In a year that’s seen so many challenges, a new leadership team is ready to help the IREM membership marshal its resources and move forward.
IREM Senior Executive Officers 2020–2021
President: W.A. “Chip” Watts IV, CPM, CCIM
Watts Realty Co., Inc., AMO
President-Elect: Barry G. Blanton, CPM
Blanton Turner, AMO
Secretary-Treasurer: Renee M. Savage, CPM, CCIM
CFI-Capital Growth, Inc., AMO
San Diego, CA
President Chip Watts
JPM: What have you planned for the Executive Committee this coming year?
Chip Watts: We are going to continue the initiative that 2020 President Cheryl Grey started this past year to look at our governance. We’re trying to make sure we’re as flexible as possible, especially in these times of COVID-19. If our governing council accepts our recommendations in October, we will be focusing on the governance taskforce. We will also work to make sure that we’re supporting our members in the ways they want us to support them through their chapters and regions. We’ve really upped our game when it comes to providing resources this year, and we hope to continue that.
JPM: What are some of the resources you’ve put in place to adjust to the pandemic?
CW: None of our members have ever had to deal with a pandemic or maybe even knew what a pandemic was until we got into the middle of one. We have tried to lend help from the perspective of being in the real estate management industry, providing a lot of COVID-19 survival resources. Through various webinars, we’ve shared tips and tricks about topics like energy management and re-opening your property. And we created a podcast series, “From the Front Lines,” with stories and tips from industry professionals. We launched chapter leadership retreats via Zoom. And for the first time, we held virtual membership town halls that were open to all members who wanted to join us for a live meeting. Because of COVID-19, we had to tweak what we were planning for 2020. These are options we should continue providing as a service to our members in 2021 and beyond.
JPM: Do you feel confident that chapters are able to continue their business through this pandemic?
CW: Yes. Our chapters are actually able to expand some of their offerings, especially our smaller chapters that are in large areas. Take my home chapter in Alabama, for example. We only have one chapter in the state, but Alabama extends 650 miles from top to bottom and takes eight hours to traverse. In a large area like this, being able to tweak the process and move to Zoom meetings will help more people stay involved. Of course, people miss face-to-face contact, but we do what we can.
JPM: Beyond governance, is there another program area where you’re looking to make changes or progress this year?
CW: I really would like to see our legislative opportunities be expressed to our membership in a more simplified way. We participate under the umbrella of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), which has huge advocacy power. We work through the REALTORS® Political Action Committee (RPAC), which advocates not only for residential properties, but a broad range of real estate interests, including property management. That’s where IREM comes in. What most of our membership doesn’t realize is that of the money IREM members give to RPAC individually, almost 60% comes back to our industry in the form of advocacy efforts in DC, state capitols, and local realty boards. I look forward to framing that message—making it as straightforward as possible so members understand just how important it is for us to participate in this advocacy.
JPM: What are some benefits IREM members have gotten from legislative advocacy?
CW: Right off the bat, the CARES Act. We participated with the REALTORS® PAC to back that legislation, and we were successful. And now we are trying to pressure Congress to provide rental assistance packages, so renters can pay their landlords and prevent another housing crisis.
President-Elect Barry Blanton
JPM: Can you start by telling us how you got involved in the industry?
Barry Blanton: I grew up in southern Oregon and went to the University of Oregon in Eugene. I soon applied for a job with a landscaping crew for a small property management company. On the fourth interview (I was very impressive, as you can tell …), the guy interviewing me forgot we had an appointment and stood me up. Rather than rescheduling, I decided to wait for him to come back (which ended up being two hours later)! I guilted him into giving me that job … and, as it turned out, I was terrible at landscaping! I soon focused on what I wouldn’t be terrible at, and I worked my way up through the ranks. That’s how I got into the industry. I ended up being a partner in that company (with the same guy that stood me up), and I have never let him forget it! We’re still close friends to this day … over 40 years later!
JPM: Thinking about your IREM experience, what has had a lasting impact on you, and where do you see IREM headed?
BB: IREM’s local chapters matter. Were it not for my involvement at the chapter level, I wouldn’t be involved with IREM today. And I think most IREM members can identify with that.
