The Power of Flexibility, Feedback and the Right People

Lea Anne Welsh COO, Korman Communities

It all started with a phone book...

I studied Accounting in college, and I loved my classes, but I wanted more from my career – I wanted meaning behind the math. In the early 90s, I couldn’t have predicted I’d have that fulfillment some day as the COO of Korman Communities, where every day my goal is to identify the best strategies to hit our highest bottom line and do it within our company culture, vision, and values.

It started in 1992 when I was looking for a summer job. I opened up the phone book and called a few hotels. While they were encouraging about submitting my resume, my next call, Korman Suites, reacted with such urgency and enthusiasm, “My gosh, we are looking for admin support, someone with an accounting background. Come over right now!”

I got in my car and drove over, and they hired me on the spot. I started working 32 hours a week, four days a week. Within two months, I was Assistant Manager. Within six months, I was Operations Manager. Within a year, I was General Manager, and then Regional Director, then Vice President of Operations, and now Chief Operating Officer. I worked very hard and my efforts were appreciated and rewarded.

Flexibility is Key: The Birth of the Furnished Apartment

Right from the beginning, I picked up on something powerful about Korman Communities, the company’s profound sense of flexibility. In the late 60s and early 70s, Korman started offering furnished apartments. It started when the Korman family bought a building in Downtown Philadelphia that required a unique sales strategy. It was a prime location, but the floor plans were pie-shaped.

Our founder Steven Korman decided to hire designers to furnish floor plans to help our prospects visualize how they could live in the space. It worked so well that people started asking to lease the apartments as-is. Steven, a true entrepreneur and visionary, recognized there was a segment of individuals not being served – those who didn’t want to live in hotel room for 2 to 3 months, but didn’t want to commit to a year apartment lease, so he crunched the numbers and came up with a price for the furnished apartments with flexible leases.

Korman AVE Furnished Apartment

Korman AVE Furnished Apartment Bedroom

Putting People First

That business model was born because the Kormans have always put such emphasis on listening to people. We take great pride in listening to our partners, our residents, and our team members. We want to build communities and offer amenities and services that enhance their lives.

We also care deeply about our team members, and we recognize they make the difference. We can build first-class properties, but it’s their warmth, above and beyond attitude, and desire to serve that create that sense of community and make our properties a place where people want to live.

The secret to building first-class properties? Listen. When you listen to your residents, clients, and team, you can program amenities and services that enhance their lives.

As a potential resident, you're going to walk in and have a team that greets you and asks your name, offers you something to eat or drink, and takes the time to talk to you. If you're in a hurry, we’ll get you in and out quickly. We treat everyone with the same warmth and respect from prospective renters to the FedEx driver. We want genuine, positive word-of-mouth.

Good Works and Top Tier Talent Go Hand-in-hand

How do we find A+ players and also retain them? I ask myself that question every day.

It’s obvious you offer a competitive benefits package and a positive work environment, but how do you attract top-tier talent? I feel strongly you’ll attract people who want to be part of something special by being good corporate citizens and engaged members of your community. Korman Communities does a lot of community work, but there are two non-profits that we’ve decided to partner with, due to our shared values.

“I feel strongly you’ll attract people who want to be part of something special by being good corporate citizens...”

Career Wardrobe is a fantastic organization in Philadelphia that helps women who have experienced an unfortunate situation get back on their feet and back into the workforce. They empower them by providing professional clothing and mentorship so they can then provide for their families. There is a lot of longevity at our company – team members who have been with us 10, 15, 20 years, many of them women who have worked hard and achieved success. We wanted to pay it forward in a bigger way, and Career Wardrobe was a natural fit. We do a lot of Professional Clothing Drives, provide a venue for their fund-raisers, and participate in their benefits. I’ve recently been asked to join their Advisory Council. It’s such an honor.

We’ve been partners with Move For Hunger since 2015. They are a non-profit that mobilizes the relocation and multifamily industries to collect food that would otherwise be thrown out to support local food pantries. It was another natural fit, as many of our residents are in transition. We make it really easy for them. When they move out, we tell them to leave their unopened, non-perishable food items and we collect it on their behalf. We store the food and then a local moving company stops by regularly to pick up and deliver it to the community food banks. That way, they don’t have to move all that food and they feel good about helping out. We also do regular food drives and participate in their fund-raisers.

Why You Should Explain “Why” – Even at Your Busiest

I'm a very straightforward communicator. I’m direct, and I make sure everybody has all the information they need. But I’ve learned over the years the important of explaining “why” instead of simply giving out directives. People, especially A+ players, want to be part of something special. They want to believe in what they’re doing every day. I truly believe millennials, our next generation of team members, are especially curious to know the “why.”

“People, especially A+ players, want to be part of something special. They want to believe in what they’re doing every day.”

I always break it down whether it’s sales, marketing, or operations: this is the goal, this is what we need to achieve, now let’s collaborate and brainstorm and come up with a strategy. I’ll admit, this did not come naturally to me. I have spent a lot of time working on developing my management and leadership skills. You need to be aware of who you’re talking to and how they need to be communicated with. I naturally speak quickly, and I know I’m a big picture person, so I’m not always giving all the details. I’ve learned the importance of being clear and making sure the person understands what’s expected of them.

Feedback is a Gift

The secret to building healthy multifamily communities is receiving feedback as a gift – even the not so flattering feedback. Just as I learned to gauge my team members’ needs and revealing the “why” behind major initiatives.

Our company culture is always seeking feedback from our residents so we can better serve them. We genuinely want to know how we can improve, so we use surveys, social media, and in-person conversations to make sure we’re exceeding expectations. Right now, we survey residents at different points throughout their stay – before they move in, 90 days after move-in, and then a few months into their stay. Even during the shopping experience, we’ll ask prospects, “How was your experience today?” “What did you like about our community?” “What would make you choose us as your home?” “What made you choose someone else?”

It’s been 27 years since the summer I opened up that phone book, and I’m still excited to come to work at Korman Communities. Every month, every week, every day is different. I continue to grow. I’m empowered to take risks and make mistakes and learn from them. I work with an incredible team of passionate professionals who share a common goal. I love that when I answer the phone, I never know what I’m going to hear on the other side, but I’m confident, thanks to my training, experience, and the support of the Kormans, I’ll be able to handle it.

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The Short About Lea Anne Welsh

Lea Anne Welsh has held nearly every operations and sales position over her 27-year tenure with Korman Communities – working her way up to COO of Korman Communities and president of its AVE brand. Lea Anne believes it’s critical to lead by example, to be engaged with your customers and clients, and to be good corporate citizens. Lea Anne supports and empowers the AVE team in giving back regularly from food and clothing drives to 5ks.

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