March 25, 2020

Barry Blanton: Growth and Leadership in Multifamily

From growth and hiring to conflict and crises, Barry Blanton, Chief Problem Solver of Blanton Turner, shares his lens on the most critical aspects of multifamily leadership.

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Audio Transcript

Glennis Markison
Hi. I'm Glennis Markison from Happy Co. Welcome to Voices where we feature fresh perspectives on multifamily. Our guests share their voices on emerging trends, leadership strategies and much more.  

Glennis Markison
Today, our guest is Barry Blanton, Chief Problem Solver at Blanton Turner. He'll be discussing multifamily management from finding your passion to lead others in the industry. Hi Barry. Thanks for joining us on Voices. 

Barry Blanton
Thanks for having me. Looking forward to this.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, let's just chat a little bit about your title, which I love. Chief Problem solver. What does that mean on a daily basis?

Barry Blanton
Well, actually, most people a Blanton Turner get to pick their own titles. In my case, there were two of us, actually, that didn't. There was me. And frankly, the title probably would have been better if it was just chief problem. But they put solver on the end to make me feel better about.
  
Glennis Markison
And do you feel better about it?

Barry Blanton
I do and I have to explain that every time because they will tell everybody. Well, it should have been the Chief Problem but it's Chief Problem Solver.

Glennis Markison
So diving into the beginning, I hear that your multifamily career started with a lawn mower. Can you elaborate for us?

Barry Blanton
I have to say, I was I was going to the University of Oregon and I needed a job, and one thing I knew I could do was mow lawns. And I had met a professor at the University of Oregon that was teaching a real estate class, and she owned a real estate company. So she introduced me to her property manager. I was so impressive. I had four interviews, just to mow lawns. But as it turned out on the fourth interview, he stood me up. He came in. He was about two and 1/2 hours late. He said an expletive when his reception said that he totally forgotten me and I was sitting there. He turns around and he goes, I'm so sorry. And I said, Well, how sorry are you? So he gave me the job mowing lawns. Arguably, I was terrible at it, and shortly thereafter I convinced him that if I clean the office on Saturdays, I could do some showings of houses, and that's how it kind of got started into this.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, I did. Multifamily seem like a career when you were starting out. I mean, what did you know about it?

Barry Blanton
Well, here's the funny thing. So,  I grew up in Southern Oregon, and I grew up kind of out of the country. I think the first time I ever even saw an apartment. When? When I was about 16 years old. And so when starting at the first company, I work for the lawn mowing company. They were really doing houses, duplexes, maybe small plexus. They really weren't into multifamily. In fact, the way I kind of got to stay is that I went to him and I said, how come we don't do multifamily? And he said, well, there really wasn't a lot of future in it. I said, Well, if there's not a lot of future, and you're not gonna care if I go out and try to find some and if I can find some, you can pay me and he goes, okay. And, so that was my motivation for multifamily.

Glennis Markison
Well, how do you think you had the confidence I mean, how did you have the confidence to do something nobody else was doing? And when they said that, you might not be successful? I mean, how did you get through that?

Barry Blanton
Well, you know, honestly, I didn't have an awful lot to lose. I knew mowing lawns was just not my future. And I wasn't going to school that much. I mean, I was full time and enrolled, but didn't have a lot of my attention. And I thought, well, okay, I've got to do something else. I mean, I continued in college, but I think it was more about unabashed youthful enthusiasm. And I'm very much an optimist by nature. So, I decided that let's give this a shot and what I really like about it and still do, the thing I like most about it is just getting to interact with the different people that we get to interact with, whether that be the employees we get to work with or for the clients or the people that live in the building.

Glennis Markison
Yeah. You mentioned before that you found your passion was people on multifamily, working with people in solving their problems. What with you could walk through just going from the mowing lawns stage to the leasing tour stage. How you got those early steps on and just kind of on the ground experiences where you knew things were going well or didn't and had to grow in real-time just starting out.

Barry Blanton
I think, for me actually leasing, as far as I'm concerned, one of my favorite things in this industry was leasing, just talking to people and using empathy to figure out what it was that they were looking for and what they cared about. And then, if you can help people and you can help them find what's gonna fit for them, then it doesn't get better than that. You're building relationships. Later in my career, I've come to call that flirting with the at world large were basically you get a chance to really interact with people, and maybe it's not a very long period of time, but it's just a period of time where you can get some insight into what matters to them. And then how can you help them find that.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, I mean, can you name some examples where you just thought, wow, I might be really good at this. And then some others where you're like, gosh, this is tough work. I don't always know what's gonna please somebody, I haven't, you know, met before, whatever their amenity they're looking for and what they're seeking in an apartment.

