#LadiesWhoLead Session Five - Elizabeth Francisco

SFive Consulting is excited to announce the launch of our "#LadiesWhoLead in Property Management" series. Our goal is to help our clients, colleagues and followers gain insight on career paths and showcase stories that will empower our future generation. This will be the place to stop if you are also just looking for inspiration from female leadership. These ladies are paving the way and their stories are too good not to share!

This series is hosted and written by SFive's contributing writer, Yardayna Ben-Simon.

Name: Elizabeth Francisco

Title: President & Founder

Company: ResMan, LLC

Currently Reading: What You Do Is Who You Are: How To Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz /// Unstoppable : Transforming Your Mindset to Create Change, Accelerate Results, and Be the Best at What You Do by Dave Anderson

Question 1: Tell me a little bit about your current position? What was your path leading up to your current position?

Answer 1:

It’s an interesting story for me. I was in a bit of a challenging situation. In college, I thought I was going to be a doctor, and I was a biochemistry major. Unfortunately, I didn’t graduate, and a part of that was because I found myself being a single parent. My mom is unfortunately disabled, so I’ve been on my own a lot. I had worked since I was 12, and there was no cavalry coming in to save me in any way. In class, someone told me about apartment leasing because my biggest concern was how I was going to afford to provide for my kids. That’s how I fell into apartment leasing. It’s funny, because I actually used to be really shy and quiet, and now I’m super talkative, which was a learned trait for apartment leasing. I was only hired initially because I was super efficient at all the administrative stuff. That’s how I got into the industry, and I’m really fortunate that I got to work for some really great people.

Who knew an entry level Biology class would shape my approach to life and my career. My biology professor was quick to discredit me publicly in front of the rest of the students. I had unknowingly enrolled in the class meant for science majors. I was one of the only American females in the class of 200. I’m kind of bubbly, and I fit that “blond & blue-eyed” stereotype. I was the odd person out in the class. I was the last one picked for a lab partner. My professor made me feel like an idiot every time I tried to ask a question, and he would talk down to me. I challenged myself after that because I got so mad. Because of him, I challenged myself to prove him wrong--and that changed everything. I realized that as far as life goes, there are not things that I can’t do--just things I have yet to learn to do, that I have yet to master. Once I started thinking that way, it changed the way I approached things.

When I started in multi-family, I was super competitive with myself. I always wanted to do better, which didn’t always sit well with my peers. I noticed sometimes that the harder I worked, people who weren’t willing to work as hard had resentment towards me. I never thought about trying to outdo anyone. I was eager to jump and help anyone I could because we were all part of the team and ultimately judged by the assets performance. My competitive thinking led me through my journey in multi-family. I also ended up with some really good mentors who believed in me before I even believed in myself.

I eventually found myself as a VP of Operations at a 1031 Exchange Company. I took the job because 1031’s were a new thing in multi-family in 2005 and 2006, and I thought it would look good on my resume. The funny thing is I almost quit the first week--the proformas for the assets were developed by brokers unfamiliar with managing assets and were unattainable; to top that off the company did not have a usable property management software system. But my mentor advised me to stick it out for at least a year because she said “if anyone would make a 1031 exchange work, it would be you.” So I went back to my team and made it clear that we would not hit those 10 year proformas, especially with the recession looming. I also said that we needed better tools, some sort of software, in order to see data and manage properties, especially on the brink of the recession.

I lived in “Excel hell”--I built operational, leasing and accounting workflows in excel to get us through 2007. In 2008, when we started developing software our process was truly agile. The developer we brought on who I adore to this day, solved problems in real time--we’d strategize and build solutions as the problems arose. Then, we’d release it to our teams. We had to find a way to out-perform a down-market with fewer people because as a result of the recession--We started by asking our teams what it would take. The answer was quite simple, to secure occupancy we needed to give people every reason to stay within our communities in spite of financial hardships by delivering an exceptional level of service. We could not allow the recession to be an excuse, we needed to deliver a level of quality that was not reflecting our own challenges.

Once we realized how well we were doing in spite of the recession because of the software, we thought, if this has helped us perform well, why not help other people and take it to market? That way, other site-level teams could see the same levels of success. Talk about making a career change. That’s how I evolved into being a part of a software company, and we had no idea what we were getting into when we started it. When we decided to go all-in on ResMan, that was a huge risk--it was a completely different business model. Nothing about running a property management company is even remotely close to doing anything in the software space, other than the dependency on people and believing in and coaching the people around you.

Question 2: What has been the most significant barrier in your career?

Answer 2:

My inner voice. While of course there were external barriers, I had to work on internal barriers, like lack of confidence and fear of risk. One of the unique things about property management is that it’s great for people who did follow a collegiate path. It’s a wonderful home for them, and it was for me--but I had two kids, so risk aversion was a real thing for me because I was so protective of their environment.

I also realized I can be a perfectionist, but perfection isn’t a real thing. Constantly striving to achieve something that isn’t achievable causes doubt, so that prevents us from taking risks. That comes into play in our careers, especially when considering promotions that we’re qualified for, but being afraid that we aren’t good enough. I have hired quite a few people in my time--I noticed that women will only apply for positions once they think they meet 100% of the qualifications. On the other hand I have seen some male counterparts who think they can wing it; they didn’t end up making it because they weren’t as qualified as they thought they were. Winging it wasn’t enough. That’s been an interesting theme to watch.

