Pat, the story

In late fall of 2011, Pat Hutchison received a dinner invitation from Mark Hamilton. Already familiar with his Denver portfolio at Hamilton Zanze, she gladly accepted.

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Secretly, she hoped for a management contract resulting from the previous pitches she made while regional VP at Legacy Partners. Instead, she was taken aback by the much more prominent role she was asked to take in Hamilton’s aggressive, strategic asset management plan.

Eighteen months later, Hutchison was at the helm of the newly-minted Mission Rock Residential and in control of 15,000 units.

The transition was planned, schedules were crafted and the trigger pulled: “I had had no recent contact with Mark Hamilton, so when he scheduled the dinner meeting to pitch the concept, I was shocked.”

Mark Hamilton thought the vision made sense from the beginning. “I met Pat in 1989. I always had the highest esteem for her. Her management style fits us perfectly as we operate with complete accountability and transparency.” He added, “she will do her dead-level best to make sure our people don’t fail and she has this relentless drive to get it right.”

Hutchison was more cautious, “I was excited, though it was risky. Let’s be realistic, I had a great gig at Legacy, but this felt like the opportunity of a lifetime. After meeting the leadership team at Hamilton Zanze, I felt immediately in my heart and soul this was the right decision.”

After 20 successful years at Legacy Partners, Hutchison submitted her resignation in December 2011. Over the next eight months Hutchison prepared behind the scenes, gathering best practices in takeover procedures, as they interviewed and hand-picked their leadership team.

“Besides my CFO who came from Hamilton Zanze, I recruited Denise Bailey as our marketing and training vice president; she was also a co-worker for several years at Legacy. Meredith Wright, who helped form Echelon, is our executive vice president of the eastern portion of our portfolio. Sharing my ideological management vision, I chose Kay Hutchison to be our western region executive vice president. Todd Bowen, our VP of property services, is responsible for our regional maintenance teams and large capital projects.”

Her selective recruiting raised eyebrows back home. “Our peers and some of the associates at the Denver Apartment Association, of which both Wright and I were past presidents, started calling us ‘the dream team.’”

From October, 2012, to May, 2013, the Mission Rock team on-boarded approximately 14,000 units, a breathtaking 70 properties. Hutchison was hurled into what would be a rapid-fire succession of property take overs. “I was on a plane running up 60,000 miles-plus. It was the most exhilarating, hardest-worked, satisfying time of my life,” she explains.

It was said that those at Riverstone Residential, the exiting management company on the properties when given an advance on the schedule never really believed it to be realistic. Hutchison proved them wrong. “It was so methodical, it was hard even for me to believe. Twenty-four hours before each property takeover, a box would arrive including uniforms, name badges, policy manuals, a form-filled thumb drive, as well as access to a preconfigured Yardi Voyager, RealPage’s desktop support and Outlook.” Looking back, “our team leader spent three days at each site deploying Mission Rock’s processes.”

Hutchison is quick to reveal her leadership style and intentions to double her boutique company to 30,000 units. “Team members are really where it’s at, we all know that. We must handle the bumps in the road not by passing blame, but by being forthright and respectful.” Onsite experience is mandatory, Hutchison explains, “I started onsite and I want a team who absolutely embraces the experience. They must be also adhere to and perpetuate the Mission Rock culture with a willingness to put their own bias aside and focus on achieving the ownership goals and objectives.” She clarifies, “Culture is what we do when our bosses are not looking. You don’t just put that in your mission statement, you hire it.”

Exceptional operational skills is nothing new to Hutchison. During her last year with Legacy Partners, the Apartment Association Metro Denver recognized Hutchison with the award for Most Outstanding Executive; the company itself was given the Grand Tribute Award for Outstanding Management Company, three years out of the four.

She shares, “At every level of the company, successful people are willing to do what unsuccessful people would not do. It is incumbent upon management to provide the vision, solicit the team’s feedback and implement their ideas, while giving them the stage to perform.”

Hutchison is passionate about team development, explains Bevan White, director of marketing and employee development at Pegasus Residential in Atlanta, Ga. White worked for Hutchison in Denver and says, “I compare all of my supervisors and owners to Pat. She inspired my leadership style by teaching me not only about the business, but about honesty and integrity.” White adds, “Her influence permeates my decision making, and ensures the best balance between the business and my team.”

Looking ahead to challenges and turning points in the marketplace, Hutchison says, “Rising healthcare is a concern. Our professional base is aging and seeking retirement.” On the easier side she says, “today’s demographics are advantageous for our industry. NAAEI is doing a great job developing new young talent. Gen Y’s are delivering occupancy, while baby boomers are looking to downsize with the freedom of apartment living—all favorable fundamentals to our bottom line.”

Mission Rock’s competitive advantage includes an arsenal of powerful online resident communications that build resident retention and improve asset value. Hutchison explains, “we survey our residents at 5 touch points: first prospect visit, move-in, service requests, pre-renewal, and move-out. The results are monitored weekly and we’ve had tremendous improvement since transitioning the portfolio.”

Online community marketing and corporate reputation management is important as well. She elaborates, “We apply SEO technology ensuring solid Google results for our community websites. In addition to our corporate website, Mission Rock’s online presence includes LinkedIn, Facebook and Pinterest, as well as internal communication and work flows through Yammer and SharePoint.”

When asked about her move from Legacy she replied, “They were the best company in the world to work for and they were stunned when I gave notice. Being female, I felt like I was not getting the recognition deserved for my professional contribution, so it was time for a change.”

Layne Miller, retired asset manager at UBS, now founder of WACE Advisors, a multifamily asset management consulting firm, says this about working with Hutchison for nearly a decade: “When I started in this business 32 years ago, there were no women and we had to find our way. It has been a pleasure to work with our next generation of successful female executives, like Pat. She is remarkable, with incredible people skills to match. Her innate business acumen allows her to implement big picture ideas, while keeping an eye on the small detail.” Hutchison reciprocates accolades to Miller, to whom she refers to as her professional mentor.

Adversity can be overcome she counsels. “I am very optimistic, so passion, competitiveness, and hard work will get you through the tough times. I also believe that the only limitations are the ones we put on ourselves.” She adds, “Be authentic and true to yourself, while caring about the success of your team members, residents and investors. I pride myself in having clear, concise communication.”

Reflecting on the risk involved with a single portfolio asset holder in her nascent management operation she says, “I am confident in our plan and its future diversification. Professional networking and peer alliances, steeped in common values go a long way, but striving for work life-balance is critically important.”

Being an entrepreneur and business owner is part of Hutchison’s character. “My mentor and name sake was Aunt Pat. She owned of a few small apartment assets in the Bay Area, a self-made millionaire, and a strong female role model.”

She elaborates on her own passion to develop skills in others, “I always wanted to create a culture for female development and being an entrepreneur allows me that opportunity. My long-term goal is to form a non-profit to facilitate success in single moms. I am not sure how to accomplish it, though I envision organizing an official enterprise upon my retirement. I already have a few professional contacts chosen to participate, even though they are not yet aware of this, themselves.”

When it’s all over, Hutchison wants to be known for being a good family member, mentor, and friend. Simply put, “She helped me along the way.” But today, she would be just as happy knowing this story encourages another female professional, or as she said it so eloquently, “I can only hope this story will motivate one female reader to follow her heart.”