AppWork had the privilege of talking with Mike Brewer, the Chief Operating Officer at The RADCO Companies and host of The Multifamily Collective podcast. From a humble beginning, he attained the pivotal leadership role he holds today. By delving into his philosophy, leadership ethos, and the innovative perspectives he brings to the table in the multifamily industry, we hope to elucidate his journey.
AppWork: Mike, thank you for joining us today. Can you start by giving us a brief overview of your journey in the multifamily industry?
Brewer: In 1992, fresh from college, I began my foray into the real estate world from an unexpected angle: a landscaping venture named LawnRanger. This venture led me to an alliance with a local RE/Max franchise owner, sparking my interest in property sales.
However, it soon became clear that the painstaking process of client cultivation was not my cup of tea. I pivoted, immersing myself in buying single-family homes and compact multi-unit properties.
In its unpredictable beauty, life steered me back to Lubbock, TX, for love—a city where I had previously showcased my basketball skills, or lack thereof, on a scholarship. Here, I explored the professional management space of apartment communities.
While sales remained a less-favored domain, my ambition pushed me to embrace roles with increasing responsibility and challenge, from assistant manager to property manager.
Over the subsequent 25 years, I navigated various facets of property management, culminating in my leadership roles at The RADCO Companies.
AppWork: You champion the idea of "Team Members First, Always." Can you elaborate on what this philosophy means and how it has shaped your leadership style?
Brewer: In my journey through the multifamily space, the teachings of management luminaries like Peter Drucker and Tom Peters have profoundly influenced me. I have adopted the "Team Members First, Always" philosophy as a cornerstone of my leadership style.
I have adopted the "Team Members First, Always" philosophy as a cornerstone of my leadership style.
Drucker's wisdom that management's task is to amplify human strengths resonates deeply with me. Equally, Peters' conviction that people are an organization's paramount asset underscores the essence of my approach.
I fervently believe that nurturing and prioritizing our team members inevitably fosters a culture of unparalleled customer service. This philosophy has shaped my leadership style and carved the path.
AppWork: How do you balance the need for high productivity with the well-being of your team members?
Brewer: I realized that productivity and team member well-being are not mutually exclusive but intricately connected. And I learned a lot of hard lessons along the way.
I owe much of my success to the patient leaders who mentored me. Success comes with a ton of trial and error, plus mentor input. I have instilled the principle that a fulfilled, empowered team naturally achieves higher productivity.
For balance, I prioritize open communication, provide ample feedback and growth opportunities, and foster an environment where everyone sees candid conversation as a catalyst for positive outcomes.
For balance, I prioritize open communication, providing ample feedback and growth opportunities...
AppWork: Can you share an example of a leadership challenge you have faced and how you navigated it?
Brewer: In the face of the recent pandemic, we strategically decided to sell a significant portion of our 27,000-unit portfolio. With over 500 team members under our fold, the added anxiety from the pandemic combined with concerns over their future livelihoods was palpable. Seeking guidance and grounding, I prioritized open communication. This approach guaranteed I was always available to address my team's concerns.
Maintaining transparency and avoiding overcommitting to what the company could deliver was essential. The silver lining? Our remarkable founder offered extended support, introducing team members to other property management leaders and providing access to transitional business coaching, ensuring a smoother path for all involved.
AppWork: You emphasize the importance of data in your work. How do you use data to make informed decisions?
Data is the backbone of our decision-making process.
Brewer: Data is the backbone of our decision-making process. We analyze resident satisfaction, pricing, occupancy trends, and team member sentiment to tailor our services and offerings. By harnessing data, we can pinpoint areas of improvement, optimize our strategies, and ultimately enhance both the team member experience and the living experience for our residents. Numbers and patterns underpin every choice.
AppWork: Which key performance indicators (KPIs) do you focus on in your role as COO?
Brewer: I focus on essential metrics like service request aging, turn time, collections, NOI, expense tracking, trade-outs, team sentiment, and resident satisfaction. To me, there are about ten essential drivers in management. Concentrating on these ensures optimal outcomes.
AppWork: Can you explain the concept of "trusted enterprise" and how it fits into your leadership approach?
Brewer: The trusted enterprise concept, influenced by the teachings of Peter Drucker and Tom Peters, is the foundation of my leadership style. At its core, it is about building an organization rooted in trust, internally with team members and externally with residents and stakeholders.
Drucker emphasized the human side of enterprise, understanding that trust is pivotal for productivity and innovation. On the other hand, Peters stressed excellence in service and treating team members as humans. Integrating these philosophies, I endeavor to create a space where every interaction is built on trust, ensuring long-term success and a positive organizational culture.
I endeavor to create a space where every interaction is built on trust, ensuring long-term success...
AppWork: You have experience with Holacracy. How does this organizational structure benefit The RADCO Companies?
Brewer: Holacracy, a term I first encountered in my readings, is a groundbreaking organizational system that decentralizes power, putting decision-making into the hands of those doing the work rather than traditional management hierarchies.