Another barrier that I’ve had to tackle, especially on the technology side, is thinking that I have to tackle my challenges alone. I want to help women understand that they should get the help that they need. Asking for help does not mean you are weak or not qualified. I struggled more than I needed to because I tried to tackle everything on my own.

Question 3: What is the biggest risk that you’ve taken?

Answer 3:

Taking on the biggest software providers in this space--that was a huge risk! In property management, I took risks along the way and I had great leaders that helped me fail forward. I made mistakes, made sure not to repeat them, which gave me confidence to take more risks. Ultimately, the biggest risk has been taking the leap from property management to software development.

Question 4: What are your current goals?

Answer 4:

Many of my goals are tied to ResMan and multi-family. While this might be self-serving, I love helping people. I really do get a kick out of seeing someone succeed and helping them achieve their personal best. I want to continue to be in a position to do that, but I also want to continue to grow for myself because I’m not done with my own journey and still have challenges to overcome. So I want to continue to grow and be better, but mostly I want to help others--whether it’s other organizations, or female entrepreneurs learning how to navigate the space as they bring in private equity and different leadership teams. I want to help inspire people to level the playing field because their may be more rockstars in their company then they realize today.

Question 5: What are you most proud of?

Answer 5:

ResMan is definitely on the list. I’m also proud of my career in multi-family. I had great mentors and teachers along the way. Financially speaking, I am really proud of what I accomplished for those owners and investors, especially the 1031’s--in spite of the recession. Many of those investors were relying on their investments to sustain their living expenses through retirement, so managing those investments was a great responsibility. I literally had people’s retirements in my hands, so I’m proud that I was able to deliver for them.

Also, seeing what ResMan has become--of course we had our own growing pains, but if you look at where we are in our life cycle, 7 years in, we’re doing really well. We are actually ahead of other life cycles and timelines for other companies. Considering we struggled to get investors initially, I’m really proud of what we have become.

Question 6: Who inspires you in the industry and why?

Answer 6:

I have a couple. Christina Natal is the President of Multi-Family Operations at Billingsley Company. I credit her with teaching me about the industry, about running assets effectively, and for my business acumen. I learned a ton from her and the other leaders at Summit Properties, where I worked at the time. My thinking evolved from “I’m an apartment manager” to “I am the CEO of my own multi-million dollar business, which happens to manage apartment communities.” They were instrumental in shaping so much on how I looked at metrics, how I approached the business, how I approached managing my teams. Christina, to this day, is one of my favorite human beings.

A couple people from ContraVest Management in Florida also inspire me: Mark Ogier, who is the Executive Vice President. He showed me what a leader should be, a top executive. He was so approachable, which resonated with me. I would ask him a ton of questions, and he always made himself so available. That has always stuck with me. His right hand if you will, Christin Tenpenny, taught me how to have confidence in myself and my accomplishments. She exemplifies leading by example. I wouldn’t have moved through my career, my successes, and picking myself up after challenges if it wasn’t for Christin. She helped me recognize my own strengths.

Melissa D. White is also incredibly strong, intelligent, and dynamic. She’s a speaker and an executive coach. The thing that is really special about her that all of us can learn from: we all have challenges in multi-family, we all have challenges as women. Being a woman of color, she faces additional challenges. She’s always talked about the tough conversations, but it’s even more at the forefront now. She has a way of bringing people into a tough conversation that lowers ones defensive walls. She has appreciation for someone else’s perspective, which I think is a part of her “secret sauce” and what makes her so magical. There’s a few people on a list that I call “The World is a Better Place Because They’re In It,” and she is on that list.

Question 7: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

Answer 7:

Invest in yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to invest in you. If you aren’t willing to invest in yourself, why should anyone else? I think part of the reason why I had such good mentors is because they saw the desire in me to learn. I have always wanted to absorb as much information as possible and I was willing to put the work in. Part of what causes a lack of confidence is when you think you don’t know enough. Because you don’t know something, you’re more hesitant to speak up, or you don’t think you’re as knowledgeable. Those are things you can actually do something about. There’s nothing you can’t Google; there’s more than enough information out there to help you. If you are willing to sacrifice your personal time in the short term, you will see ample opportunities in the long term.

Don’t limit your aspirations. So many times when I speak to young women in this industry, when you talk about their career aspirations, it’s often to be a Regional VP. I don’t often hear “I want to be CEO or COO.” I have never heard that. To be in those positions, you need more information and more skills. Start investing in yourself today for where you want to be tomorrow.

Networking. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but also network with people higher than your current role. Men typically network two or three tiers above their role in an organization. Women don’t do that; at best, we do one-up. Join LinkedIn groups, join happy-hours, join anything you can, and then reach out to people that are in roles where you eventually want to be.

Invest in your own confidence. That can be in the form of coaching, YouTube, Ted Talks, etc. Confidence can be a life-long struggle.

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