By Susana M. Chavez, Parking Company of America
Four Atlanta CREW members are participating in CREW Network’s Certificate of Leadership Class of 2016. – Tina Renee McCall, Greer Gallagher, Ellen Smith and me. It has been a fascinating experience. I have gotten to know my fellow classmates better, at times rooming together, finding good restaurants in the new cities and always talking about the program. The workshops are informative and engaging, taught by top university professors. When we started, none of us realized that having a mentor was part of the program. We have all had different experiences, but, for me, this component of the program has turned out to be one of my most rewarding experiences.
I was paired with Beth Lambert, a past president of CREW Network and CREW Dallas, and an Executive Managing Director for Cushman & Wakefield. When asked by Gail Ayers what I wanted in my mentor, I asked that they be skilled in financial analysis. I had no idea how sophisticated my mentor would be. Beth Lambert could have her Ph.D. in financial analysis. When she talks, I feel like I’m drinking from a firehose, furiously taking notes or sometimes just listening; trying to understand the full essence of what she is saying. Beth has taught me not to be shy about asking questions and not to worry about stating everything perfectly. She has been in this business a long time and says everyone is always learning. Also, Beth is fond of saying, “let’s talk about the softer skills too.”
But first let me explain the basics of our mentor / mentee relationship. The foundation of the relationship is that I take full responsibility in getting dates, times and agenda items for our calls. This means that I send out the meeting request, I remind Beth each morning of our call, and I never ask her to change a time. If I can’t meet or she can’t meet, we simply skip that call and talk the next scheduled time.
Our arrangement is this:
- I call her every two weeks – 8:30 CST / 9:30 EST
- I text message her a reminder the morning of.
- We talk 30 minutes to 1 hour. We usually start by sharing about our personal life – trips, family – just one human being relating to another.
- I think in advance what I want to discuss, but always follow her lead if she wants to talk about something else.
- Beth does not give “financial advice”. This is not her role.
I was very clear that I wanted to increase the level of my financial sophistication; i.e., I had just taken the CCIM 101 course, I bring acquisition opportunities to my partners, and I am involved on the development side with an historic adaptive reuse project in downtown Atlanta. In other words, I have experience. But my and Beth’s levels are starkly different. I was worried about this at the beginning, but Beth acts like she doesn’t even notice and instead she just keeps giving me perspective and nurtures my curiosity and interest. This week, Beth’s first question about my historic project that has moved forward was: “what are the terms of the loan?” A very basic question, for which I only had some of the answers. She doesn’t hesitate for a moment, but simply keeps asking questions, tells me areas to be cautious, and I agree to find out all of the details so we can discuss on our next call. I am looking through the term sheet now, asking questions of my partners and working through the loan details on the historic project that involves state and federal historic tax credits, broker fees, development fees, short-term and long-term financing options. I am doing my homework, preparing for our next call. But equally as important as improving my financial sophistication, Beth has been schooling me on the softer skills too.
Our very first phone call concerned a meeting I was planning to attend. Beth advised me: triangulate your numbers and be prepared to challenge something that you know is not right. You have to bang your fist on the table sometimes to get yourself heard. Be prepared to listen and agree to the other points you know are correct. Beth’s main advice was: “you bring value by talking about the project.” To get your point across, raise a bit of a ruckus, then calm down, listen and participate throughout the discussion. It was a good reminder for me. In regards to my business and analyzing opportunities and ongoing operations, I know my business, and I need to be vocal about what I know.
During a recent phone call, we started talking about ownership in my business. As many of you know, I work in my family’s business with 3 brothers. It has not been easy and I am continually working at leveraging up my impact on our business and my ownership and compensation. This is a sensitive topic for all of us. We all need someone we can talk to about this. After 6 months of building trust and rapport between Beth and myself, we are ready to talk about this very sensitive issue.
Beth – I want to say publicly: I could not have asked for a better mentor. Your time and advice have been extremely valuable to me. I look forward to the next five months together. I am going to continue to get the most out of our time together. My heartfelt thanks to you!
Susana Maria Chavez is the executive vice president of Parking Company of America, a national parking firm with over 240 facilities in 19 cities. She has led numerous projects, including management of the parking operations for the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. She currently manages the Atlanta portfolio and is helping to expand the downtown markets company wide. A strong advocate for promoting and educating women entrepreneurs, Ms. Chavez was the 2015 President of CREW Atlanta. She is also a board member of Central Atlanta Progress, Latin American Association and the Anti Prejudice Consortium. She is a former president of the board for the Anti-Prejudice Consortium, chair of the Atlanta Commission on Women and board member of the Atlanta Women’s Foundation.
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