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Diversity in the Real Estate Management Industry

February 20, 2015 | Michael Simmons CPM

In observance of Black History Month, we spoke with IREM Past President Michael Simmons, CPM about diversity in the real estate industry.

Throughout your career, what challenges have you faced as an African American in the real estate/property management industry? How did you overcome your challenges?

As an African American, some of the career challenges that I have faced seem to more or less revolve around the perception that I couldn't possibly possess the required competence or comprehension to actually manage large properties, much less run a successful company that operates in several states. Occasionally I would detect a an undercurrent of disbelief or feeling that someone else must really be making decisions for me behind the scenes.

My reaction and method of handling these perceptions was to always listen closely, evaluate what was being said or done, and try to determine what the real problems or issues were — and to focus my attention on those things. As professional managers, we are charged with certain fiduciary responsibilities and issues of trust. Getting bogged down in petulant behavior or one-upsmanship takes your focus away from your responsibilities. I felt that my time was better spent analyzing, directing, and controlling the areas of my responsibility. In most cases, I think that approach eventually won over the unfair snap judgements about my level of knowledge, understanding and property management skill that may have been based on ethnicity.

Did you have any mentors along the way? Who was the mentor that you admire the most and why?

I am proud to say that I have had numerous mentors and role models over my career. I once heard a motivational speaker say that there was nothing wrong with identifying successful people in your profession that you respect and admire to help you to create your own path to success. My chief mentor was a fellow CPM and my boss for the first twenty eight years of my career, Irwin Yeagle. His reputation for honesty and fair dealing was a cornerstone for our company when it was founded. His support and encouragement not only for me but for all of the employees in the company was almost legend. His encouragement allowed me to become active in IREM, which we both believed would ultimately serve to improve our company performance. We were right.

How has IREM helped you in your career?

The Institute of Real Estate Management has meant so much to me and my career that it would be impossible to quantify. First is the property management education, which sets the standard for the real estate management profession. I took all of the courses very seriously and made sure that where appropriate, I applied that acquired knowledge in both property management and in the management of the company. Additionally, becoming involved in IREM leadership was such an eye-opening experience. To this very day, much of the analytical skills, strategic planning activity, succession planning activity, and executive judgement sensitivity I possess was acquired as a result of my years of participation in IREM leadership.

What can be done better to make the real estate management more diverse, not just within IREM, but the industry as a whole?

To make real estate management more diverse, I think that much progress can be made at the grassroots level — and by our IREM chapters specifically. The reach of an open hand to a desirous and willing hand is more effectively done locally. If an individual shows interest and desire to grow in the career, I have found it fairly easy to set aside small degrees of designated time to counsel with them, answer questions and point them in the direction of additional guidance and assistance. Those that are really desirous, will move ahead. My reminder to the few people that I have mentored is that “It can't all be given to you; you will have to do your share of work and put the sweat equity into building your career."

About the Author
Michael Simmons, CPM, NAHP-e is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Community Realty Management, AMO. He is also an IREM Past President.


26 Feb 2015 | Thomas
Mr. Michael Simmons: I would like to thank you for sharing your inspirational career with IREM and others who are interested in hearing such a profound example of a professional, regardless of color or other issue that is meaningless when you are a professional. Unfortunately, I am a minority who has been successful without the assistance of a mentor, mainly due to bosses being fearful that I was going to take their jobs at some point. The perception is real. Things have been much harder for me - especially in getting opportunities for career growth, not that it has always been easy for you, but it makes things harder than they should be for great employees who simply look different. Again, I want to congratulate you for such a stellar career and those who have assisted you with mentoring to make the profession a more diverse, professional, and successful profession, as well as assisting you with having such a well-deserved successful career in real estate.
20 Feb 2015 | Irwin Yeagle
As a leader in the management of multifamily housing, Mr. Simmons makes some excellent points: Mike is strong in the analysis of a problem and the appropriate solution. Mike has brought many, many ideas and procedures back to CRM from IREM conferences and experiences. These ideas and innovations have helped greatly in the management of CRM. Although Mike points to me as his "chief mentor", let the record show that I probably learned as much from Mike as he did from me. Our 28 years together are a great source of pride and pleasure to me.
20 Feb 2015 |
Thank you Mr. Simmons for your honesty and insight. I can definitely identify with the perceptions - or misperceptions as it was - you spoke about in Question 1. It is very difficult at times; however, focusing on the responsibilities entrusted to you (us)is the means by which we refute those "misperceptions". Congratulations on such a wonderful career!
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