Barry Blanton
I felt like if I got the right people with me that we were working together with that's the game. Because if you get good people around you and people that are better, it a variety of things than you are, then your odds of being successful are great. And then what you do is you make a lot of adjustments along the way. So it wasn't a situation where I felt, I think that if there was ever fear or ever, maybe a lack of confidence, it was leaving one thing to do another thing was always a tough thing for me. I'm not one to quit.

Glennis Markison
You have mentioned in a previous call that just that, the importance of parking your ego and your insecurities at the door when you're first starting out in this very fast-changing industry. So, can you elaborate on that a little bit? I mean, how important is it to say, no, I need feedback and I need to learn and grow under somebody's mentorship. How important is that for someone just starting out?

Barry Blanton
Oh, I think it's huge. I just think it's huge. There's very little room as far as I'm concerned in life for ego and for arrogance. I think that, you know, the truth is nobody gets pretty much anything or success in life alone and generally speaking, people will, in fact, help each other if they understand how they can help each other. So, you have to open up. You have o allow for a low little vulnerability and make sure that people know it's safe to be a little vulnerable with you. And that's how you build trust. And if you could build trust with people, it just feels great from there.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, can you kind of way into on the different avenues there are in multifamily to find a passion? I mean, you've stressed that It's really about people management as opposed to property management, but what if someone loves systems? Or what if somebody loves numbers? How else can you find your passion without being on the front-facing side?

Barry Blanton
Well, it's really interesting, because I think that's one of the best things about our industry. Is it really doesn't make any difference if you happen to be an extraordinary people person or you happen to be more of an introvert, that is more of a systems-based person. There are so many different disciplines that you could go into in this industry ranging from being a leasing person that just flirts with the world at large to there are lots of between tech and between accounting and finance and really even getting into marketing. Marketing is so multi-disciplined. You've got your front-facing folks. You've got your back of house folks, but none of it gets done without each other. And one of my favorite things is understanding each different person for their own personality types of their own preferences. It makes an amazing fabric in this industry and in our company we've been really fortunate with that.

Glennis Markison
And diving into that sort of collaboration piece, I mean, how important is tone in multifamily? Because it seems like with every industry, there's, you know, maybe a stressful day for a manager and theirs what they say, and then there's how they say it. So, can you really weigh in on how you grew personally and professionally, to know how to convey a message and just the kind of training approach that Blanton Turner has to making sure that as a manager, you're also conscientious, of empowering, as opposed to kind of aggressively leading? And all of that. Just that tone question is so big.

Barry Blanton
Sure, I think that too often, and property management in this industry people look at the industry is being one where people put together a big machine. They put together a big system for managing property, and they plug and play people. One of the things that we don't do is use that sort of approach. Where, as you mentioned earlier, we're a people business,  really is more about managing people's expectations and fulfilling those expectations. Setting those expectations empathy, part of this is, it is very difficult to train for everything that comes up in this industry. So, we do have to look for people that have a naturally empathetic side, somebody that understands that it is a people business and that story's matter and that everybody has a story. And so to the degree that we understand who we're communicating with, that's how do you set the tone? I think one of the things that's very important in our business one of the things we do, a lot of leasing up brand new properties, and we did that intentionally, just so we weren't competing with properties that exist already. We decided we'd worked with developers. We had been part of the development company, so we do a lot about that and the truth is, is you can build the coolest building in the world in a great location and until you get the people at the site adding the personality, it doesn't have a personality yet, and the personality comes by way of the people that are representing it, the employees, the staff. That could be the person sweeping the front stoop or the front sidewalk. It could be the manager. It could be the leasing people or all of them eat mints people. It takes a village to run a building, but all of the mad personality. Then if you get that right, the people in the building continue that personality, and that's where you get your reputation.

Glennis Markison
And, so in the interview and in the recruitment stage, I mean, how kind of open-minded would you say Blanton Turner is to look at a resume from someone who's clearly interacted with people successfully in a lot of positions but maybe none of those say multifamily?

Barry Blanton
That's that is a great question. We're very unique in our approach, and we often are looking for people that air from this industry. The way that we look at this is we're competing for talented people with the world at large. Especially true in Seattle, Washington. There's there are a lot of big employers here, a lot of opportunities, a very low unemployment rate. When we're looking for talent, specifically, we are looking at people's personalities. We're looking at what they've done in their lives. What makes them interesting. What can they bring to bear on both the story of Blanton Turner,  the brand if you will, and be the experience people are gonna have when they're interacting with us, whether that be a sight or whether that be here in the office, we want people to have an exceptional experience, no matter where it is. And if we get people that can add to that experience, and they're gonna be very different, I mean, I am smiling right now because I'm thinking about three different people that are completely opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of what they're like. But every one of the people that I'm thinking about truly everybody that works here is added one more dimension to Blanton Turner. So, if today we have 200 people and we hire another one today and there were 201 or brand just grew by one, and it's gonna be different tomorrow than it was today. And it doesn't get better than that. That's pretty cool.

