Guest: Lynn Owen, Executive VP at Avenue 5 Residential
Ronn: Well, I hope everyone is ready for today’s inspiring show on the multifamily podcast with Ron and Martin. We are here today with a very dear friend of mine, a legend in the multifamily industry if you will. Today we’ll be discussing with her what life was like out of, at one of the multifamily is fastest growing startups, tips from a true multifamily executive as well as dealing with adversity and finding balance as a woman professional in multifamily industry. Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to the one and only my personal friend Lynn Owen, executive VP at Avenue five residential welcome Lin to the podcast.
Lynn: Well, hello there. I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for all that.
Martin: It’s definitely such a pleasure to have you on the show, Owen, having someone of your caliber being able to speak to our audience today, it’s really going to be a treat for us and them. So, we know being a part of a fast and growing startup can be fun and exciting. But of course, it comes with its own sets of rewards and challenges. Before you were at Avenue five residential, you were with TruAmerica. And at the same time, it was a brand-new multifamily startup. What was your role there? And what was their business mission in multifamily?
Lynn: Well, my role was chief operations officer, and I oversaw asset management and construction management. The business mission was simply to be a vertically integrated value ad, real estate investment firm, delivering solid risk adjusted returns to the investors, focused on acquiring renovating and managing multifamily assets using best in class talent, sound investment strategies, and quality assets. Such I guess it isn’t simply stated. But I helped write the mission statements. So, it was really important that all of that was in there.
Martin: That’s awesome. And it definitely was. So how faster did TruAmerica grow during your time with them?
Lynn: Well, we were on a fast track right out of the gate. So, I was there for five and a half years. And in that time, we went from basically zero to 9.5 billion of assets under management.
Martin: Wow. Did you have to make up like any major sacrifices professionally or personally during your time there? And how did you learn from these experiences?
Lynn: Well, any startup is a commitment in all phases of your life, then add the opportunities growing across the country, juggling recruitment, hiring key personnel, watching multiple budgets of cat backs, timing of a creative improvements to meet the fiscal goals. And doing all of that, living out of a suitcase three weeks of every month, there are the last two years of my tenure. It was an at times stressful. But it was also really exhilarating and fun, was a wild ride to huge success in a very short period of time, to be a part of the newness of that company and being able to organize workflow and reporting for the investors, be able to put processes in place and then carry that consistency through to the, I think at the time we had like 10/3 party management companies and our own remote offices across the nation. And then juggling, as I mentioned previously, staffing, working with the team on their own personal career goals and being available to the many investor relationships, being able to work with Bob Hart, though, an icon and I always refer to him as the savant in the real estate investment space. And the other really smart business savvy executives there was always a brain bank of learning and collaborating in ways one would never think they would have to be able to deliver the results. We all did. That experience really, really changed my life forever. And I will always be grateful to Bob.
Ronn: That’s amazing. Yeah, definitely that growth. So how did you get your new and growing organization to come together and prepare for that kind of fast company growth?
Lynn: Honestly, there was no time to sit back and ponder how are we going to do all this, we just did. So strong leadership and Bob and his gift in empowering us to perform at optimal levels was everything the first three years of growing, then we made the decision to hire an HR professional, who truly with the lucky addition of Aaron Mac became a much bigger opportunity for the firm, to be able to focus on culture, which can most times be forgotten with that kind of growth and work hours required.
Martin: Within your new startup growing a team can be a challenge. What challenges did you face when trying to hire new team members for TruAmerica?
Lynn: In the beginning, it was making sure we hired experienced people with track records of success and then vetting it out in real time. Could they survive the fast pace, the stress, the deadlines? Most made it, but some did not.
Ronn: Yeah, now we know that feeling too. So, for all your time at TruAmerica, what were some major benefits you took from your experience? And how did you take this with you to your future endeavors.
Lynn: So, I have had a very, very lucky time in my career, I was able to work next to some of the most brilliant business minds in the country. Bob Hart, John Dracos, Paul Nasr, Tom Toronto, Ellen Epstein, the entire live core Blackstone team, the list is incredibly long, I’m incredibly lucky, they all have a different way to look at investments. And when you take the time to listen, observe, ask questions, you cannot help but learn so many different strategies. And with all of those differences, I’ve been able to call to mind each one in different situations now, that helped resolve problems or get a higher return based on that creative thinking. I use what I learned at TA every single day, I learned a lot about myself and how I am very resilient and strong, and able to think on my feet, pushing myself physically as well intellectually and emotionally, was an opportunity to grow and know each and every day.
Ronn: It’s amazing.
Martin: After your time with TruAmerica, you became CEO of Compass acquisition partners. Now that’s huge. This was an amazing opportunity. And I’m sure it was all very exciting and scary at the same time. Can you fill our audience in on the business goals for Compass acquisition partners, when you started with them?