IREM has grown to become an international organization, and we will continue to grow as a global leader. If we can connect the dots and take some of the anonymity out of networking, we can make the world a little smaller. Right now, I think we need the world to be a little smaller and a little less anonymous. IREM as a global leader can help with that.
There are silver linings to the challenges we face today. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit in on a virtual chapter event in South Africa. The next day I got to sit in on a virtual chapter meeting in Japan. A few days later, I had a Zoom call with one of our incoming vice-chairs from Spain. I have been able to attend a virtual happy hour in Houston, another in Atlanta and another virtual event in Columbus … all within a 24-hour period. Nine months ago, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to connect that way. Being able to network with property managers around the world has tremendous benefits.
JPM: As a leader in your company, how have you shared the IREM experience with your team?
BB: Since the day we opened Blanton Turner in 2011, IREM education and membership has been offered as an employee benefit. We knew that people new to this industry could be educated through IREM, and we decided our employees should have the appropriate education and certification necessary to do their jobs really well. We believe IREM membership and education is an employee benefit that the employer should pay for. As far as I’m concerned, I would love to see IREM education and membership as an employee benefit promoted throughout our industry.
JPM: What’s top of mind for you as we say so long to 2020 and embark on 2021?
BB: For me, DE&I (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) is front and center, and it needs to be. As I see it, DE&I can’t be just a committee activity, but instead needs to be woven through everything we do, just as Next Gen is. Understanding how we can expand opportunities and what everyone can gain by succeeding in these initiatives (beyond simply helping individuals, which is good, but not nearly enough) will help us be the strongest organization possible. DE&I is a cornerstone of that.
JPM: What are you excited about that IREM will be focusing on in the upcoming year?
BB: I think it will be important for our longtime members to rediscover what IREM is today. There is a lot to be proud of as an IREM member, including things you might not be aware of—from new websites to virtual education; from researching the latest technologies to becoming connected at an international level, and everything in between. We are working hard to keep our members current and relevant. Each of the initiatives that IREM is engaged in is led by dedicated volunteer leaders working on behalf of our members. The IREM HQ team is truly exceptional, and I couldn’t ask for a better officer team to work with.
Secretary-Treasurer: Renee M. Savage
JPM: How did you get involved in the real estate management industry?
Renee Savage: I graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in business administration and got a position as an assistant property manager with a company called Capital Growth Properties, Inc., AMO. In three months, I was promoted to a regional property manager, then director of property management, and a couple of titles later I ended with a senior vice president position. I was with Capital Growth for about 30 years. We just sold the company, and I am now the president of CFI Capital Growth, AMO.
JPM: What prompted you to become active with IREM?
RS: I was about 10 years into my career when someone asked me to serve on a committee. I started working with Cherrie Giles, and probably a year or two later, she and another real estate manager, Elizabeth Bachmann, were at an event and—no joke—trapped me in the bathroom and said, “We want you to serve on the IREM Board in San Diego.” So, I started by chairing different committees and eventually went through the leadership track in San Diego.
JPM: What aspect of IREM were you first excited about?
RS: I have always been really passionate about working with our young professionals. I worked with the student outreach team visiting the major colleges in San Diego.
My alma mater, the University of San Diego, has a master’s program in real estate, and I think it took me six or seven years to get them to add a property management course to that program, because I kept telling them: “This is not a well-rounded program. You’re missing one key piece of real estate, and that’s property management.”
This might fall under the “be careful what you ask for” heading, because now I am teaching that course. But it’s part of promoting the importance of our industry and making sure we have the next generation trained well.
JPM: Do you have a wish list of things you’d like to see happen for IREM?
RS: I have zero agenda. And I don’t think a leader going into an organization necessarily should have an agenda because our job is to look at the strategic plan that’s been put in place and continue to move that strategic plan forward until the time it needs to change.
JPM: What do you think might be important for the next couple of years for the organization?
RS: My passion right now is really about the member experience. How do we serve our members? They have chosen to be part of IREM, and I believe we need to listen to them and help them have consistent experiences with IREM so they stay with us. IREM has done so much for me professionally and personally that I just want our members to have those same kinds of positive experiences and grow through IREM. That’s where my focus is.