SFive Consulting is excited to announce the launch of our "#LadiesWhoLeadin 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: Rebecca Sparks
Title: VP of People and Culture for Phoenix Management Group and Corporate Training Manager at The Remi Group
Currently Reading: #SalesTruth by Mike Weinberg and I Am Malala by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai
Question 1: Tell me a little bit about your current position? What was your path leading up to your current position?
It was a crazy path. I’m the youngest of 4 kids, so most of my life has been balancing a lot of attention, time, and money. You get more hand-me-downs than anything else. That has made me very scrappy, and it made me set a lot of goals. I did not go to college right away; I took a few years off, waited tables, lived in my own apartment when I was 18. As I was coming out of that, I realized the value in education, but I valued the time that I did take away from it all because it helped me identify where I found a passion. I got lucky and fell into a traveling trainer. They needed someone who was a good server to open stores. I was 18 and it was good money, so I traveled around and I opened stores. I realized that I really enjoyed talking to people, and that’s why I was a good server. I didn’t do anything super different--I was just really nice and excited to talk to people all day long. My dad has this HR backing that I was always privy to. That helped me realize that the psychology role was right for me. I thought I would venture into being a therapist, but I didn’t fit that mold well.
I was going to school at night and working in a corporate setting during the day. I was working at a Sales Center, which wasn’t particularly my favorite job. I had 3 strokes while I was working one day. I was in the hospital for a week. Their HR department called me and said they had “heard that I had been sick”--meanwhile this all happened in their building, and no one called an ambulance or anything. They said they would need a doctor’s note because of all the time that I lost, or they would have to let me go. I remember being so surprised and so confused. That made me realize that you can have a really big impact on people without being a therapist--in the corporate world, you need to have people who are able to identify, empathize, and help people get better. That was my moment. I called one of my friends who worked at an accounting firm asking if they had any openings--she herself did not, but one of her clients had a receptionist opening at Monarch Ventures, a boutique student housing property management firm. I started as a receptionist, and I was just really excited to be there and not working in sales anymore. I had an amazing boss, Cherie Parks, and Cherie is a grower. She invests in her people and wants to see her people do well. If you ask for more, she’ll give you more. Not only did she help me get better at accounting, but she also empowered me to be a leader.
I went to grad school and got an organizational development graduate degree. I decided that I could do more with it. It was a hybrid program at USC where I could log on from 9pm-midnight because we only had to be on campus once a semester. When I graduated, I reached out to the property management group again because I needed an internship in the leadership capacity. I told them I could play with their social media and see how it relates to people because I could do it from a market research standpoint and analyze the data. They agreed. By the time I was finished, they needed someone to work on organizational strategy for people. I dove in headfirst and I had a lot of success.
When Caliber and King Residential merged, they saw that my skills fell on the people side--compliance, training, getting our employees to be better and do more. They rose 22% in sales the following year. That’s investing in people. I can do what I do pretty much everywhere--but on an organizational level, you need to believe in investing in your people and making changes in training versus letting people go.
Question 2: What has been the most significant barrier in your career?
I’m torn between being a peppy blond woman and rising in the ranks in my twenties--and from a career perspective, they both had the same effect in terms of not being taken seriously. In a predominantly male world, like property management, these characteristics translate into “I don’t know what I’m talking about,” or that I’m there as a focal piece and for aesthetics rather than for information, when in actuality I was the data person. I’ve always been the data person with what I do. I use statistics to measure how things are panning out. I would often be shut down to let my male counterparts talk.
Personally, my own inability to step aside and let those situations go had been a barrier because it resulted in some difficult conversations that needed to happen. For a while, I did not know how to tempter my frustrations around being shut down, so my reactions were adverse versus letting people talk, finding out they’re talking in circles, and then finally chiming in and saying “well, if you let me speak beforehand I could’ve told you that.” But it has taken a long time for me and my career to be taken seriously and for my information to be heard.
Question 3: What is the biggest risk that you’ve taken?
Lance Carter (President and Founder of Phoenix Management Group) and I both worked for the same person for a year without being paid. We lost both of our management contracts and decided to stay on and try to win contracts for a full year without being paid. In the end, it worked out, but it was a tough year. There were definitely moments of not knowing what was going to happen in our future. But here we are now; that was a great experience, and we made some amazing contacts. But that was probably the scariest year of my life.
Question 4: What are your current goals?
I just fractured my ankle 2 months ago, so a personal goal is to be able to go on a run again. I just want to be able to run and wear high heels to my wedding in November!
Professionally, I would love to see Phoenix Management Group (PMG) take off. I’d love to see the impact we can have on the industry. In general, I’d love to see the kind of impact I can have on a culture or a person. I believe in taking it one person at a time. If I can help one person who works for me be more successful or learn the skills that they need to go into the industry that they want to go into, I feel like I’ve accomplished the job that I’ve set out to do.
Question 5: What are you most proud of?
My relationships. I have a fantastic fiance who has his own business that I do admin work for, so we have our life, our dogs, our business.
I have amazing professional relationships, like with Lance and Ozzie, that have grown into personal relationships as well.
And the relationships that I‘m able to create within a workspace. I don’t cross over professional and personal lines very often because it’s very hard for HR leaders to do that. I think you have to draw a boundary if you want to be truly in for both the organization and for the people, but still being able to grow relationships that feel empathy and feel helpful, because I really do care about every single person, and I think I’m able to develop relationships at this point in my life that mean something.
Question 6: Who inspires you in the industry and why?
Lance Carter. We have such a long history. We have 8 years together and we’ve worked at almost every capacity together. We have hated each other, and we have loved each other. From the boss's standpoint, of course, he wants the logistics to work, but as long as it all works, he wants the credit to go to his people. Most people don’t give all the credit to their people, so I’m inspired by him.
Question 7: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Not to lose your niceness. It’s OK to be nice. You can still be taken seriously and be nice. You don’t have to strong-arm, or bully, or tear down other people in your workspace. The more that we lift each other up and try to make more skills available to the women who come up underneath us, the more promotions will become available and the more women you will see in your boardroom--which means more benefits that will work out in your favor. We can start having more conversations about how we can design the workplace to not just benefit men, but also benefiting women, and that starts with not losing your niceness.
Interview by Yardayna Ben-Simon.