Real Estate Rising Stars: Mentorship, Initiatives, and Helping Young Professionals

Build to Rent West Interview with FirstKey Homes on Real Estate Rising Stars, Mentorship and Initiatives

Spotlight Interview with FirstKey Homes



IMN: I'm Rosie Bell with IMN and I'm joined by Nick Jerkovich, Vice President of Acquisitions at FirstKey Homes. Nick, welcome.

Nick: Thank you for the invitation. Happy to be here. 

IMN: Well, if I might start, why did you first want to work in real estate?

Nick: Well, what compelled me initially to work in real estate was nothing more than reading a book in high school. I read a book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, which is probably a cult classic among many of the people listening to the interview. I saw an opportunity to create significant economic value, which was interesting to me, and it still is, but I would say over 20 years later, what's retained my attention is real estate's sophistication, its uniqueness, and its complexity. 

IMN: How does that fit into what you do now, and FirstKey’s wider role within the industry? 

Nick: Pertaining to my role, specifically, I oversee our capital allocation across all acquisition verticals, in line with what our fund’s investment thesis is; that includes build to rent, single family, as well as bulk acquisitions. And then I oversee all of our strategic relationships with builders, brokers, ibuyers, etc.

In terms of FirstKey’s role in the industry? That's a pretty exciting question. Obviously, we're a leader helping to institutionalize the space, having almost 55,000 units across 29 markets in 18 states. But our mission is to give our family of residents a place to call home. And to that end, we're proud to lead with resident experience. So, in addition to our A-plus rating and accreditation with the Better Business Bureau, we're also very proud of our lifetime sentiment score of 4.4, which is industry leading and awarded to FirstKey by its residents as well as the public. So that reaffirms our commitment to lead with a great resident experience.

IMN: You're going to be leading the rising star session a bit later at the conference today. So is there any ways that you've been helped along your journey and as FirstKey Homes itself doing anything to kind of help that development, be it mentorship or any kind of other programs in place to help future leaders of the industry?

Nick: Sure. Certainly, for me, I've been very fortunate to report to leaders, particularly at FirstKey, that have modeled the behaviors that they've wanted to see more broadly in the organization. So that's been helpful from an expectations perspective. And I've also maintained relationships with mentors throughout my professional career. And I'm very grateful to those people who have poured time and their wisdom into me, to challenge me in terms of my professional skill set, as well as really teach me about the architecture of business; so, organizationally, commercially, operationally financially from a governance perspective, I'm very thankful to them.

From FirstKey’s perspective, yes, we do a lot. This really ties into the first question that you asked of FirstKey’s purpose within the industry. It's a core belief for us that the more that individuals within the industry, or within the company, rather, feel appreciated, and their voices are heard, they're going to be co-creators, co-collaborators within the business, and they're really going to go above and beyond to deliver that great resident experience. And so to that end, we have what we call a Commitment to Keypers. A ‘Keyper’ is the nickname for any employee at FirstKey… it's our familial moniker, so to speak. And one of those four pillars is to Grow You, we want to welcome people, include them, grow them and reward them. And so to that end, to grow them, we have an entire learning and development team that's dedicated to the career growth of everyone within the organization. We have an annual leadership conference, we have monthly check-ins with our HR team. We have roundtable leadership discussions, we have a mentor/mentee program, and we have what I would call best-in-class Employee Resource Groups, as well, that have been foundational to people's growth across the organization. So there's really a lot that FirstKey does for development of individuals at the company.

IMN: It sounds like they're really switched on to why attracting millennial and Gen Z talent is important. Why do you think it is important for businesses to have a focus on that?

Nick: So that's an important question particularly given tight labor market, aging population, and shifting demographics. What diversity means that FirstKey is ‘all of us.’ It's what makes you, you. It's what makes me, me. And as I said earlier, in the Commitment to Keypers, one of those pillars is to Include You. So, we want to ensure that our culture is diverse, but also inclusive and reflective of that diversity and people's lived experiences. And so to that end, we are recruiting best-in-class talent from various forums, whether that be conferences, trade shows, college visits, etc. And then for the youngest people who are just starting out their professional careers, we have an internship program, that's really first class that gives interns the ability to come in right away and work on meaningful projects and really sink their teeth into the business.

IMN: How can businesses create opportunity for the next generation entering the industry?

Nick: I think to create opportunity it takes ideas. And to really get the best ideas and implement those ideas, you need to create a culture of curiosity. And in order to have that culture of curiosity, you really need to have people believe and know that what they are contributing, that their voice is going to be known and heard. I think you have to empower people to make decisions. And I mean, of course, as leaders we cast a vision, we give policy and procedure, we give guide rails, that's the infrastructure upon which people are making those decisions, and are being empowered to make those decisions. But ultimately, you have to trust your people to make the right decisions. And so, to seize that creativity and innovation, it's very important to have that inclusive culture, within your company.

You know, I've been told that the road to wisdom is humility, and you know what humbles you? It’s losing, its failure. And that happens to all of us. And everybody here at this conference wants to win, right? Like I want to win more than anybody, but you're not going to win them all. So you just cannot lead from a position of weakness. And weakness is not acknowledging failure. Weakness is not acknowledging what your mistakes are. We can learn from our own mistakes, it's important to do a post-mortem, look at the business case, see what happened. You see what went well, what didn't, and what you can improve on. And if you do those things, if you learn from your own mistakes, in addition to learning from other people's mistakes, because you don't have to experience everything personally in order to grow, then I think you're going to create a great culture, that that really does seize on that innovation and people's creativity, because there's going to be a culture of trust. And you're going to create the best opportunity by treating your people well.

IMN: At the start, you shared why you we’re first compelled working real estate. If someone was entering the working world, why would you recommend them to work in real estate?

Nick: I think real estate is really exciting. Everybody talks about real estate sort of in a monolithic way, the real estate market is doing X, Y, or Z as if the real estate market doesn't have all these variable factors that influence it. But, just as there are many factors that influence those markets, there's many ways that you can be involved in real estate. You can do anything from property management, to construction to valuation and appraisal work, you could do brokerage work, you could be involved from a legal perspective, you could be involved from a sustainability perspective. So there are really so many ways that you could be involved. It's hard not to imagine a way that you could.

Specifically as it pertains to SFR/BTR, just three years ago, pre-pandemic, this really wasn't even viewed as an asset class, it was viewed as more of a trade. So there's been significant maturity of the industry over that period of time. And really where SFR/BTR is relative to other assets classes, it’s where retail was in the 1990s, it's where multifamily was in the 1970s, it’s where office was in the 1950s. So, we have the opportunity right now in this space to help build the sector. And I think that's very exciting.

IMN: Do you have any final closing advice or words you'd like to share?

Nick: Sure. I would say for a young individual entering the professional space, or maybe somebody who's been promoted into a new position or anyone who actually is in the same position, but maybe the performance bar is raised, is expect to be challenged. Show some resiliency. I think something that I see often in young, ambitious people, something that they get trapped in is always asking about what's next in order to get to the next level, when, I think, the best thing that you could do for your tomorrow is really be good at what you're responsible with today. And so of course, have a vision, have those growth and development discussions with your leaders, but if you can deliver exceptional results with what's within your remit, then leadership is going to recognize that and they're going to reward it accordingly.