Property managers are going back to school to sharpen their skills.

The shopping center industry is pushing for ongoing education due to the evolving role of property managers. Today's managers are being called upon to make knowledgeable decisions on a variety of issues ranging from boosting property income to incorporating new technology.

“We have seen the property management business become much more of a business for true professionals defined by accreditation and education,” says Stephannie Mower, president and COO of Asset Services at The Woodmont Co. in Fort Worth, Texas. “People are taking the property management position more seriously in terms of the value it brings to an asset.”

Woodmont supports continuing education courses and industry accreditations such as the Certified Property Manager (CPM) designation for all managers. “We encourage managers to be involved in continuing education, and to be involved with organizations so they know what is going on in the industry,” Mower says.

The necessity of further educating employees is due in part to the evolution of the shopping center industry. “We are requiring a more savvy, educated person to run the properties. So obviously the continuing education is important,” says Julie Jones, a vice president of management at Chicago-based General Growth Properties Inc.

The rise of publicly owned real estate firms is one shift that has put additional pressure on companies to boost performance. So in addition to dealing with day-to-day operations, property managers are providing input on aspects ranging from strategic direction to net operating income. “We're asking property managers to have a strong command of financial statements and generate income directly from a property,” Jones says.

Education has become more important due in part to the ownership shift that occurred in the 1980s. “Property managers were not only taking care of property, but they had to be able to understand the financial and marketing side because so many properties were in transition,” Mower says.

The 1990s brought the introduction of new subject matter such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. These days, property owners are faced with complex issues such as technology and utility deregulation. “Property managers need to understand these issues and take bids,” Mower says.

Focus on education

Managers need to be equipped with the tools and the knowledge to make value-added decisions. “Because our portfolio is geographically dispersed from Tampa to Seattle, it is imperative that the people on site possess the ability to make good judgments,” says John Hoeller, a senior vice president of property management at Glimcher Realty Trust in Columbus, Ohio. “The more training we give, the more capable they will become.”

Glimcher hosts two meetings each year for its general managers and marketing directors. Outside speakers from reputable organizations such as the Dale Carnegie Institute are brought in to make the three-day event an educational gathering.

Speakers address management skill development such as leadership and team-building techniques, Hoeller notes. Other sessions focus on the financial side of the business, tackling topics such as how to compute net present value, how to negotiate a lease and how to conduct a negotiating session. “These are all functions property managers utilize on a daily basis,” Hoeller says.

Glimcher also utilizes industry programs offered through associations such as ICSC. Ultimately, the firm is striving to give its managers skills that will help them advance their careers, as well as bring added value to the company. “When we hire an executive within our organization, we begin thinking about where else this person can make a contribution,” Hoeller says.

Myriad of options

One of the skills General Growth emphasizes through ongoing education is income generation capability. The company encourages existing managers to expand their leasing knowledge through programs such as ICSC's Certified Leasing Specialist (CLS) designation. “We have managers in place that have been in the business five, 10 and 15 years. They have mastered the traditional skills. So now we're layering on additional skills,” Jones says.

In addition to the ICSC, the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) and Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) offer courses on general property management issues such as utilities and security. “There are many organizations that have applicable courses, and they are constantly changing courses and increasing the quality of information that they offer because the industry is changing so fast,” Mower says.

Industry associations offer educational programming as well as accredited programs. Designations such as the ICSC's Certified Shopping Center Manager (CSM) or Certified Marketing Director (CMD) can play an important role in hiring decisions. “When they have a designation, I have the assurance that there is a particular knowledge base,” Jones says. “It is like a stamp of approval.” In addition, the ICSC requires their faculty to be degreed or designated. “So to be a leader in industry, it is important to earn those credentials,” she says.

Ultimately, the knowledge that property managers achieve through continuing education helps them to succeed as individuals, and that same success filters back to the company, Hoeller says. “I personally feel that knowledge is power,” he says. “The more you can possibly learn and know about a job and its responsibilities, the more successful you're going to be.”

Beth Mattson-Teig is a Minneapolis-based writer.

educational variety at ICSC

Law for Nonlawyers

  • Dates: Sept. 6 & 7, 2001
  • Location: Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif.; or Sept. 13 & 14, 2001 at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta.
  • Program: A comprehensive one-and-a-half day seminar. The course is taught by legal professions who explain what you need to know about applying legal principles and practices that relate to the shopping center industry.
  • Fee: $345 for ICSC members, $445 for non-members.
  • www.icsc.org/srch/education/university/lawfornonlawyers.html

Fall Management & Marketing Conference

  • Date: Oct. 24-26, 2001
  • Location: Rosen Centre and Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.
  • Program: The theme this year is “Upgrade Your Mind.” The event features retail, consumer, finance and inspirational sessions with speakers from firms such as Macy's, the Discovery Channel Store, Walt Disney World, Ogilvy & Mather and Goldman Sachs.
  • Fee: $545 for ICSC members, $795 for non-members.
  • www.icsc.org/srch/mt/descs/2001FC/2001FC.pdf

University of Shopping Centers

  • Date: Jan. 28-30, 2002
  • Location: Wyndham Anatole in Dallas.
  • Program: Nine schools covering advanced learning in special disciplines of the shopping center industry ranging from The School of Asset Management and General Studies to The School of Technology.
  • Fee: Fees vary
  • www.icsc.org/srch/education/university/uscindex.html

School for Professional Development

  • Dates: April 14-19, 2002 at Tempe Mission Palms and Arizona State University, University Club in Tempe, Ariz.; or June 9-14, 2002 at Michigan State University Kellogg Center in E. Lansing, Mich.
  • Program: The Schools' certificate programs offers a wide range of courses via week-long Institutes in Management, Marketing and Leasing and in two levels, Level I for beginners and Level II for professionals with more than three years of experience in the field.
  • Fee: $795 for ICSC members, and $1,160 for non-members.
  • www.icsc.org/srch/education/profdev.html

Finance for Nonfinancial Professionals

  • Date: Spring 2002
  • Location: TBD, Fla.
  • Program: A comprehensive one-and-a-half day seminar that will demystify finance for the nonfinancial shopping center professional.
  • Fee: $345 for ICSC members, $445 for non-members.
  • www.icsc.org/srch/education/courseonfinance.html

Self Study Course

  • Dates: Begins October 1, 2001 and January 15, 2002
  • Program: Home or office study that brings the Shopping Center Management Institute to managers via distance learning. ICSC offers a guided independent self-study program in the concentrated area of management. The course includes a study guide, nine textbooks and a diskette.
  • Fee: $795 for ICSC members, $895 for non-members.
  • www.icsc.org/srch/education/university/scmanagement.html