hear peoples’ stories and truly strive to understand and gain inspiration/perspective from the experiences of each person I meet. I believe all people, regardless of their job, status, political affiliation, religion, etc.., just want to be heard and understood on a very human level. To be validated for who they are. Life moves so fast and responsibilities are so heavy, it is a rarity to deeply know someone. I want to know people and what makes them who they are.
I am meant for this industry because I have a servant's heart and genuinely want to help people. When I realized what a privilege it is to help someone find their home and to provide such an intimate level of service, it deeply affected me. I was good at it and I loved it…so my talent and passion intersected perfectly in this industry. I love to tell the story of my favorite residents of all time, Dick and Elaine Beal. Dick was in the final phase of terminal cancer when he and Elaine moved from St. Louis to Cincinnati. I rented the apartment to them through their son and when they moved in, our entire team quickly adopted the couple as our family. Throughout Dick’s illness we did everything possible to help them -- take out the trash, pick up rent payments, check-in regularly, etc. We just treated them with compassion and respect. When Dick moved to Hospice, I visited a day before he fell into a coma and eventually passed. I bonded with Elaine and to this very day, nearly 20 years later, I am friends with her. She still lives in the apartment and even though ownership has changed 3 times and I’ve long since left, the connection we made is as strong as ever. What other industry allows you to live with your customers? It’s truly remarkable, and I’m positive I’m right where I belong.
How and when did you get your start in the industry?
When I was a junior in high school, I was assigned to work with a parent over Spring Break. I had been to work with my mom so many times, the prospect of doing so was boring. My dad was a blue-collar worker and going to work with him wasn’t an option. One of my aunts was an Assistant Manager at an apartment community and she agreed to let me shadow her at work over the week and the rest is history. I spent the week filing, cleaning the office, delivering notices, copying bills, and doing anything they would let me be a part of. At the end of the week, the regional manager notified my aunt and her manager that they needed to open the office on Saturdays. I somehow finagled my way into the role of part-time Saturday leasing consultant and worked my way through college, eventually became the manager of that very apartment community, and have had opportunity after opportunity for career growth and advancement in the 27 years since.
What is one song that always puts you in a good mood?
Elton John is my all-time favorite artist and anytime I hear him I am happy. The Way You Look Tonight, Rocket Man, and Honkey Cat are what come to mind as I type this, but literally, anything by Elton transforms my mood to peaceful and happy.
What are 3 tips you would give someone considering a career in multifamily?
1) Put in the work. Instant gratification is such a phenomenon these days, and it seems like so many people want to fast-track their careers and life. In this industry, having experience working through the various positions that exist is so important. Perspective is truly invaluable, and it is most impactful when earned through putting in the work. I count myself fortunate to have started as a leasing consultant, oblivious to anything about this business, and literally taking the opportunities that have continuously presented themselves to me year after year. I have never been afraid of hard work and I’m so thankful that it has paid off with a lifetime of experiences and ultimately the incredible opportunity to work for a company as well-respected as Village Green for 20+ years and counting.
2) Network and get involved in the industry. I was always supportive of our local apartment associations and considered myself an active member. Until about 5 years ago, I was nowhere near as involved as I am now and it has been a game-changer. When I say get involved, I mean to do more than attend the fun events -- take part and serve. I have the privilege to serve on the Board of Directors for the GCNKAA, communicate regularly with industry colleagues, and share experiences and best practices for the ever-evolving industry. Coming out of the unprecedented experience of a global pandemic and so many issues that will plague our industry for years to come as a result, having a network of professionals to call on, learn from, and band together to strengthen our industry has been critical to being the best service provider and leader I can be.
3) Be kind. First, it’s always the right thing to do in life and in business. And second, this industry is small. You'll be astonished by the people you meet coming and going when you’re in the apartment industry. No matter what side of the transaction you’re on, be a kind person and it will serve you well.
What is your proudest moment in multifamily?
In 2017, Village Green awarded me with the Top Leader Award for the company. It was the inaugural year of giving out this award, and to be the first recipient was among the most incredible highlights of my career and life. 2015 and 2016 had been the most challenging years of my personal and professional life. There were many obstacles in both aspects of life and to power through those seasons of proverbial famine to be awarded a proverbial feast will always be a moment that stands out to me. The award for Top Leader and the other Top Performers in the company was an all-expenses-paid trip to Punta Cana, and that itself was an experience that I will never forget! My mom was my plus one, and we had the time of our lives!
Who is your mentor and why?
Diane Batayeh is my mentor and whom I aspire to emulate in every aspect of my career. She is brilliant, articulate, fair, tough, inspiring, trusting, bold. I could literally go on for days. It’s interesting that Diane transitioned into her role of COO at the same time that they gave me the opportunity to be an Assistant Vice President. I was a new mother, had a new role, and Diane was brand new in her role, having been promoted from CFO to COO, then ultimately CEO. I feel like we sort of grew up together in our positions. We found our stride together, and she took me under her wing as I learned the difference between portfolio-level operations and executive-level management. She was patient, held me accountable, gave constant feedback, and proved that she genuinely wanted me to be successful. She’s been a constant source of inspiration for me to be the best I can be, and I aspire to be the leader and mentor for others that she has been for me.
What book has left the biggest impression on your life?
This feels a little silly to type, but in 4th grade, my teacher read our class the book, “Where the Red Fern Grows”. I bought the book at our school book fair that year and read it literally a hundred times over the years, most recently to my son. My family would make fun of me because I always had the book in my hands. Even though the book was about a young boy and hunting dogs in the Ozark Mountains, it resonated with me. The story was profound, it made me dream, and the overwhelming takeaway from the book was that anything is possible, no matter where you come from if you want it badly enough and will work hard.
If you ever owned an apartment community, where would it be and what would you name it?
Being a classic over-thinker, I find this question SO HARD! I’m compelled to say somewhere exotic, beautiful, and fun. But the practical part of me, and the part driven to find opportunity and to succeed, says my hometown. There is an underserved market and I find immense value in knowing the intricacies of an area and the demographic. I would slay the opportunity to own and manage a community in an area I know so well that has a tangible need. I would name this community The Elton - if copyright infringements wouldn’t be an issue. See what I mean by overthinking?
What is your most memorable vacation?
My most memorable vacation is taking my son to Disney World for the first time. Disney is our thing (no judgment please, haha) and we have gone every year since my son was three. The only word that even comes to mind is magical. The first time was an experience like none other, and the picture of me holding him and kissing him with our Mickey ears in front of the castle is one of my favorite pictures in life. Every time we've gone it has been the same magical experience, and it's not lost on me how very fortunate we are to have the experiences and time together to do this.
If our country went to 4-day work weeks, how would you spend your 5th day?
I work really hard every day so that I can disconnect and spend as much of the weekend as possible with my son. I will work as many hours as it takes throughout the week to disconnect and have Saturdays with my boy…so, I would have to say that I would spend any extra time I have making sure that we are having even more adventures together.
Melissa 'MJ' Joy