As they begin their terms, the senior leaders of IREM have plenty on their plates. Each of them plays a critical role in their professional lives, yet each has answered the call to serve the Institute as well.
As the saying goes, “experience is the best teacher.” The leadership experience coming into the positions of president, president-elect and secretary/treasurer is deep and varied. JPM spoke with each officer to learn about how they will be using their experiences inside and outside of IREM to move the Institute forward.
The 2020 senior officers:
President Cheryl Gray, CPM, QuadReal Property Group, Toronto
President-Elect Chip Watts, CPM, CCIM, Watts Realty Co., Inc., AMO, Birmingham, Ala.
Secretary/Treasurer George D. Griffin III, CPM, CCIM, Houston Housing Authority, Houston
President Cheryl Gray
JPM: What do you see as the main goals for your term as president?
CHERYL GRAY: The underlying premise for my presidency is ensuring that the foundation of IREM as an association is strong so we can support all of the initiatives that we are undertaking in the near term and long term. We need a holistic view of the Institute to understand its sustainability and viability in terms of how we govern ourselves, how we select our leaders and how members are served through our chapters and regions around the world.
To do that, we launched three task forces at the Global Summit in September, each comprising various stakeholder groups who have a vested interest in having their voices heard to help us shape where we will go.
The first task force will cover governance. It will look at our bylaws, statement of policies, committees, boards and structure. Second is the leadership development task force, which will look at how we select our leaders, what attributes we are looking for, what experience those volunteers should have and what we should do to encourage and engage the right leadership in the future to make it meaningful for them and for the Institute. Last will be a task force on our chapters and regions, particularly with a U.S. focus because that is where we have the most chapters in a regional structure. The question we must ask ourselves is, “Are we doing the right things the best way we can, given where we are today?” This isn’t only an inward focus with members populating the task forces, but also with external assistance so we have a view of what other [associations] are doing. Once we determine the best practices, we can change our policies or practices—not for the sake of change, but because when we ask, “Why do we do it this way?” we can answer with conviction that there was a better way. Anybody who knows me knows that I think the worst answer is, “Because we’ve always done it that way.”
JPM: Who will you be enlisting in the effort to manage this analysis?
CHERYL GRAY: It’s a very aggressive agenda, but I am challenging the stakeholder groups, our past presidents, our RVPs, our executive committee and nominating committee to examine and validate what we are doing, how we’re doing it and why.
On top of all the other great things that we are doing with new staffing, education, content, marketing and branding, this overview will put us in a much stronger position going forward.
I haven’t been able to find out the last time the Institute has done this kind of holistic review such as the one I’m proposing for 2020.
JPM: This sounds like a huge undertaking. Will you be able to get most of this under way before your term ends?
CHERYL GRAY: That’s an important question. This is why this isn’t being done in isolation. Some things that might be proposed out of these groups might be short-term, and some may not be, so those projects will be supported by the leaders who follow me. Chip and George will have input and support throughout this process; in fact, Chip is the chair of the group with the most important task, governance. So they are equally committed to seeing that we don’t lose the benefit of the work that gets done this year. Even though we might not accomplish it all in 2020, they can carry it through their leadership years.
JPM: Why is this effort necessary? Has there been a particular failure that needs to be addressed?
CHERYL GRAY: The reason is because I’m the first international member to become president of the Institute. Because all of my predecessors who served as officers or presidents had the experience of coming up through the American system and I didn’t, I found I have often asked the question, “Why?” or “How do we do something?” in order to get information that others had learned. I am also an avid reader, so when I got a report from the executive committee, I would go digging into the bylaws or ask a lot of questions because I didn’t have the benefit of the American member experience.
So, those questions sparked some discussions around how and why things were done. Maybe that is the right way to do it, but maybe it’s not. You know, property management is in constant evolution. We don’t manage buildings in the same way or with the same tools that we used 10 or 15 years ago. And similarly, an association, like a business, needs to have its methods validated. I think we have a great strategic plan and we are on the right trajectory, but the foundation on which that plan gets executed is our governance.
I don’t want to say that there is anything wrong—we could discover, for instance, that we have been doing these 10 great things, but three of them could be done better. Over the years, we have tweaked some things, committees have made recommendations and things changed, but we have never taken this thoughtful, holistic look from a high level with a really good lens.
JPM: What would you like to share from the “30,000-foot view” of the organization?
CHERYL GRAY: IREM has been my professional career partner from the earliest days of my career. It has been an incredible honor to be the first international member to serve in the role of president. IREM is an association that has opened doors for me; I was able to get peer information on areas of the business that I wasn’t familiar with at the time. Fundamentally, it has been an organization that supports one of the most difficult jobs in real estate.
Property managers have responsibility for multimillion-dollar assets and all the people in them, taking care of our respective countries and cities, the people who live, work and shop in our buildings—there isn’t anything in the built environment that we don’t have some responsibility for. We make a difference. It’s our IREM tagline, and it’s true. We may be behind the scenes in many cases, but we are the first on site when there is an emergency. Think of things that have happened in the past—the people who run those buildings, they are there first.