Glennis Markison
Yeah. No, that's wonderful. I mean, to what extent do you think that humor and curiosity should play a role when a hiring manager is asking someone about their life in an interview. And to what extent? Especially since you're dealing with people, should there be a sort of warmth and, you know, even a little swagger and flexibility that way? Creativity?  

Barry Blanton
I think it's super important. And in fact, if if you were to look online, if you apply to Blanton Turner Online, there are a series of questions that we come up with that try to take people out of their comfort zone. Out of the box of this is a standard operating procedure. This is an application like any other companies application. We don't want that at all. And some people really do play to that, right? We asked. You know, if you had superhuman strength or powers, what would they be in? Why are you asking these kinds of out of the box question? Some people are not comfortable even answering. It won't tell us what their favorite recording artist is, or some interesting story about themselves. They just won't, and if they won't, that's fine. There are other places for them to work, but the truth is, we really do care and know about someone and who they are personally.

Glennis Markison
And I'm wondering, on that training level. So, somebody's walked through the door. You're excited about them. You really feel despite their background, not saying multifamily 10 times that they're a great fit, how does training look to you? I mean, how do you think Blanton Turner is really working through this turnover problem that multifamily can struggle with?

Barry Blanton
Ah, great question, I would say so. Bland Turner started in 2011 and there were a total of six of us. And I would say that when we started, and as we picked up new properties, we probably did not spend as much time on the training elements as we could have or should have, I would say, specifically because we were looking more for personalities and talented people. We believe that we could teach them what they needed to know about property management. To that end, we relied a lot on the Institute of Real Estate Management for formal training (IREM). IREM is great educationally, and several of us have been very involved in IREM, but then also grown our mentor program here, where you take people who are excellent at what they do, and you give them the opportunity to help with training and mentoring people that are new. And it really is pretty cool because it's not the formal training that you would often find in the industry. And then they also have people that they, too, can rely on and feel safe to ask questions off. And what happens is people within this company get to know each other. And it isn't siloed just to the properties they work at.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, can you also weigh in on just those three people you said you were thinking about earlier who got very different sorts of dispositions but are really critical part of the kind of Blanton Turner family?

Barry Blanton
I'm gonna give you little vignettes about Richie, Emily, and Tamra. And, Richie is a person who has worked with me for the last two companies. And I met Richie one day when I was walking out the back door of our office through a private hallway going to the restroom, and I opened the door and there's Richie and he's standing there at the door looking lost, and I looked at him and I said, are you lost? And he goes, I am. And he gave me this grin and I pointed into the front door and I walked back in the door and I said, I don't know who's interviewing this guy I just saw, but hire him. It was that simple.

Glennis Markison
Because he was honest? Is that why?

Barry Blanton
It was honest. His grin and smile was totally sincere, and you may or may not have had this opportunity, but I have, and I've been very fortunate to have it several times where you run into somebody, and they just they're so uniquely authentic. And that's what Richie is. So, Richie was, has been, a leasing agent for us.

Glennis Markison
Right.

Barry Blanton
So, that's Richie. On the other end, I want to talk about Emily. Emily is a person who worked for us as a leasing person at Radford Court over at one of the University of Washington properties, and she was a student. And, I went in to meet her, and she was one of the more introverted people I've ever met in my life, and she really wasn't comfortable doing leasing. So I talked to the manager, Yuko. This is many years ago and I said, Yuko, I'm just not sure that this person is the right person to be a leasing person. She goes, but Emily is just wicked smart. She's just really smart. And I trust you go. And I said, Well, okay, I trust you. I'm not, you know, But I don't know that she's a leasing type. Emily ended up. She's got three or four different degrees. She is absolutely wicked smart. She joined our full-time staff out of Radford Court when she graduated. She ended up being part of our accounting department. Emily ended up getting her CPA. She is the second in charge of our whole accounting department, and this woman is incredibly talented.

Glennis Markison
Wow. I mean, this sounds really wonderful that you've got these varying personalities who contribute quite a bit and can make you, you know, ponder your you're thinking about them in the middle of the interview. I guess I'm wondering whenever anything happens between a team where there's a misunderstanding or somebody who's really passionate about an idea and someone doesn't quite have the same take. How do you mediate little conflict? Does that happen? I mean, I think that's so often what eventually breeds turnover is that there's a misunderstanding. Somebody gets resentful. They don't feel heard. So how do you in real-time? It sounds like you're such a flexible culture. How do you make sure that someone has the instinct to say sorry? Or if they don't, it might understand why they should be.

