Interview with Karen L. Inman of Seabreeze Management Company
Seabreeze Management Company: For over 30 years, Seabreeze Management Company has delivered property management expertise and personalized customer service to enable our communities to thrive. Our team is the best in the industry, our performance sets us apart, and our passion for our clients and each other is what makes us great.
J. David Rauch: “What are the main changes that you or your company have made in your business due to Covid?”
Karen L. Inman: “We didn’t actually enact massive changes due to COVID—I’d say it was more of a pivot. Reason being, we have worked for the past two years to lay the foundation for ROWE, or a results-only work environment. The emphasis we have placed on performance as opposed to location enabled us to really focus on developing our team members and provide them the tools they need to do their jobs from anywhere. While COVID accelerated some of our plans for remote working, ROWE was part of our company culture long before the pandemic hit.
I would say the biggest impact was for our on-site teams which had to adjust to the ever-changing health guidelines that affected facility operations. We have seen our team members really lean in and become experts in keeping staff and community members safe while managing Association operations in spite of closures or restrictions. It has been a true test of our ability to flex in the moment. Our team was—and is—absolutely incredible, and they have done more than adapt to this ‘new normal;’ they are thriving.”
J. David Rauch: “Do you have any advice for vendors on how to reduce community managers job pains during this Covid time?”
Karen L. Inman: “I think more than ever it is important to treat everyone like a partner. This is a time where being in sync is more important than ever; so approaching community managers with solutions that are tailored to the specific community is critical. I would also say that it is a time to overcommunicate so vendors can help keep things on track, on target, and on budget. Finally, providing expertise, whether providing training for community managers or assisting with educating boards, would be especially valuable in this time.”
J. David Rauch: “Prior to Covid, there was quite a bit of purchasing of management companies by bigger companies (roll-ups). Do you see this as a strategy that you are going to pursue? Do you see it as a major part of the HOA industry future?”
Karen L. Inman: “There has been—and probably always will be—a lot of acquisition activity in the industry. Inherently, there is an opportunity for consolidation due to the fact that the HOA industry has companies of all sizes. That combined with the stability of the business model means there will always be interest in purchasing companies to increase the book of business or to enter a new region. A key consideration in purchasing of management companies remains the cultural component. In the past few years, we’ve acquired two other management companies that are now operating under the Seabreeze umbrella. While we are always looking to expand our footprint, acquisitions only make sense when there is a culture fit. Our culture, like other companies, is something we have worked really hard to create and preserve, and we won’t sacrifice that for the sake of expansion. Bottom line – acquisitions are a growth strategy that have been and will remain a part of the HOA industry.”
J. David Rauch: “Do you foresee that our industry is headed for any major changes in the future?”
Karen L. Inman: “Due to all the COVID restrictions, people are serving homeowners remotely. Because of this we, as an industry, are relying more on technology than we ever have before. These tools are driving new efficiencies and offering teams incredible flexibility. I think the industry will continue to explore new technology options, which will lead to further automation. This will free up employees from some of the more mundane tasks so they can focus on serving homeowners. This may sound counterintuitive, but this will place an even greater emphasis—and importance—on people. In addition, I don’t think we could have a discussion around changes due to COVID without acknowledging the impact of virtual meetings (Zoom, Teams, etc.). I anticipate that many boards will continue to leverage these tools since the efficiency of meetings is heightened and board member participation is made easier. Of course, this will rely on our legislatures keeping pace with the trend.”
J. David Rauch: “What is something you are proud of accomplishing over the last year?”
Karen L. Inman: “I’m incredibly proud of this team and this organization. When the world shut down, we didn’t miss a beat. We literally pivoted over a weekend to serve our clients and each other and never looked back!”
J. David Rauch: “Do or have you ever had a mentor in this industry? How have they changed the way you approach this job?”
Karen L. Inman: “I have been fortunate to have had several mentors in the industry; however, I would say the most impactful was my first mentor, Melinda Masson. I joined her team and this industry in 1999. She always focused on investing in her team, willing to offer new kinds of services, and delivering exceptional service to clients. I have taken that approach throughout my career.
