A Talk with Lincoln’s New COO
By Les Shaver
Margette Hepfner shares her experience at the country’s second-largest apartment management company and the story behind the company’s growth.
Margette Hepfner came to Lincoln Property Company in 2013, in the newly created position of Vice President of Client Services, after spending 13 years on the supplier side of the apartment industry at Apartment Guide (RentPath), where she developed the firm’s national platform and ran its national sales team.
Since Hepfner started at Lincoln, the Dallas-based company’s management business has grown by almost 60,000 apartments. Hepfner has played a role in that expansion effort, identifying opportunities for Lincoln’s third-party management business and strengthening existing relationships with institutional and high-net-worth clients. Her success led to her promotion to Chief Operating Officer of Lincoln’s residential management division, a position she assumed in September of this year.
We spoke with Hepfner about the experience of transitioning from supplier to apartment operator and her goals as a COO.
Was attaining this type of position your goal when you came to Lincoln?
Hepfner: When I thought about making the change from what I was doing—sales on the supplier side—to Lincoln, shifting to apartment management, but still in sales, I thought that about 50 percent [of the job] would be in my comfort zone and 50 percent would be out of my comfort zone. I knew multifamily and I knew the people on the team at Lincoln [an Apartment Guide client], which was helpful. [But] I didn’t know much about the overall development and underwriting process of multifamily.
I honestly came into it with eyes wide open, looking at Lincoln and its structure and culture, and how I would fit best with the team, because it was a new role at that point. The job definitely started to evolve by just spending time and working with our team, working with Scott [Wilder, President of Lincoln Property Co.] and seeing opportunities as we grew.
Along with that growth and adding new team members across the country, I’ve had the opportunity to start helping Scott more with operations, marketing, training and all of our disciplines. And [the COO role] just seemed to be a natural fit, with a need for us to have more oversight for operations and how the departments worked together. Scott and I started working toward that and added to the new business development team.
So, I wouldn’t say [the COO role] was necessarily a goal. I will say that when I joined Lincoln, I had every intention of this, Lincoln Property Company, being the last stop in my career; I had every intention of being here and growing.
Regarding the 50 percent you needed to learn, what’s your process for getting yourself up to speed and understanding the development part of the industry?
Hepfner: I did a lot of listening, observing, and asking questions. I spent my first 90 days shadowing our team members across the country. I went through all of our training, worked onsite, leased apartments, shadowed managers and maintenance techs, turned units and punched out units. I shadowed our regional property managers, our vice presidents and our development partners across the country. I spent time in all of our markets and with lots of different clients. I had the opportunity to observe all of the things we do.
Lincoln really gave me the opportunity to learn before having to jump in with both feet, which was extremely fortunate for me. Then, after watching how we did things, from a sales and client perspective, I could suggest how we might need to make some changes. Instead of coming in and just making all of the changes I thought should be made, I watched the team, learned with them and became part of the team instead of taking a bull-in-a-china-shop approach.
What were the challenges coming into apartment operations from the supplier side?
Hepfner: [The challenges were made easier because] Lincoln had been my client. I wasn’t coming in completely cold trying to learn a company and a culture plus clients and a new position. Lincoln has a great, very family-like, culture, and that made it a lot easier. With me coming in and taking a new position, no one was fighting against me. Everyone’s attitude was, “We know we needed the position, we’re happy you’re here, and we’re going to figure it out together.” That’s a culture you can’t replicate.
What are some of your goals stepping into the COO role?
Being mostly a fee management company, especially the size of Lincoln, there’s a pretty fine balance between having a corporate infrastructure that gives the team across the country a full toolbox of the things they might need while also giving them the autonomy to adapt to whatever it is they need.
Instead of setting parameters where there’s a lot of red tapes that the team in the field has to go through to execute and do what’s right for their property, their client, and their team, they’re given all of the tools they need to make those decisions [themselves].
As we grow, we need to continue to ensure we have solid policies, procedures and processes in place while still making sure we’re allowing our onsite teams to make decisions. As we grow to 200,000 units and beyond this year, we want to keep the culture consistent and our goals moving us all in the right direction. We’re a big ship and we need to maintain the ability to be agile, allowing our teams to maneuver quickly.