This month, the Corner Office spotlight shines on Henry Chamberlain, President and COO of Washington, D.C.-based Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) an international federation of more than 100 local associations and affiliated organizations. Founded in 1907, BOMA’s 16,500-plus members own or manage more than 9 billion square feet of commercial properties.
Association Adviser: Henry, tell us a little about your background
Henry Chamberlain: I’m your classic PR and marketing guy. I was Director of Communications for the Gannett Company during the launch phase of the Nation’s Newspaper—USA TODAY—and began my career in Washington working in the press office of the Carter/Mondale presidential campaign. I’ve also managed accounts for two public relations firms. I’ve been with BOMA since 1985 and held a variety of roles until being promoted to President in 2001.
AA: How big an industry does BOMA represent?
HC: It’s a $118-billion marketplace that generates 996,000 jobs directly and accounts for 21 million tenants in our members’ buildings. Some of our prominent members and partners include Allied Burton, Cisco, Kimberly-Clark, Rubbermaid, Ingersoll Rand, Trane and many smaller organizations.
AA: How would you describe a typical BOMA member?
HC: It’s someone who’s managing three to five buildings—about a million square feet all told—and all the problems that go with it. This may surprise many people, but our members are more than rent collectors. They’re not just sitting in their offices. They’re out and about working with people, and they truly care about their tenants. They’re trying to figure out how they can position their buildings for success. They know tenants will re-up if they help them succeed.
AA: Aside from the economy, what other challenges does BOMA face?
HC: Like many associations, what used to be part of our unique value proposition is now offered free on the Web. For example, anyone can find lots of free information about things like payback periods, property life cycles, tax credits and the like. They don’t necessarily need us for that. The information isn’t all reliable and carefully vetted, but it’s out there free to the public. Associations really have had to shift to a new business model.
AA: How so?
HC: Well, for instance, associations have to think about how they can help members be more successful in their careers. In our case, that means providing more professional training and education on business asset management, tenant relations, building security, community relations, etc. It’s not just how to manage a building. It’s how to define your role (and your building’s role) in the community.
AA: It sounds like advocacy is very important to BOMA.
HC: BOMA has been a leader on the green side for a very long time—before it became fashionable to be green. We’ve won EPA/Energy Star awards several times. We’ve created the biggest green menu possible for property managers—best practices that drive performance.
AA: How would you describe your leadership style?
HC: People watch you by the example you set and how you build and nurture your team. I’m a big believer in continuous learning and the continuous training of our staff. You can’t do it all alone. You have to have a staff who’s going to help you figure out what’s coming next and how your organization is going to be the one that gets there first.
AA: Is it tougher being an association leader than it used to be?
HC: Let’s just say association CEOs didn’t have to work as hard 10 to 20 years ago as they do now. You really have to be more creative and learn to do more with less. It’s not just the economy; it’s the profound impact of technology. It’s a 24/7, real-time, instant access environment for association leaders, as well as their staffs and their members. You’re on call all the time—just like our members. Believe me, when a building owner gets an emergency call at 2 a.m., they have to deal with it ASAP. They can’t say they’ll get to it when they arrive at the office in the morning.
AA: Do you have any particular strategies for recruiting and retaining the younger, up-and-coming building owners and property managers?
HC: You have to stay relevant and visible. Companies are really reaching out via internships. They’re not just offering practical job training, but they’re doing a lot on the advocacy front. Younger members aren’t just looking to build their careers; they’re looking for causes they can get behind. We’re working with Georgetown University on a program emphasizing sustainability and careers in property management.
AA: What impact has the economy had on BOMA membership?
HC: We had slow and steady growth throughout the early part of this recession. We lost a little in 2010, but now it’s coming back. It’s been tough, but not necessarily from a financial perspective. What’s been more troubling is that a lot of experienced, mid-level building managers—”the next tier,” we call them—have lost their jobs and so we don’t have the mentors who would normally be guiding the Millennials through their careers. That’s where the association can really step in and provide value.
AA: Speaking of younger members, can you tell us about BOMA’s mobile and social media efforts?
HC: As I mentioned before, BOMA members are not sitting in their offices a lot. They’re on the go, working at multiple locations. Mobile has been a particularly effective way for us to get information out to them, and we have apps to facilitate that. We also have a Facebook page. Our LinkedIn platform has about 10,000 members using it for networking and problem solving. We post videos on YouTube. Our PR and marketing efforts go through Twitter to reporters as well as to younger people who are searching for expertise on particular topics.
AA: Are association directories and buyer's guides still relevant in this social/mobile era?
HC: Absolutely. Our directory has been around for more than 90 years, and it keeps evolving. We’ve been working with Naylor for 10 years now. Naylor is always looking to the future and has really helped us take our directory and online buyer's guide to a new level. Our members love it because it’s accurate, easy to use and easy to access. They really use our directories to network with each other. We’re in a very competitive industry, but our members are very supportive of each other. They’re very gregarious and willing to help each other problem solve.
AA: Does BOMA have a lot of competitors?
HC: You bet. We have at least 18 other associations trying to get our members’ attention.
AA: Has competition and the economy helped spark innovation?
HC: Our industry has always been very innovative—through good times and bad. For instance, we had a 6 percent overall drop in building utility costs last year, even though energy prices keep going up. That kind of innovation goes right to the bottom line.
AA: BOMA has a reputation for being very forward thinking. Can you tell us a little about your culture of innovation?
HC: First, you have to get good people on board. They are your advance scouts, always looking for good ideas and everyone at the organization is empowered to suggest new ideas. We’re very democratic in that way and lots of great ideas come through our local chapters. Sure, we do strategic planning sessions, but you’ve got to look at innovation in a variety of ways. We get inspiration from 7 Measures of Success, from The World Café and from Malcolm Gladwell. We’re also big believers in Harvard’s Blue Ocean Strategy—what niche can we serve really well and keep all to ourselves? Contrast that to a red ocean—a mature market—in which our competitors are already swimming.
AA: So what’s keeping you up at night?
HC: Are we staying ahead of the curve? Are we seeing around the corners? Are we swimming in a nice blue ocean or heading into the red?
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