I am proud to be part of this industry. I am proud of the work that we do. We don’t always get the credit we are due, but we all have a passion for it. IREM has enhanced that experience for me.
President-Elect Chip Watts
JPM: Please share a little about your background in the industry and how you became involved with IREM.
CHIP WATTS: I represent the fourth generation in our family business and I am a third-generation CPM, following my grandfather and father. I tried not to get into the family business. I got a degree in wildlife science from Auburn University and worked for the Alabama Fish & Wildlife Service for a few years, until my grandmother called to say that my grandfather wasn’t able to work any longer, and my dad offered me a position, so I took it.
I have been involved with volunteer organizations like the Y since I was a kid, so once I got into real estate I wanted to work with organizations focused on the industry. I joined the Alabama Board of REALTORS® and volunteered with CCIM Institute [Chip earned his CCIM designation in 2002] and the Alabama chapter of IREM. It was a natural fit for me to go into the leadership roles in the chapter, so I became a chapter president in 2008. I was CCIM chapter president in 2009 and Birmingham Association of REALTORS® president in 2014, but I decided that IREM was where I wanted to focus my energy.
JPM: What would you like to accomplish during your term?
CHIP WATTS: Like the previous team of me, Cheryl and Don, the new team—George, Cheryl and I—are great collaborators. Our overarching goal for the next two to three years is to make IREM one of the best organizations in our industry. Cheryl is putting forward some task forces, and if their work isn’t complete in the first year, I look forward to following up in my year, and George can carry on in his year, if necessary.
JPM: Is there a particular area that you will be focused on to improve the organization for the membership?
CHIP WATTS: My specialty is in governance: bylaws, policies and procedures. There’s nothing sexy about it, but it’s the backbone any organization has to have in order to work. We are looking into how our regions and chapters are structured, how leadership is developed and how our governance processes are shaped. We want to make sure that what we are doing follows best practices, and if something doesn’t, we’re going to work to change it so we can best serve our members with the education, technology and opportunities to utilize tools in their daily lives as real estate managers.
JPM: What training opportunities are you planning for leadership development?
CHIP WATTS: In the past few years we have had leadership development at the four regional meetings, and we have encouraged chapter leaders to join us there. The meetings have been very robust with wonderful speakers. They were very well received by membership, and in response to that feedback, next year we are going to combine that training into one leadership development conference in Chicago to give a more consistent training experience for chapter presidents and institute association executives.
JPM: How would reorganizing chapters and regions help members?
CHIP WATTS: IREM is all about its members. The stronger we can make the chapters and regions, the better we can serve the membership nationally and internationally. We are also about ethics and best practices. Ethics is the foundation of our Institute and the best practices are the tools that we provide to members so they can make themselves better.
Now, we have to go through our assessments first to figure out which chapters and regions are working well as they are and which need a little help. Then we will move forward over the next two to three years to reinforce what needs to be reinforced and move others toward best practices.
This is our year of listening to members to see what they want or need from us.
Secretary/Treasurer George Griffin
JPM: What would you like to accomplish with the office of secretary/treasurer?
GEORGE GRIFFIN: First, I would like to say what an honor
and privilege it is to serve the thousands of people around the world who make up IREM, and I’m proud to serve as the 2020 secretary/treasurer. In that office, I want to ensure financial stability for IREM; it’s already there, all I have to do is add water. I want to continue to act in a strategic manner that adheres to IREM’s 2020 operating plan and budget. The budget is forward-thinking and realistic, with a healthy stretch focused on our eight business lines.
I plan to focus on key financial issues as well as policy development; specifically, IREM’s operating reserve policy, to ensure that it is sufficient to sustain the Institute during a potential downturn in the economy. With the talk out there about a potential recession, it will be my goal to keep the Institute in reserve compliance and to make sure that IREM’s capital expenditures are invested in the key areas to move the Institute to the next level.
JPM: What are some of those key areas that will receive investment dollars?
GEORGE GRIFFIN: We are looking at a second phase of the website redesign and some marketing automation platforms, which will get investment from capital expenditures.
JPM: I understand that there will also be a major initiative on governance within the Institute. Will you have a role to play in that effort?
GEORGE GRIFFIN: Yes, I will definitely be working with Cheryl on these initiatives that align with our strategic goals. I will be looking primarily at the financial and operating policies and protocols as they relate to these initiatives to be sure that they are in line with our budgeted goals. Cheryl is an outstanding leader with extraordinary vision, and my goal is to help her and Chip and the rest of the leadership make a tremendous impact focused on the best-in-practice governance, providing outstanding leadership development and meaningful chapter services and experiences for our members.
JPM: How does your work with the Houston Housing Authority inform your work as an officer for IREM?
GEORGE GRIFFIN: My leadership role with the agency has given me a framework for serving multiple constituents, including tenants, elected board commissioners and the citizens of Houston at large. So, I believe that serving as vice president of housing operations has given me an understanding of being a good steward of public funds as well as the public trust.
My experience working with elected officials served me very well when I attended IREM’s Fly-In on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. last March when we discussed policy with members of Congress.