As the 2022 president of IREM, Barry Blanton, CPM, is taking up the reins from his predecessors with a spirit of optimism and practicality.
As he carries on with the existing strategic plan for IREM, he reiterates the key strands of the organization’s focus. “Our vision is that real estate management professionals be recognized as essential for the success of all our communities, for the people who live, work, and play in these properties, and the investors who own the assets,” says Blanton. “From the local level all the way to the international level, we’re thrilled to bring our values of leadership, collaboration, integrity, knowledge-sharing, and inclusion to the field of property management.”
Blanton made the point that the public is just a stone’s throw from a professionally managed property nearly every day of their lives. “Everybody can see and engages with the built environment,” he says. “Look around any town, city, community, or country, and you can see it. Somebody is managing every one of those buildings, but nobody thinks about how those properties are being managed. You might meet a person who is the manager of your apartment building or the person who manages the office building you’re working in, but few people consider the work that goes into managing and maintaining the built environment as a profession.”
Moreover, says Blanton, few people realize that there’s an organization that supports all those professionals. “At IREM, we’ve tended to focus on property managers and real estate management. But recently it’s occurred to me that we have professionals in a variety of different disciplines that are an integral part of this industry and this profession,” Blanton continues. “Thinking about my own company, we have marketing professionals, a strategic branding team, maintenance professionals—they’re all part of this industry, too. We have CPAs leading our accounting department and our ‘super-human resources’ team led by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) professionals.
“The bottom line is that we have this multidisciplinary industry, and it’s sort of a well-kept secret. We need to do a better job of letting that secret out of the bag. We need to celebrate what it is that real estate management professionals are doing on behalf of the residents, the tenants, the customers, and everybody else who uses the built environment,” Blanton remarks.
If he sounds like an IREM evangelist, it’s a sign of his commitment to the organization and its members. “We need to let people know that there are individuals behind the scenes who care a lot that everyone has an exceptional experience,” Blanton says when speaking of the many jobs that property managers and others do to keep properties profitable for clients, running smoothly, and representing excellent value for residents and tenants. “I think IREM and other industry organizations are doing this to varying degrees, but we need to do an even better job of letting the world know that they’re in good, capable hands and that we are there to support and elevate the profession and the experiences we deliver. And I’m excited about it.”
An origin story
It was during his years as a student at the University of Oregon that Blanton came into property management, working part-time for a local company based in Eugene, Oregon, while going to school. He eventually became a partner in that firm. In the mid-1990s, a developer from Seattle asked his company to lease-up and manage one of their new developments in Eugene. Success with that project led the developer to invite the company to manage their portfolio in Seattle, and that was Blanton’s introduction to Seattle, becoming the developer’s in-house management partner.
Years later, after the Great Recession, Blanton formed a partnership with Heidi Turner, CPM, Chasten Fulbright, CPM, and Alan Byars, and together founded their firm, Blanton Turner, AMO, in 2011. He learned the value of the ARM, CPM, and AMO certifications while working at his previous firms (both had been AMO firms) and brought that perspective to his own company. “We decided that everyone who was going to manage multifamily apartment buildings for us needed to have their ARM certification—and that we would pay for it to ensure that they completed the program. In addition, everyone who managed a portfolio of properties was strongly encouraged to become a CPM, because that provides the tools to manage multimillion-dollar businesses or portfolios of multimillion-dollar businesses.”
Blanton also promoted IREM involvement within his team. “I basically ‘voluntold’ people to get involved with IREM at the chapter level,” he says, and people took the hint. “So, while Blanton Turner is only 10 years old, we have five past presidents of the Western Washington Chapter 27 on our staff. Heidi Turner was the first of us to do it, and we didn’t go out and hire people who were past presidents—we urged our people to get involved at the chapter level, and they rose to become chapter leaders.”
As is tradition for new IREM presidents, Barry spent the previous year in the role of president-elect, working closely with 2021 President Chip Watts IV, CPM, CCIM, C2EX, AHWD®. “Working with Chip Watts has been one of the best surprises and pleasures I’ve had in IREM,” says Blanton. “He is a very, very smart guy, and he has a great mind for detail. I respect and admire what Chip brings to this organization. He’s a serious person with a good heart and a great sense of humor, and he cares a lot. He’s worked at this for a long time, and part of who he is at the core is an IREM leader.” The leadership team also included immediate Past President Cheryl Gray, CPM; Secretary Treasurer Renee Savage, CPM, CCIM; and Secretary/Treasurer Nominee Libby Ekre, CPM. “I can’t imagine a better team of people to get to work with and learn from,” Blanton says.
When it comes to his management style, Blanton invokes 2020 IREM President Cheryl Gray to describe his way of approaching problems. “To use a Cheryl Gray-ism, I don’t tend to get overly ‘fussed’ when problems arise because I believe we can always figure out ways to fix them. I tend to want to seek first to understand what we are dealing with so that we can make good decisions about how best to deal with the issues. I don’t need to control everything, because we have a lot of very capable people in the boat with us to help us figure things out.”
When it comes to 2022, Blanton says that he and other members of the leadership team will continue to pay attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). “We are putting a lot of energy into DE&I, because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s the smart thing to do,” says Blanton. “That is where talent is. When we talk about people not understanding the opportunities we have, we must make sure to bridge those gaps. We haven’t done the job that we need to do to let underrepresented groups know about this profession and the career opportunities it holds.”
Blanton sees DE&I as one of the major IREM initiatives, and it goes beyond recruitment. “It’s not a standalone process, and this isn’t one of those initiatives that will ever likely be finished, but our objective needs to be to continually make things better,” he says. “It has to be woven into all of our efforts—that’s the only way it really works. Everybody will be better for it. This isn’t something that was originally written into the strategic plan, but it has now been fully integrated into it.”
He also wants to thoughtfully raise the importance of education and the value IREM provides internationally. “The education and the hands-on knowledge—everything that has made IREM strong around the world—are every bit as important today as they ever have been. But I think that networking, relationships, and being there for one another are even more important now,” says Blanton, as he reflects on the changes wrought by the pandemic. “We can share best practices and lessons learned for real estate management around the world, but first, we have to seek to understand, and build and strengthen our relationships based upon that understanding. It takes a while to set up international programs because there are diverse cultural norms and different systems already in place. We need to learn those things before we rush in and say, ‘OK, here’s the one-size-fits-all solution,’ because there isn’t one. But we can help elevate our profession and celebrate our profession, and IREM is here to help do that.
“One of the things I would say I’m the most passionate about in 2022 is continuing to work toward making the world a smaller place, toward making sure that, as we compete with the world at-large for talent, we are both inclusive and welcoming. The bottom line is we want to make sure that we get the word out that this is a vital and rewarding profession to be in.”