Melinda’s focus on differentiating the business into broader developer and community experience services was pivotal in influencing the HOA industry and helped establish my viewpoint on how best to serve clients over the years. In addition, there was always a commitment to bringing on the right people to help meet the changing needs of business. In many cases, this meant hiring from outside the HOA industry to bring new expertise and perspective. The investment in people is fundamental to the success in the HOA industry as it is a service business steeped in relationships.”
J. David Rauch: “If you could give one piece of advice to others in this industry, what would that be and why?”
Karen L. Inman: “If I had to choose just one piece of advice, I would say to “Focus on the Wow!” As I mentioned before, this industry is based on relationships whether that is amongst your own team, with your vendor partners, or the board and owners. By “Focus on the Wow,” I mean to approach each interaction, from the smallest to the most consequential, as an opportunity to exceed expectations. In other words, keeping service top of mind with an emphasis on creating exceptional results will not only ensure a healthy company but also energize those around you. Who doesn’t want to end their workday knowing they were able to “wow” a customer or a team member by going above and beyond?”
J. David Rauch: "What is the one piece of advice you wish you received when starting your career?"
Karen L. Inman: “I was fortunate to start my career with one of the world’s best engineering and construction firms where I learned a lot about structure including the importance of project management, of healthy business practices, and of the commitment to client success.
What I wished I had learned early on was to listen to my intuition as I navigated my career and my role within organizations. The value of intuition is not simply about listening to your “gut feelings” which as an engineer I was hesitant to do; it is about applying logic and research along with understanding those feelings to help guide you towards the best and most innovative path. Intuition allows you to see new solutions and helps keep you aligned with what is most important.”
J. David Rauch: “What are the 2 most important things you look for in a vendor?”
Karen L. Inman: “First and foremost, I look for vendors who keep their commitments by doing what they say they will do. That relates not just to the services they are contracted for but also in the communication or follow up on completion, questions, or escalated items. It is important to be someone who can be counted on.
The other important thing is for vendors to demonstrate expertise in their specific arena along with an ability to anticipate the needs of managers and board members. A vendor who understands how to make things easier and ensuring they are in front of any issues, is a vendor who will create success for themselves as well as for the community manager. When the vendor and community manager are successful, the board is successful.”
J. David Rauch: “What are some of the most important lessons you have learned throughout your career?”
Karen L. Inman: “Well, there are so many lessons learned that it seems difficult to select just a few! I would start with the importance of continually learning – learning about other industries and how they might apply, learning about new trends in technology or services, or simply learning about yourself as a leader. I recall a Harvard Business Review article that spoke to the common trait of successful leaders – the trait wasn’t what you might assume as being intelligence or drive. While these are important, the key trait was self-awareness. This made so much sense to me and I have kept it top of mind over the years. Understanding my strengths, weaknesses, and hidden biases is a daily practice in achieving success.
Secondly, I’ve learned to be results orientated and to work towards creating a common vision amongst the team. An emphasis on results requires clarity of roles, a commitment to each other and honoring those roles, speaking the truth even when difficult, and celebrating accomplishments along the way.
Finally, I have learned that supporting others to find their purpose allows a team to be its most successful. When you have each team member contributing in a way that fully leverages their talents and aligns their skills with the needs of the organization, you create a high-performance culture.”
J. David Rauch: “What do you like doing in your spare time; hobbies; passions; others?"
Karen L. Inman: “In my spare time, I enjoy hanging with my family. This feels even more important now as our first born is about to go off to college in the fall and our second is finishing junior high. For myself, I enjoy meditation and have really enjoyed the practice during this past year.”
J. David Rauch: “What makes you smile when you get up in the morning?”
Karen L. Inman: “I’m an early riser so I smile at the quiet of the early morning. It is a nice way to start the day and reminds me of how grateful I am for my life and blessings. And then add to that the wagging tails of our pups and I can’t help but smile!”
J. David Rauch: “Are there any issues that we have not mentioned that you’d like to discuss?”
Karen L. Inman: “I do believe it’s important to acknowledge and commend our industry team members for the exceptional job they have done in the past year. It has been a time of high stress for many homeowners, and they have been, at times, very aggressive with staff at management companies and vendors. I am impressed by those in the HOA industry who have continued to serve their clients and communities, even in spite of the difficult circumstances in front of them each and every day.”