My inspiration largely stems from the late Tony Hsieh's bold application of this concept at Zappos. Hsieh’s vision was to foster a dynamic environment where teams operate autonomously, promoting agility and rapid innovation.
While I have not implemented Holacracy at work, its principles resonate with me. I particularly like the emphasis on adaptability, empowerment for team members, and the flattening of traditional hierarchies for a more fluid and responsive organizational structure.
AppWork: What strategies do you employ to ensure excellent customer service in the multifamily sector?
Excellent customer service boils down to basic human principles: empathy, active listening, and consistency.
Brewer: In my head, excellent customer service boils down to basic human principles:
- Empathy: We ensure every resident feels understood and valued by genuinely recognizing their needs.
- Active Listening: Our team prioritizes truly hearing our residents, ensuring they feel acknowledged and appreciated.
- Consistency: By offering a consistent and predictable service level, we meet innate human desires for reliability and trustworthiness.
I will acknowledge that while the principles seem straightforward, their execution is far from simplistic. Human emotions can swiftly deviate, making it necessary to reinforce these principles through persistent education, training, guidance, and mentorship.
AppWork: Can you share some negotiation tactics that have proven effective for you?
Brewer: Understanding the other party's needs is pivotal in negotiations. I always initiate discussions by inquiring about their desired outcomes.
Additionally, I have found that negotiating just before lunch can be advantageous; hunger can sometimes expedite compromises, leading to a mutually beneficial resolution.
AppWork: How do you identify high-potential talent within your team, and what steps do you take to nurture that talent?
Brewer: I look for proactive behavior, adaptability, and consistent performance in a team member. Once I see it, I invest in that person's growth by understanding their deeper motivations.
I look for proactive behavior, adaptability, and consistent performance in a team member.
After I know what drives a person, I use the business to provide mentorship and opportunities that stretch their capabilities. Sometimes, I even manufacture learning opportunities if the company does not.
For instance, I might pay for a team member to visit a top-tier restaurant, allowing them to witness exceptional service firsthand and reinforcing the caliber of service we aim for within our firm.
AppWork: Can you discuss formal talent development programs or initiatives at The RADCO Companies?
Brewer: At RADCO, we are currently refining our talent development programs. After the pandemic-induced downsizing, we want to invest significantly in our remarkable team in 2024. With the right resources and time, I am confident we will cultivate a world-class experience for our team members.
AppWork: You host the Multifamily Collective podcast. What inspired you to start this platform?
Brewer: The podcast has always been a passion project for me. I began blogging in 2006 when the term blog was still novel and sounded like one was clearing one's throat.
Initially, it was a tool to hone my writing as I grappled with grammar and spelling. By 2013, with the rising popularity of podcasting and vlogging, I incorporated this medium. It allowed me to adapt to the changing media landscape and gain confidence in front of the camera and microphone, aligning with my aspiration to venture into public speaking.
AppWork: Can you share some of the most impactful conversations you have had on your podcast and why they stood out?
Brewer: That is a challenging question, given the privilege I have had of engaging with some of the industry's brightest minds. However, suppose I had to encapsulate my experience. In that case, the podcast has granted me an unparalleled education akin to an MBA, especially in human behavior and business strategy.
AppWork: As a thought leader, what emerging trends in the multifamily industry are you excited about?
Brewer: Several emerging trends are drawing my interest. The first one is the integration of AI, which is revolutionizing predictive maintenance, offering preemptive solutions before issues escalate.
The second is the advent of self-diagnosing mechanical systems, which can pinpoint malfunctions autonomously, streamlining repair processes.
These developments hint at a future where technology augments human capability, promising superior efficiency...
Additionally, I am excited about innovative labor distribution techniques predicated on the two areas just described. These developments hint at a future where technology augments human capability, promising superior efficiency and exceptional resident satisfaction.
We are not so far from seeing a day when mechanical systems can alert the system when it needs attention, and the system will dispatch a tech with a superior satisfaction score, has the appropriate part, and whose route to the problem is most optimal.
There is much more to this vision, but I’ll end by saying the technology is here; we have to connect the dots.
AppWork: What advice would you give to someone aspiring to become a leader in the multifamily sector?
Brewer: Gretzky famously advised, "Skate to where the puck will be." Based on this thought, I believe in proactively seeking challenges and diving deep. While we are fortunate to have abundant industry resources (like books, podcasts, and videos), hands-on experience has incomparable value.
Skate to where the puck will be.
I urge everyone to consume knowledge and actively engage in real-world problem-solving. Do not wait for direction or permission. If you identify an issue, take the initiative to address it.
AppWork: Do you have any upcoming projects or initiatives at The RADCO Companies that you want to share with our audience?
Brewer: Our primary objective for the balance of 2023 and the full year 2024 is to expand our platform while enriching the lives of all who engage with us, whether they are team members, customers, vendor partners, or investors.
Mike Brewer has consistently modeled curiosity, empathy, and a forward-thinking approach. His story serves as an inspiration for those navigating the multifamily terrain. It also underscores the importance of human-centric leadership, leveraging technology, continuously learning, and striving for growth.