2013 Property Manager of the Year Susan Hammer

Susan Hammer, General Manager with Riverview Realty Partners at the AMA Plaza, was the recipient of the 2013 Gold Circle Awards Property Manager of the Year.

How did you get involved in the commercial real estate industry? I became involved completely by accident.  I needed a job, and I found one at a company which owned and managed real estate. Within a year, I was managing five suburban properties for them – two office buildings, two shopping centers, and one industrial property. I immediately pursued a real estate license and a Real Property Administrator designation.  Needless to say, I was hooked on the profession.

Tell us about one of your recent accomplishments at your building. As it is difficult to describe property management with one word or phrase due to the multiple disciplines the profession covers, it is also difficult to speak about one accomplishment when the sum of all single accomplishments at the building has resulted in increased occupancy and value. Within an 18 month time span we completed a large scale redevelopment which included:

  • demolishing existing conditions
  • mechanical system upgrades of almost every component
  • elevator modernization
  • curtain wall glazing unit replacements
  • new roofing, including a vegetated roof

The redevelopment included oversight of over 600,000 square feet of new tenant space improvements and met all occupancy deadlines, partnered with The Langham Chicago hotel in the construction of the hotel and the necessary systems and operational interfacing, and maintained relationships and communications avenues with the existing tenants. We are now 96% occupied, and the building is a world-class model of success.  

What are some challenges you believe commercial building property managers will need to address in the years ahead?An immediate challenge is the proposed real estate tax increase and how that will affect the ability to attract businesses to the City as well as the impact it may have on building value and investor risk. Owners and managers should support BOMA/Chicago’s efforts to alleviate the increased burden on commercial property owners. In the meantime, managers should begin planning how they might mitigate that increase with savings in operating expenses or creating other sources of revenue.

Throughout your membership with BOMA/Chicago, what experiences stand out the most to you? Through the support and programs offered through BOMA/Chicago over the years, I have been able to enhance my knowledge, experience, and training as well as develop valuable relationships with other managers and vendors. 

I am fortunate to be a member of the BOMA/Chicago faculty, teaching several classes in the RPA and High Performance track and teaching the Foundations of Real Estate Management class.  I am pleased to be able to tell others what I know as well as to listen to the students’ fresh perspectives on issues. I cannot think of a more satisfying outlet than instructing the next generation of property professionals. I also am pleased to be involved with the BOMA/Chicago scholarship programs – the RPA Designation Scholarship and the Inclusion and Outreach Scholarship both of which provide support for people who are committed to the field of property management in order to achieve the Real Property Administrator Designation.

What piece of advice would you share with our emerging leaders? First, it goes without saying that people just starting out in the industry should learn as much as possible about the industry itself; the buildings, the operations and systems within the building, as well as the people who are necessary to run and tenant the building.  And then, when you have that down, it will probably be time to start over because as buildings change due to technology advances or workforce dynamics, the real estate professional must be ready to implement and adapt their buildings and the operations to meet new demand in order to remain competitive. 

Second, don’t limit your knowledge to the small world of real estate.  It is equally important to be current on local, state, regional, national and international news and economic events. Listen to the news, read the newspaper, understand how historical events - whether they occurred yesterday or 300 years ago - affect today’s news. It is important to be knowledgeable in current events to become a well-rounded person, but also to understand that what goes on in the world might affect real estate in some way. For example, how will the inevitable real estate tax increase affect your property and Chicago commercial real estate in general, when will the Federal Reserve raise interest rates and what effect will that have, and how will the recent Chines market slide impact American real estate.

Another important piece of advice I would share is be constantly creative and innovative and keep evolving; don’t be satisfied to implement the same things year after year. Set yourself and your building apart in some way every single day – whether it’s how you communicate with a tenant or how you involve the entire building tenant population in a charitable event.

Finally, be sure to tell us experienced professionals what you want us to know.  We enjoy fresh perspectives on old problems as well as helping us to see what’s coming tomorrow. This combination of proficient experience and modern and original perceptions will result in a winning combination for a building team.

What are some of the CRE trends you’re seeing that interest you the most? Building teams need to continue to be champions of sustainability and energy conservation in office buildings, and through that philosophy, develop, promote, and implement environmentally sustainable and energy conserving initiatives through innovative and responsible building operations. The next step is not only to consider operations, but be immersed in collaborative endeavors with tenants and employees in order to create a true high performance building. I am interested in continuing with the utilization of innovative and integrated building processes and technological tools to drive performance and retrieve data, but also in promoting a healthier and more gratifying work environment for tenants and their employees. The wellness approach can be related to amenities such as fitness centers, business lounges, and healthy food services, but also should be focused on the entire office environment including air quality, thermal comfort and ventilation, acoustics, and even safety. Through this approach building staffs can not only meet operational needs, they can also reduce costs and improve working conditions for tenants which will help them to recruit and retain quality workers and increase productivity. Data models are being developed to measure productivity within an office environment which will be important components of measuring success and retaining tenants.

What would you like to do in your life that you haven’t done so far?I seem to always want to do this during an election cycle more than any other time, but I would like to become a news analyst writing thoughtful articles and making the guest circuit on respected news shows.  I would also like to be a political strategist for a candidate seeking a top office.  If that doesn’t work, out, then I would like to be a rock star, but they don’t appear to be taking applications.