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Building the future: Shaniece Sanford, CPM®

Celebrating the career journeys of young professionals shaping the future of real estate management.

Shaniece Sanford’s entry into property management was somewhat unexpected. Her future path, however, is clearly laid out. 

As an undergrad at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA, Sanford served as a resident assistant. After graduation, with a B.A. in communications and a specialty in public relations, she submitted her resume to a local temp agency. And that’s where the surprise came in. 

“I wasn’t aware of property management as a career,” she says. But the agency ran down the list of possible careers in the field, all related to the skills she accumulated at college, and ultimately, her resume found its way to a portfolio manager at Cushman & Wakefield, who recognized those same skills. 

“I was already dealing with work orders, customer service, tenant interaction and building audits, all skills applicable to a property manager.” And she got the job. The year was 2013. 

She also got something else: An introduction to IREM®. Her general manager, Charlotte Wilson, CPM®, was the local Northern Virginia chapter president at the time, and Debbie Santano, CPM®, her director, served as regional VP. (Santano has since moved on to Brandywine Realty Trust). “So, I was immediately immersed in the culture of IREM,” she says. Sanford got involved with the chapter and the educational offerings, and earned her CPM designation in 2019. 

Today, the Cushman & Wakefield property manager oversees some 750,000 square feet of class A office properties in Washington, DC, reporting to Director of Asset Services Alexis Wilcox, CPM®. In addition, Sanford is on the IREM Executive Committee, and is both a director at large of the local chapter, and a member of the Region III education committee. She’s also a member of the NAR diversity committee.

Her own CEO

While Sanford hadn’t originally considered property management as a career choice, she finds now that she enjoys “being the CEO of my own building,” and the variety that position brings. “In any one day, I can be a construction manager, a concierge, I can be in charge of restoration, even event planning, anything that adds value for my clients and my tenants.” She tells of friends who are lawyers or accountants “and the days seem so monotonous. No two days look exactly alike for me.” 

And she loves it. “I wouldn't be here if I didn’t.”

Of course, being a “building CEO” isn’t without its challenges. This was especially true as she was learning the ropes. Transitioning from her residential work in college to a commercial gig wasn’t an issue, and she found the credits totally transferable. The challenge was the switch from a person-to-person relationship with residents, to a “person-to-Fortune 500” tenancy. 

She calls it the “sticker-shock dynamic” of the detail required to understand the finances behind commercial building operations, and “properly communicating these to a client was not something I dealt with before.”

On mentorship and compassion

Fortunately, she credits her Cushman & Wakefield mentors with “helping me to facilitate those issues. They guided me, and I shadowed them in these efforts. It could be daunting, but I was grateful for the necessary support.”

Of course, those early challenges were nothing compared to what Sanford--indeed IREM members worldwide--faced last year. The buildings in her charge have a significant retail presence, and among the biggest challenges she faced were “the conversations about finances and lease restructures.” She walked a delicate line between her clients recouping the capital they would lose, and doing so in a way that “was compassionate toward my tenants, many of whom would be losing their jobs in businesses that might not come back.

“I have a personal relationship with each of my tenants,” she continues. “I eat in those restaurants, and I work out in those gyms. Yes, the conversations were hard, but I was fortunate to have clients who understood the importance of compassion in those situations.”

For herself, as well as for many of her colleagues, 2020 became a year of self-reflection as well. “We had to evaluate if we were going to sink or swim, and if this is a career role we want to fill. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thoroughly challenged.”

Add to that the political unrest that plagued virtually all US cities, but DC in particular. “I put a significant dent in our budget trying to facilitate protest protections,” she says. The other challenge was handling difficult conversations with tenants and vendors “about navigating through the crises.” She and her team, she says, rose to all of the challenges. 

Down the road, in a decade or so, she still sees herself with Cushman & Wakefield, hopefully as a managing director. If the path creates other unexpected twists, she would like to become a director of corporate real estate. 

Despite the challenges that marked 2020, that self-reflection brought a new resolve. Wherever the path leads, “It’s clear I’m in the right business.” 

“In any one day, I can be a construction manager, a concierge, I can be in charge of restoration, even event planning,” says Shaniece Sanford. “No two days look exactly alike for me.” 

Comments

You ROCK Shaniece!!! Thanks for sharing your story!!! Barry

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Shaniece Thank you for sharing your story it is these types of examples that will inspire others. Congratulations on your success and I hope to meet you in Las Vegas this year at the summit. Kimberly Parker

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