Fully immersed in the executive leadership of being an IREM Officer for the last two years, Renee Savage, CPM®, CCIM, is now ready to carry IREM’s strategic plan forward as the 2023 IREM President.
Like many in the property management field, the career path to this leadership role was somewhat unexpected. When she graduated from the University of San Diego with a business major, her first job was with a fashion design company where she had previously interned. When that company went out of business eight months after her graduation, Savage returned to the university career center to start a new job search.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Savage recounts. “I always joke about how I flipped through the binders because we didn’t have computers then. Nothing resonated with me until I saw a listing that said ‘assistant property manager’ for a company called Capital Growth Properties. I thought it looked interesting, so I dropped off my résumé, got an interview, and was hired. So, I’d have to say that, like most people, I fell into this business.”
Savage admits that her first weeks at the company weren’t stellar. “I was so clueless. I knew nothing,” she says, looking back on her first assistant property management position. She created reports using WordPerfect and Lotus 123 (an Excel predecessor), and was grateful to her colleagues who helped her get the hang of things.
“Fortunately, after three months, they promoted me to property manager,” says Savage. “I was given a large portfolio of about 12 properties—commercial and residential. Within three years, I became the director of property management and I stayed there for 30 years until we sold the property management department. I left as the senior vice president of that company.”
The fact that Savage stayed in property management for three decades says a lot about her love of the profession. “I liked it because every day was different,” she says. “I don’t love the chaos all the time, but you learn so much. There are the financial responsibilities, construction, legal—so many different components of property management kept me interested. There was always a new experience and a lot of problem-solving, which helped keep me in the industry for so long.”
Involvement in IREM also contributed to Savage’s longevity in the field. She says it took her a while to complete all the necessary coursework and tests, but she earned her CPM certification about 10 years into her career. Before her CPM certification, Savage engaged with her local IREM chapter and was a committee co-chair.
“My favorite story is from before I earned my CPM certification,” she says. “I was at a meeting and ended up in the bathroom with two of the chapter board members. They were talking to me about how I needed to be on the board and pushing me to complete my CPM. Once I did earn my certification, I ended up on their board and then on the leadership track at the chapter. I still joke with them to this day about that encounter.”
She also credits one person from her local chapter in particular for helping her fit into the organization: San Diego Chapter IREM Association Executive Nicole Baker, who retired about a year ago. “She created an environment for our chapter that was so inclusive, so welcoming, and so supportive. That made a huge difference for me because I’m not a joiner by default. Obviously, meeting and working with all the members was wonderful, but Nicole created such a nice environment.”
In her early days in IREM, Savage leaned into working with the next generation of real estate managers, focusing on outreach to students, new property managers, and incoming CPMs. She says that it’s not only the work-related mentoring that makes a difference for people new to the profession, but also providing a more welcoming, human presence.
Savage, who describes herself as independent and “not a joiner,” uses those exact qualities to help students and new members. “I remember how uncomfortable it can feel,” she recalls. “I concentrate on being supportive and telling people ‘You’ve got this!’ When I’d go to events with a group of students, I would check in with them and ask, ‘How are you feeling? Let me introduce you to someone.’ I worked to make them feel comfortable, and that made a big difference. They would get fired up, telling me how everyone was so nice to them. I think it’s vital that we are all inclusive of each other and welcoming to new folks because it can be scary.”
Ready to work on the plan
Among the many duties required of a new IREM president and their leadership team is to continue working on the initiatives outlined in the strategic plan. The strategic plan addresses five areas of concentration for IREM leadership and keeps everyone working toward the same organizational goals. As Savage explains, the executive team works with the IREM Headquarters staff to then execute the plans set out by the IREM Board of Directors.
“The leadership team becomes the face of IREM and communicates to our members how the plan is working,” Savage says. “We will also be doing a lot of listening. The strategic plan ensures that the leadership team and the Board are in the same boat and heading in the same direction.”
Savage admires how 2022 IREM President Barry Blanton, CPM®, can invigorate everyone he speaks with, while she considers herself more of an introvert. But she’s not at all shy about doing what’s needed to ensure that the strategic plan stays on track.
“I’m very much a ‘get it done’ person—I don’t want to get lost in the weeds,” Savage says. “I’m the person who will say, ‘Let’s stay focused. Where are we going? How do we communicate this to our members?’ The whole leadership team will be listening to our members, trying to hear what’s good, what their challenges are, what’s happening in their jobs, and then saying, ‘What can I do to help them with that?’”
This perspective will undoubtedly aid Savage and the 2023 IREM Officers’ work on the strategic plan’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) focus. She says that when she entered the field about 30 years ago, there weren’t many female property managers to model herself after, so she just watched and learned—and succeeded.
“We don’t need to make it hard to thrive in our industry,” Savage says. “We need to have an environment that’s welcoming of different people and diverse perspectives. I also understand that people haven’t had the opportunities that I have and that we need to give people opportunities and support to get them where they want to go.”
One noteworthy aspect of IREM’s organizational evolution is that for the first time ever, it will be led in 2023 by an all-woman officer team, consisting of Savage along with President-Elect Libby Ekre, CPM®, and Secretary/Treasurer Dawn Carpenter, CPM®. Savage feels that this milestone is a natural outgrowth of having so many more active female members in IREM and the fact that women make up around 50% of all property managers. “IREM has done a wonderful job embracing everyone in the industry,” she says. “In this case, there was a leadership opportunity, those interested in being president applied, and we picked the best candidates. It happens to be three women in a row now, and that’s great.”