Alexandra Jackiw has made a point to mentor people and foster careers as her own progressed. Now, as chairman of the board of NAA, she has the opportunity to influence and impact many in the industry.
Student Housing Business recently interviewed Alexandra Jackiw, Vice President and Managing Director of Residential Client Services, for Ann Arbor, Michigan-based McKinley. Active for many years in the multifamily and student housing industries, Jackiw is known by many because of her passion for education.
She teaches designation courses for the National Apartment Association (NAA) throughout the United States and has also been an adjunct faculty member in the Residential Property Management programs at both Virginia Tech and Ball State University. A mentor to many in the industry, she is tireless in her efforts to publicize multifamily — and student housing — operations as a positive career choice. Jackiw recently took over the reigns as chairman of the board of NAA for 2013; a role she plans to use to highlight the strong position of the multifamily industry in commercial real estate.
SHB: You’ve had a long career in multifamily, but you’ve only been involved with student housing for a little less than a decade. How did you get into the student housing sector?
Jackiw: The company I was working for at the time — Buckingham — had a client who owned a number of multifamily assets that we were managing. He had carved out one asset from his portfolio — a large, 770-bed student housing deal — that he didn’t feel comfortable turning over to us because we had never had any experience in purpose-built student housing. After a period of time, this owner grew increasingly confident in our management and marketing abilities. He gave us the management assignment and with his guidance, we quickly learned the nuances of the student housing product type. We ended up being much more helpful to him once we were able to put our own systems and practices into place. That was probably eight years ago.
SHB: That led to Buckingham building quite a portfolio in the student housing space.
Jackiw: Buckingham started developing student housing projects in a couple of Midwest markets. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a couple of special servicers on distressed student housing assets during the economic downturn. Those allowed us to highlight our abilities to manage and turnaround troubled assets.
SHB: How did your career progress? Did you start in multifamily?
Jackiw: I did start in multifamily. My experience started with managing public housing projects in Terre Haute, Ind., in the 1970s. I moved into the private sector with a large development company called Oxford, then worked for NHP and AIMCO. I was at Buckingham Companies for the last 12 years, before moving to McKinley in 2012.
SHB: What has inspired you throughout your career to stay with the multifamily product type? What do you like so much about multifamily?
Jackiw: It is the variety that I like more than anything else. The reality is that I talk about multi-housing not so much from a bricks and sticks perspective, but from the people perspective. You have the opportunity to impact people’s lives by providing housing. With student housing, you have the opportunity to create somewhat of a vibrant academic environment for people who are going to school. I spent a period of time managing full-service retirement communities and nursing homes. That enabled me to impact people’s lives with not only housing but also healthcare, adding to the quality of their lives in their later years. That impact has always been attractive to me; that’s the do-good, bleeding heart liberal piece in me. I think the other piece from a people perspective that was particularly enjoyable to me was developing people — working with employees and seeing them grow and progress.
SHB: You really like to mentor people. Why is that important to you?
Jackiw: I do enjoy it. I do a lot of teaching at Virginia Tech, Ball State and through the certification programs of the National Apartment Association. I just enjoy seeing people be successful. If I can provide some support, encouragement and knowledge along the way, that is where I get my kicks. With student housing, I really like working with young people. That is one of the reasons I’m attracted to working in a university environment and teaching at Virginia Tech and Ball State. I’m also on the residential property management board at Virginia Tech and I’ve been the chairman of that board. I’m currently president of the board at Ball State University. I’m speaking at Drexel University on a panel at the end of the month [January]. I’m also involved with the University of Central Florida. My interest in being around young people and teaching them about real estate management has turned into a real love for the student housing business.
SHB: Did you have mentors as your career progressed? Who were they?
Jackiw: I had several. There are two who stand out most to me. One was a high school English teacher who taught me the love of language and reading. The other was a retired naval submarine commander who had graduated from the Naval Academy. He eventually received an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and became the chief financial officer at Oxford when I worked there. He was always adept at plucking me from whatever I was doing and putting me into a job that either no one wanted or people were afraid to take. He always nudged me along. A statement he made to me that has always stayed with me is, “You need to find power vacuums and fill them.’ This was at a time when there weren’t many women at my level in property management. He was very instrumental in helping me along with my career.
SHB: Over your career, what do you like about the apartment industry today, versus when you started?
Jackiw: The professionalism of the industry has improved, certainly. Through my involvement with trade groups, particularly the National Apartment Association and the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), I’ve seen the industry become more professional and skilled at providing not only housing, but services to residents.
SHB: You have a challenge ahead of you this year as head of the NAA. What are your goals there for your term?
Jackiw: I’m actually in Phoenix now for the NAA board meeting, where we are setting our direction for the year. The beauty of NAA is that we have an executive committee; each chairman moves up through the officer positions, so I’ll be continuing the work that others started. There is no one year isolated to a specific set of goals. It is a continual process of moving the organization forward. We represent more than six million units [of multifamily] through 170 affiliated associations right now in the United States. The industry is growing, so we need future leadership and a more diverse leadership that more closely reflects our members. NAA has a strong education program that we are trying to take deeper into the affiliates throughout the nation. We also have a robust legislative advocacy program at the federal level. We partner with the National Multi-Housing Council to lobby federal issues on behalf of the industry. We also have a strong grassroots state and local legislative focus. NAA is about advocacy, education and providing resources for our members.