Barry Blanton
Great question. Two or three thoughts come to mind number one. Just know that our average age of planting Turner is 29 years old, Right? Um, in fact, I just had a birthday. So maybe it's 30.

Glennis Markison
That's allowable. That's allowable.

Barry Blanton
Yeah, but I would say that, two things first, we're not hierarchal by nature. So it isn't because I said so, that is gonna carry the day. What we really need to do, you hit it on the head. Active listening is a big part of our game here. People are not only safe to express their feelings and opinions, but they're heavily encouraged, highly encouraged to express those opinions because, frankly, we hired them because of the talents they bring. Sometimes that's experience, but many, most of the time, that's some innate talent or a position or a vantage point that other people don't bring. I think that if people feel heard and respected, that's a big deal. And so it's really important in our culture that people do feel heard and respected, and there doesn't come the day where it's just because I said so. We don't have groupthink here. One of the best things about it is if, if you have, if you have three or four of the principles of Landon Turner at a meeting, you're gonna get three or four different opinions about different things. We're not gonna leave it out there where were diabolically opposed with one another but we will give you varying vantage points, and that's a help me thing.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, I mean to view collaboration, obviously, is a healthy thing internally. Sounds like it would inform your work with clients. And so, I remember your saying in the last call that the Clinton Turner really likes to work with clients as opposed to for. And so how could you recommend for other operators that they let their internal collaboration, really, you know, take shape with their external relationships? How do you recommend people do that?

Barry Blanton
Well, that's a great, great point and your spot on. One of our core philosophies is to work with people instead of four people. And really, that came about because in my very first company and I was there for 20 years. It was a fee management company that was definitely working for the client, and it was a fee management model and based in Oregon. It was a time and place. The second place was working in a development company, and we were an arm of the development company, and that's where we kind of started working with people. And then when we started this company, we decided, you know, it's far away, a better place, a happier place, if people feel like they're collaborating, with their clients, with their employees, then people are working for them. And so we just decided if we run into people that have property, is even if they're great properties, but they rather insist that we worked for them instead of with them. We're probably not the right set and quite honestly, that's when that level of respect goes up to because clients do, in fact, respect people they work with more than the people that worked for them, by and large. And so I would just suggest that there is a collaboration that happens when you're working with people. That just doesn't happen when there's more of a hierarchy involved.

Glennis Markison
I mean, I'm very curious since you've had such a strong career is a leader, you obviously are thinking ahead. What can you say about where you think things were going with hospitality or with the kind of tension between human interaction and then technology helping people find an apartment?

Barry Blanton
We think about that lot. One of the things that tends to happen in property management is as people see trends and then they follow trends, and what we've tended to do since we opened Blanton Turner was to think about things from the standpoint of the people were served. So we knew that when we were opening buildings in urban Seattle, we knew who the target demographic would be for those buildings and what the psychographics of those people would be because we studied it and then we decided, Well, let's go ahead and bring on people, employees that would resonate with those target markets and where it's worked out really well. So, we do think a lot about what is the future look like? What would it what's happening today? What's gonna happen tomorrow? One of those trends and how do we stay in front of those or at least current, with those things and not get complacent? Because what worked yesterday would probably still work today. What our thing is about is, how do we make exceptional experiences for the folks who used her bill? That could be the people that work at the buildings. That could be the people that, if it's a different office building commercial building that could be from customers of those people. It could be for the residents that live in the multifamily. So, we are constantly looking and we're studying right now ways to let technology do what technology does best, so people can do what people do best. And we've always looked at technology simply as making things better. That's what technology is. It's not about the latest and greatest and whiz boom stuff. It's really about how are we making things better, and that's generally judged by people. And how can we keep technology as a tool for people to use instead of the opposite, which is people are basically a tool for technology to use. That's kind of what we really don't want to see happen and that we're not gonna let that happen in our world. So, we're asking people all the time. We use technology to survey people pretty much really time. How are they feeling about things? What's working for them? What is working for them? This is the residents. This is the office worker, these are the employees. With that information, we can respond quickly and we can stay current and we have to be agile. And we have to be current.

Glennis Markison
Turning to kind of current and agile, still, with the Coronavirus making everybody nervous, what's the pressure on you is a leader and just a work culture setting right now, to keep people calm but also safe?