Lynn: Sure, well, let me say this first. I never ever thought I would leave TruAmerica. Even on the most stressful day, I always thought I’d be there forever. However, I’m very close to my family who lives in Minnesota. My father’s health was deteriorating fast, and my mother in her 80s wanted to take care of him alone, so we could stay in their home. But it was killing her. And every time I went home, I saw that. So as much as I did weekend trips and holidays, she needed more help. So, for me to leave TruAmerica was an emotional decision for me, but I felt it was unnecessary one, Bob probably would have given me time to work remotely. But every single person at TruAmerica had a responsibility that was linked and critical to the overall success of the firm. I loved what we had built and had great respect for my cohort. So, there was no way I felt that I could reasonably ask for the unknown time commitment that would add my workload to others, that I needed to be there for my dad, I knew he was dying. Compass was in the background, watching this emotional upheaval, and kept trying to find ways to recruit me, to help them do what we had done it TruAmerica on a much smaller scale, I could work remote, I could hire the team I needed for support, I could slow down my life to take care of my family and still be a viable professional making an impact in investments for Compass that was very attractive at the time of emotional duress.
Martin: Imagine and that was great that them being able to work with you overall, during your career with Compass, what would you say are some valuable lessons you learned from them?
Lynn: Oh, my goodness, such a different approach than TruAmerica. The chairman had been a former client of mine when I had my own property management company in Seattle. So, I knew him very well, for 15 years, since it was a smaller company than True. And I was the CEO, I was able to stretch myself into the legal contracts and matters, the administrative side of an investment business, different types of reporting than what I was used to, and a different philosophy for investments.
Ronn: That was amazing. I remember that exact time. And my biggest question that I want you to share with the audience is how did you deal with some major adversity in your life when your father’s health started to deteriorate? And then dealing with his ultimate passing and why did you feel it was time to leave compass around that time?
Lynn: Well, I had gone back to school while at TruAmerica to get my MBA. So, like, I wasn’t busy enough, but I did that. So at that time, I was graduating, working remotely as often as possible, growing the company’s portfolio. And then my dad died. After that, the chairman passed away at 55 years old. Before he did, he had changed his mind on growing the company. So, our strategy changed. There was a whole lot of emotional challenges to journey through for sure.
Ronn: Yeah, that was such a raw time. And yeah, you’re right. Congratulations on your MBA. I remember thinking that like this woman’s crazy, she’s doing her MBA, doing another startup because they were but you’re taking them to another level.
Ronn: Yeah. And then life does happen right for all of us. So yeah, with that being said, it can be challenging obviously, as we know, to try to balance the family and work responsibilities. I think you’ve done it well, by the way, my friend.
Lynn: Thank you.
Ronn: Everyone obviously has different life events that they could be going through at any given time. And I think that’s the part of the, for the audience to hear is like, we all are human, you know, and we bring that element. But how did you find your work life balance in your life during each of those major transitions?
Lynn: Well, honestly, I’m still working on that. I’d say being resilient and positive during each transition is absolutely necessary, and practicing gratitude, but work life balance, I still think at times, it is nothing more than a myth. Success takes a lot of hard work, dedication, putting your head down, rolling up your sleeves, you have to have a money mindset to do well in the investment world. It has to do with understanding what your real goals are, what makes you wake up every single morning before the alarm and hurry to your computer officer team, you can hardly wait to get there. It’s about forgiving yourself for the past mistakes and learning from them. It’s working to evolve in your management style or even work ethic. practice gratitude and find a philanthropic interests so you can live outside of yourself. That’s a big one for me. Know your worth, believe in yourself or no one else will. Respect and value money, especially as it relates to your clients or business partners. Sacrifice leisure in the beginning, so you can enjoy it the way that it will fit into your goals. And every year of your life, re-evaluate your goals, your priorities, are they the same? Or do you need to pivot and reset?
Martin: I like all those sounds great.
Ronn: I know. I’m gonna keep on my wall.
Martin: Definitely. Oh, yeah, this would that part is definitely gonna be like a highlight. So, we want to take you know, little pieces of nuggets of you know, the podcasts and turn those into like Tik Tok in the future.
Martin: Definitely gonna be pulling some of that.
Martin: So, speaking of pivoting, I want to pivot a little, and ask, you know what it’s been like being a woman leader, reinventing and fine tuning yourself and your management style as you continue to learn in life. You’ve represented some noteworthy companies such as Greystar, TruAmerica and Compass acquisition partners, to now one of the fastest growing management companies in the country, Avenue five residential, where you are currently serving as the executive vice president of client strategy. What’s your number one lesson of success you can share with our audience today based on all of your experience through the years?