SHB: You made news in 2012 when you moved from Buckingham to McKinley. What opportunity did you see at McKinley?
Jackiw: McKinley is an entrepreneurial company. They have been involved in a variety of markets and they’ve penetrated a lot of markets where people need student housing. They are a large owner in Ann Arbor and in the rest of Michigan. They have numerous assets in Florida. I like the culture of the company. Under the leadership of CEO Albert Berriz, McKinley has not only been entrepreneurial, but it has also been able to maintain that small, family-owned environment where employees are valued and given the opportunity to be successful.
SHB: What goals do you have for the student housing portfolio there? I take it you want to grow that?
Jackiw: Yes, we do. Initially, because McKinley had been so successful in the workout/distressed asset business, it was our view that we could add value in that arena with lenders and service providers who had problem assets that needed to be handled. We’re doing just that in several markets. That was one leg of the stool. The other pieces of the business plan involve acquiring third-party management clients. We are also looking to partner with developers that are in the student housing space and provide management services on their behalf.
SHB: Do you find it challenging to build a portfolio of assets in the student housing sector today?
Jackiw: It is tough, because you have a lot of good players. The business is consolidating; there are some interesting things going on in the student space right now. Lincoln Property Company buying Grand Campus is a good way for them to enter a sector in which they have not been involved in the past. Everyone loves student housing; it is the belle of the multifamily industry. People are jumping in — some with experience and others not so much. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next several years. I think there will be a lot of people who get involved, and a number will jump in and jump right back out again once they see how hard it is.
SHB: What do you think the student housing industry needs?
Jackiw: More formal education for the sector. Certification programs would further the industry’s specialization. The NAA provides several for the multifamily sector, but we’ve been a little weak on training for the student housing side. Working with the student housing committee at the NAA and assisting them with the programming for NAA’s student housing conference, I am committed to seeing what we can do to professionalize the sector by providing the training and programming that we have been able to provide in the multifamily space for a long time.
SHB: It seems like student housing loses a lot of people because of that. They get lost to traditional multifamily or they grow out of student housing.
Jackiw: Yes. A lot of that has to do with that lack of training and educational support that traditional multifamily offers. In student, it is left up to the student housing companies, so there is a lot of competition between them for these specialized employees who stick with the sector. It is a sector that has a lot of young people in that space who want the opportunity to develop and grow. That comes from education. It is not enough to go to a few housing conferences each year and hope that the snippets of information will be enough. It needs to be ongoing.
SHB: There are so many intricacies and specialties with student housing. As you know, it is leased entirely different, for one.
Jackiw: And the turn process only exists in student housing. You also have the student life perspective. As well, you are dealing with multiple audiences: you have the student, the parent and the university. Sometimes you have “town-and-gown” issues with people in the community. You also have young people running multimillion-dollar assets who have been thrown into the environment without a whole lot of support. Training is a key component in making sure people are successful.
SHB: What excites you about getting up each day and going to work?
Jackiw: Every day is different. Every day, you have the opportunity to make an impact on someone’s life. I love the marketing aspect of this job. This is not a homogenous sector; what we do in one market, we can’t necessarily do in another market and have the same success. Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love to do puzzles. If there is a crossword puzzle or a Sudoku or anything else, I’ll do it. I look at multifamily the same way; it is like solving a puzzle, or trying to put the pieces together and seeing what works. That is a challenge and a lot of fun.
SHB: How did your education form your career? Did you fall into multifamily, or was this career a deliberate choice?
Jackiw: I fell into it, big time. My undergraduate degree is in chemistry and my graduate degree is in counseling psychology. The psychology degree certainly helps me! I graduated at a time when jobs were scarce — not unlike the environment for college graduates today. For me, it was about trying to figure out what I was going to do with this highly technical degree when the job market was tough. Whether I studied chemistry or something else, it was the discipline of having studied science that gave me the tools to be a good problem solver and a logical interpreter of problems. In the long run, that has been beneficial for my career. While I could have gone on and become a research chemist, I had the mental discipline to be a business person and work through problems.
SHB: How did you enter the industry?
Jackiw: I went to work for a government agency that needed someone to write grants. I had never done that before but I figured I would give it a shot. I wrote a federal grant to fund an adult daycare center that was probably one of the first of its kind in the Midwest in the late 1970s. When the grant was finally funded, the daycare center was located in the community center of a public housing project. The entity that had asked me to write the grant, then asked me to become the first executive director of the facility. That was crazy to me because I knew nothing about adult daycare, particularly working with adults who had some infirmities, and having to make decisions about their care. I jumped at the chance. Because the facility was housed in a public housing project, I ultimately was approached by the public housing authority to take over management of all the older buildings at the public housing agency. Eventually, I became the director of housing for the Terre Haute [Indiana] Housing Authority. After about three years, I moved to the private side of multifamily.
SHB: What are your hobbies?
Jackiw: I read a lot. I like to travel. As mentioned, I’m a crossword puzzle and Sudoku junkie; I have a menagerie of rescue dogs and cats. I have a beautiful home in Indianapolis with lots of land, and I love to garden. I also have a second home in Florida, just south of Sarasota.
— Randy Shearin