Mixer Finds the Right Blend of Data and Intuition at The Franklin Johnston Group
The Franklin Johnston Group, a developer and manager of apartment communities throughout the Eastern U.S., was founded in July 2013. One of the first and most daunting tasks the young company faced was harnessing the immense amount of data that would be required to manage a large portfolio of rental units. Another challenge was to establish an accompanying Internet presence to serve existing and prospective residents. The company immediately turned to Charles H. Mixer II, who at the time already a decade's worth of IT experience in the property management field, to spearhead the process.
NATIONAL APARTMENT ASSOCIATION: Mr. Mixer, could you please introduce yourself? What are your primary duties and responsibilities?
CHARLES MIXER: I'm the Director of Information Technology at the Franklin Johnston Group. I'm in charge of the technology as far as infrastructure, working with different departments and their technology needs, and taking care of the equipment and making sure everything is running at its most productive level. Everything is technology-driven nowadays. So, I also get pulled into areas like marketing, operations, and even accounting, which I enjoy.
NAA: What are some of the key data-driven decisions that you and your colleagues are making?
CM: We're a fairly new company that has been able to use data in different ways to make decisions. We're fortunate enough to have moved on from legacy systems and use more current systems to make ourselves more competitive in this business of developing and managing apartment communities. Our focus right now in terms of data and decision-making is making everything talk on the same level. We're actually at a point where we are fine tuning our processes that enable our staff to be more efficient, nimble, and make smarter decisions.
NAA: For example?
CM: Our different pieces of software, we want them to talk on the same level so that we can make better decisions as far as budgeting, forecasting, what are rents should be, and so forth. Using a software platform where we can actually pull data real-time and generate reports instantly and make strategic, well-informed decisions is our goal.
NAA: Early on, what has been some of the most important data tracked in getting the company off on the right foot?
CM: Some of the best data that we've seen so far is our analytics for our corporate website. We've seen a lot of hits on the articles that we're posting. We can see how much interest there is from the different social-media sources, from LinkedIn, from Facebook, and so forth. We can see what pages are popular.
NAA: What do you do with that information?
CM: Our careers page, for example, used to be very basic. It used to be just a list of jobs that were open along with the job descriptions. But people were leaving the page fast and not spending a lot of time on it, and it obviously needed to be improved. We used that data about how long people were actually looking at the career page, how long they were looking at each actual job description, and responded by providing even more quality information about the company. They can now learn more about the company, about our benefits, our company culture, our core values, and things like that. I changed it about two weeks ago, and people are spending at least three times the amount of time on that page than they did before.
NAA: Is there a technology initiative or program that you have personally captained or shepherded or been involved with from a leadership standpoint that you're particularly proud of?"
CM: One of the defining moments of my career is creating the infrastructure for this company from the ground up. I was new with the company, not new with the owners. I had actually worked with them for a number of years. Due to space issues at the time, I actually created the infrastructure in my garage, and that was one of the coolest things I've ever done. It was a fully virtual environment that was literally built in my garage in about two months.
NAA: Do you have any words of wisdom for those out there reading this who are looking to re-imagine their company's data and infrastructure?
CM: Let go of legacy systems! These systems can be a big issue for productivity. You need to figure out how things work with new technology. I'm lucky. I got to start all over a year and five months ago. I learned what I wouldn't do and what I would do differently over the years working in this industry. We're in such a competitive market. To waste productivity with legacy systems is not smart. Having processes automated and accessing data and reporting instantly is the end goal. In addition, focus on not just gathering data, but asking the right questions of your data. If you're not asking the right questions, you're wasting time.
NAA: Was there some advice that was given to you early on, specifically with regards to technology's place in multifamily housing that has stuck with you?
CM: Yes, what you do should always be about people. You can work with your data, but intuition and the human aspect is also a large part of making decisions. So much of our business is about people. You can’t read into a data report about body language. The combination of intuition and data, I think, is the key balance you need to achieve.
NAA: What has you excited for the future?
CM: The whole trend of automation, staying nimble, working smarter. Using technology to achieve those goals is really exciting and the challenge of keeping such complex systems/data simple so our team can constantly improve is really cool. On a personal level, I look forward to working with a company that is growing and with people who trust my decision-making and who have my back. Seeing the fruits of all that labor will continue to be very humbling.
By Teddy Durgin