Lynn: Well, since there’s so many years to really contemplate that with, there are many number ones. So, number one, for me out of all of these is care about the people. Be kind to everyone. listen more than you talk. Lean in, find your voice. Learn to be direct and transparent without being seen as hard and mean spirited or unmoving. appreciate everyone you meet along your journey. They’re there for a reason. And keep on learning. Stay vital. Challenge yourself every day to live outside of your comfort zone.
Ronn: Hey, man, again, that’s another, I keep shaking my head, the audience can’t see but I’m like, this is amazing.
Lynn: Thank you.
Ronn: I appreciate that. I know a lot of the people that you’ve worked with. And so my question to you is with each new executive role that you taken, how did it help you evolve into this successful one leader, obviously, that you are and how were you able to adapt and also obviously reinvent yourself through each of those transitions at each respective company?
Lynn: Well, my first real estate cash hack, even life mentor was a man named Roman Brandis in Minnesota. He was an Enigma in real estate in Minnesota. He was a survivor of the Holocaust and saw the most horror anyone should ever have to see. It could have jaded him. Instead, he was kind and patient, but smart, very business minded. I was 26 at the time, and he saw something in me that was worth mentoring. He took me into his office, and he had this button on this massive marble desk and it would slam his office door shut and he put me through the most grueling training on financial statements, investments, cap rates, how to think differently than anyone else. I was with him for eight years before I moved from Minnesota to Seattle. And I still to this day, think back to his sayings like you need to like the person you see in the mirror every day, or it doesn’t take a lot of time to care about another, sometimes it’s just about asking them how they are and really listening. And he drilled into me that knowledge was power. It could open up my next big opportunity in life, so I could eventually become all that I was meant to be. So, you really cannot have an ego when you’re in management or on the executive circuit or want to get there. You have to know your worth at all times, not be afraid to stretch yourself, all with being humble.
Martin: Totally. I remember I used to have knowledge is power posted on my, when I worked at JP Morgan, as a loan counselor, had knowledge is power, just post it up right there. So, you can see I every day.
Lynn: That’s so true.
Martin: Love it. So, did you ever have to deal with impostor syndrome early on in your career? And how did you combat this to learn to grow from the experience rather than feel defeated?
Lynn: You know, it’s so funny. I’d never heard of impostor syndrome, up until about a month ago. And then here you are asking me this too. So, for the most part, I’ve never doubted my skills, talents or future achievements. But I also never thought of it on a daily basis that I deserved any of my successes. So that was never even in my periphery. What I mean is that I always tried to do my very best at every position I’ve ever accepted. I focused on what impact I could have here, there and overall, until I went to TruAmerica, I went from property management operations, running my own company, selling it to Greystar and running someone else’s platform, to working as a COO in the investment world. These were professionals that I had never had, you know, that kind of intimacy with before. So, they were always my clients. And you know, I was running someone else’s platform or when I had my own, it was what you know, was important to us to offer. But now I’m thrown into, well, Bob Hart. He’s a genius, right? So, I did I panic for a moment. Heck, yes. But with Bob’s guidance, and his no nonsense approach, that success is the only option. Get it right the first time. Nothing about failure ever was always, that’s it, I learned to believe in what I could accomplish, and then just had to do it.
Ronn: That is so amazing. I love the vulnerability. Did I panic? Yes. Okay, good, because you make me feel like we’re normal. But I mean, look at the career path. This is amazing. So now at Avenue five residential, been one of the fastest growing multifamily management firms in the US, with many of my friends, how has business development for third party changed over the years and what is necessary now, to win the deals? I’m sure a lot of people listening are gonna want to hear this.
Lynn: Well, I think it’s so great. And I think Walt Smith, our CEO, will be happy to hear you calling us the fastest growing property management company firm in the US. I would say that last year, and this year, I would agree with you, it’s been phenomenal growth, we are on the brink of breaking into the 100,000 unit mark any day. So, I’ve been doing this for 35 plus years. And the biggest change is that although relationships are still very important for third party growth, there are no loyalties, you must perform, you must over communicate with your client, you must understand their strategy and when someone is unhappy, because the occupancy is lower than budget, but fiscally, you look at the numbers and you’re driving top line and bottom-line numbers with you know, much greater than budget. And investor always thinks, if they were at the budgeted occupancy, we could really outdo our ROI, overachiever promise or our investors. Remember, it’s always going to be about them, or their fund or whatever platform they measure by. So again, you have to focus on performance and understand your clients’ true values they measure you by, you can be the best or friends with the client. But if you don’t understand their investment strategy, you will lose them to someone who asks the right questions.
Ronn: That’s so true, even on the vendor side, especially. Maybe it’s great to have the relationships that we have, but the performance is really what speaks.
Martin: Totally. What do you feel is winning Avenue five residential, so many new deals? What sets you apart from all the rest of the third party multi management companies?
