In this Executive Q&A, Kent Elliott, principal at RETS Associates, a leading search and staffing firm that focuses specifically on the real estate industry, sits down with Lynn Abulhosn, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Unico Properties LLC, a Seattle-based real estate investor and operator of office and multifamily assets in the Western U.S. Elliott and Abulhosn discuss the recent growth of the Unico team.

Kent Elliott (KE): Please describe your current activity in the Seattle commercial real estate market.

Lynn Abulhosn (LA): Unico is actively raising capital right now, and we are buying assets in our core markets of Denver, Seattle and Portland. We are also expanding into a few new markets. In addition, we are developing our third-party property management business and scaling other teams and staff to support new businesses – we’re clearly in growth mode! It’s a great time in the market right now. I’ve been with Unico through a couple cycles, and this is undoubtedly a great one to be in.

 KE: You’ve recently filled various positions on your team. Please discuss how you built the team to fit into your culture and the roles that each member plays.

LA: I oversee our corporate services team, which encompasses four different departments – marketing communications, human resources, IT and administration. As part of our growth, we hired a general manager to oversee our Denver portfolio. This was a key hire for us, and we really needed to find the right person, someone who had a strong operations background with experience managing a large portfolio in the Denver metro area to scale our operation as we grew. Plus, we had an executive assistant supporting our president that we promoted into a management role. In turn, we needed to hire for her position. We went to RETS to fill the position and found a fantastic candidate that ended up having a real estate background.

We passed the 200-employee mark earlier this year, and we employed RETS to find a human resources manager to support our growing team. For the sake of time, I asked RETS to expand its search beyond real estate to fill these two roles. However, using its extensive network of contacts, RETS found candidates in the real estate sector in a very timely manner. Ultimately, both hires came with real estate experience, which made a big difference!

With RETS’ help, we also hired financial analysts and a property manager.

KE: Can you tell us about how your new hires fit in Unico from a cultural standpoint?

 LA: The Unico culture embodies a place where people are truly valued. We look for people who are creative, curious, innovative and willing to think outside the box. Typically, our hires, especially on the real estate services side, have an increased involvement compared to what they might have had at other real estate companies. We are buying a lot of value-add properties, so our employees are exposed to more construction management at the asset level; there’s more marketing and leasing activity as well. We look for people that want a more flexible environment instead of a defined role. Unico has a high bar for excellence, but we give a lot of autonomy to employees to come up with solutions and work freely. We’ve had extremely low turnover, especially at our manager level, and it speaks a lot of our culture.

KE: It’s common for employees in the Seattle region to have a long tenure with a company. Did you find that loyalty ties were hard to break when it came to hiring new employees from other companies?

 LA: The team at RETS really got to know our company and the key leaders well. The firm is good at matching talent to our needs and spends a lot of time with the candidates to really get to know them. For example, they identified what candidates want in their career, what they’re looking for in a job, the kind of culture they’ll work best in, etc. RETS does a great job of sorting that out upfront so that — by the time we meet with candidates — they have made a clear decision that they would like to move. We are a 60-year-old, growing company with a well-known reputation, and we are presenting a lot of opportunities for growth that are appealing to people in the industry.

KE: How did RETS help manage the recruiting and hiring process?

 LA: RETS put in a lot of time upfront to speak with the hiring managers and really understand what they were looking for and what their “pain points” were. This process better solidified the position for which we are searching so we could find the right candidate, quickly and efficiently. It’s an excellent prescreening process – RETS doesn’t send along people that they don’t think will be a good match. We’d rather only meet with two solid candidates than have to sort through six. RETS also provides us with feedback from the market, and they have been very honest, transparent and thorough.

KE: Did anything occur during the searches that you found surprising or unexpected?

LA: Sometimes, we go out into the market with certain expectations for a job, demands for positions, and even compensation packages. However, RETS has helped to educate us on what is realistic in the market and re-adjust our expectations to be more accurate so we can compete for the best talent.

Recruiting can be time consuming, but I have found that RETS just makes it really easy. The firm’s written summaries and references are a lot more thorough than other recruiters I’ve worked with. I can tell they come from in-person meetings, where they assess professional appearances, mannerisms and how they interact with others. That next level of evaluation is really helpful!

KE: What are the results of the placements and new team today?

 LA: My hope for the HR manager was to find someone who was certified, fully qualified, had deep experience and could come in and “plug and play.” I needed to reduce the time I spent in HR from 75 percent of my job to 25 percent, and that happened within a month or two. This had a great impact on me and my ability to focus on continuing to grow the firm. Additionally, our new General Manager has built a strong team and operational platform to support Unico’s expansion in Denver.

RETS helped us find people that were ready to take the progressive step in their careers that we were offering, and we’re thrilled with the recent growth and success.