Barry Blanton
So I look at it more as a responsibility than pressure, and I think that, again, we have a leadership team here which includes the principles, that includes Heidi Turner Chest and Full Brian Allen buyers and myself. And then it includes our directors of each of the different areas in our company. And the truth of the matter is, is that we don't know the answers, right. What we do know is we know how to find the best, most current information we can provide. We know that we can support people, and the people were supporting are the people that are working at the sights, the people that they're using, the properties that we managed. And what we need to do is we need to, we need to stay current on what we need to know. Do we have to be the expert on it? I don't think we need to be the expert on it. I think we do need to be the expert about where to find the information people need, and I think that we need to be in front of being able to provide that as anything comes up. But with that said, I think what people need to do is they need to know that that there is leadership, that somebody is paying attention and that there is common and considered control in terms of making sure that they have the information they need to have. And, empathy for folks is another thing that we also don't want to forget, you know, because right now beer will fear will creep in, and we need to understand when people are feeling fearful. Generally speaking, that's because there's something they don't know. And what can we help them know?

Glennis Markison
Yeah. I mean, how do you think you were able to rise to the occasion like this? I mean, it sounds like you have a really reasoned and compassionate approach, like were there other kinds of difficult times, whether it's a recession, et cetera, where there was great uncertainty and you kind of had to meet a challenge? I mean, what shaped this perspective? Curiosity.

Barry Blanton
I think that there have been several things, certainly in my career in my lifetime, and I'm sure in most of the leaders lifetimes here that they brought from in this case, I also know that again, the key to our are good fortune is having people who were naturally talented in various ways.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, I mean, I think my last question you've been so so generous with all these answers is, if somebody wanted to be, you know, they're listening and they're excited about this trajectory you have in multifamily and they think Chief Problem Solver and might have what it takes, but what does it really take? What would you say?

Barry Blanton
I think, first of all, just know I'm an optimist and have been all my life. And that isn't because life is just sent nothing but cherries. I think that it's hard to be an optimist, and I think that there are a lot of easier things to do, and there's so much, so much of an argument against optimism. But the fact is, be an optimist. That's the first thing. The second thing is to celebrate the diversity that our species has, right? We have such amazing people from such amazing backgrounds all over the world. And if you can, if you are fortunate enough to surround yourself with interesting, talented people, then what you then need to do is to understand what you can do to support them being the best them they can be. And so in this office, for example, there's like 33 of us, the work here. And at one point there were 16 languages spoken in this office because we had people from all over the world. We still do. But one guy from Zimbabwe spoke about six languages, so we're down a few, but we're down at the like, nine or 10.

Glennis Markison
Wow, considerable.

Barry Blanton
And when honestly, if you truly celebrate people in the difference is that they all have in the different personalities and skills that it takes,  if you wanted to be me, then you would understand that it's gonna take them, and then you need to understand what it is you can do to attract and support and take care of them. And it gets pretty good from there because, quite honestly, I think I'm pretty imaginative but there are so many new things that I would have never come up with. How did not have these amazing people around? So that's the truth. I mean, it's flat out is hard and as easy as that.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, thank you so much, Barry, for joining us. And honestly, all of these insights on leadership and management and multifamily. I'm really, really grateful you could take the time. 

Barry Blanton
Well, thank you!  

Glennis Markison
If you like to hear from other voices and family or learn how to share your voice and to voices dot happy dot co. You can find Voices on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast player. Voices is produced by HappyCo, the leading real-time property operations platform for multifamily and student housing. We're on a mission to elevate property management to community management. Prioritizing staff and resident wellbeing. That starts by listening to you, the voices of multifamily. I'm Glennis Markison. Thanks for listening.  

Glennis Markison
P.S Feel free to take a minute and rate or review the Voices podcast. That'll help us share the voices of multifamily.

A founding Principal (and “Chief Problem Solver”) at Seattle-based Blanton Turner, Barry Blanton is a multifamily veteran with expertise in lease-up strategy, management, mediation, recruiting, and business leadership. With his “down-to-earth” communication style, Barry is passionate about helping people and teams be their most successful. Barry is also very active in the multifamily industry. He is a Certified Property Manager (CPM), and has served as 2010 President of the Western Washington Chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), 2017/18 Regional Vice President of Region 12 (WA, OR, ID, MT, WY, AK), and currently serves as a Sr. Vice President of IREM.

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Glennis Markison

Glennis is a writer/producer from San Francisco. Taking the city’s trains and buses with riders of all ages and backgrounds inspired Glennis to go into journalism and share people’s stories for a living. As a content producer at HappyCo, she’s excited to highlight diverse voices and share stories from within the Multifamily industry.

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