Lynn: Okay, my favorite question, it’s our people. Even when I was on the client side and hiring Avenue five, I felt that avenue five had the best talent, they certainly have the best culture out there that attracts and keeps the talent. And truly no matter how large we get, which is all been organic growth by the way, we will always customize to what our clients need, you know, versus having a strict playbook and how we do things, is always the client first with Avenue five and a true desire to be a partner for the long haul. We are large enough to provide necessary bandwidth, yet not the big behemoth that are behemoth company where clients can get lost in a sea of clients. So, we still offer that personal attention and customized service, that a lot of the you know, really big ones, just cannot.
Ronn: Yeah, and like you mentioned, like the people definitely have provided all of that. And I think that that’s really how Avenue five has been in a class of its own. It’s amazing to see obviously how fast the company grew from their humble inception in 2014, which was just after we started apartment SEO, I remember the growing pains. So, Lynn, does Avenue five have any news or updates that you can share with our audience today?
Lynn: Well, thank you for saying that, Ronn. We are in 20 states now coast to coast and are really winning deals in the mid-Atlantic and southeast, so it’s very exciting time for us. And there’s nothing that I can share today. But I really encourage you to stay tuned. There are some very exciting things to come.
Ronn: Okay, very well.
Martin: So, for future multifamily executives working their way up the rings, what’s your advice to them for continuing to involve their success over time?
Lynn: Well, this I think is just really short, remember to be humble. Learn all that you can, find a mentor early on, who will invest in your future, listen more than you speak, ask questions, find your voice and find your differentiator and be the absolute best at it. So, it’s really finding your own brand.
Ronn: That’s exactly. I love the whole find your voice too. That’s the other half of it, you know, because it could get lost in just the daily to dos and, and the mission at hand. When have something to do wait, when you have to do something new that scares you or there’s a possible risk of failure. How do you, how does Lynn Owen overcome those fears, and use them as a way to grow?
Lynn: Oh, Ronn, I’m fearless. Don’t you know that by now about me?
Ronn: I do. Actually.
Lynn: Seriously, if there’s something new, I’m not familiar with, I research the heck out of it until I have found my comfort level. And as far as you know, risk of failure, you have to fail sometimes to achieve the big wins. So, with no risk, there truly is no reward. So, I think after a fail, you need to take the time to look at what led up to that fail. Find your lessons learned, ask for feedback and listen without a defensive attitude. Constructive criticism is a very, very powerful tool. Always ask for feedback.
Ronn: That is so true. You got to be ready for that honest feedback.
Ronn: So obviously success means different things to different people, whether it’s more money, more time with a family, or the ability to work remote. There are always certain aspects of life people want to improve or prioritize. So how would you define success for multifamily professionals in today’s age?
Lynn: That’s a tough answer, Ronn, I think the definition for success is very personal. It might be making as much money as you can to prepare for retirement at an earlier age. Or it could be to put all of your kids through college, or it could be working a 40-hour work week, no weekend work, emails or calls, so you can live your life with your family on your terms. So, I look at every day as a gift and what we do with it to better ourselves, learn something new, provide more or better things for our families or find joy in having a giving heart. the multifamily industry offers all means for success to so many. All you have to do is find which multifamily platform or service gives you the most contentment or the best avenue to drive you to reaching your goals.
Martin: Now, I’m sure there are some multifamily professionals in our audience today who are wondering, how will I know if it’s time to persevere with my current company and keep growing with them or pivot to a new company? Do you have any words of wisdom for them there?
Lynn: Well, words of wisdom, I don’t know, I’d say the first thing that comes to mind is that the grass is always greener. So, make sure you know what you’re pivoting to. And then conversely, with change brings opportunity. So being stagnant in one position, or sometimes at one company forever, a person can become one dimensional and instead of well rounded. So, make a plan. Start on that journey. But pay attention to opportunity knocking, be flexible and believe in how far you can stretch, you will really amaze yourself.
Ronn: That has definitely so many great nuggets and words of wisdom from the one and only Lynn Owen and thank you so much for being on the multifamily podcast. We wish you well as you lead Avenue five into 21 plus states and into the future and you continue to make your mark obviously in the multifamily industry you’ve definitely made a mark on me as a person, a lot of what you’ve shared of Martin, and I can relate to as startup, founders as well. And I think that a lot of these nuggets you shared, not only for women navigating their success, will be alive and well for many years to come. So, thank you so much, Lynn.
Lynn: Well, thank you, Ronn. It’s always a pleasure to be with you, both of you. And thank you for inviting me here today. I had so much fun speaking with you.
Martin: Thank you so much for joining us today. Lynn. It was a real treat to have you on the show. So, for anyone just tuning in, please make sure to subscribe to the multifamily podcast at MultifamilyPodcast.com. Also get your free marketing analysis for your communities by contacting ApartmentSEO.com as well. And we can set you up with the free analysis to look over your property and set up a demo with you if you’d like. We look forward to connecting with you all, until next time, everyone. Bye.