With knowledge and resolve forged from decades climbing the industry ladder, Lowry readies himself to implement NAA’s strategic plan as 2018 Chairman of the Board.
Jeff Lowry says his is a typical “bootstrap story.” To others it might be considered working your way up or paying your dues.
However Lowry’s nearly 30-year odyssey up the ladder in the apartment industry is classified, it is impressive.
It started in 1979, when Lowry was 25. After trying other professions, the Vietnam-era vet, took a job at an apartment community. The work was hard, mowing yards by day under the sweltering Texas sun and cleaning out messy apartments by night as a porter, but Lowry had found a career.
Soon, he would embark on a journey that would not only put him in charge of operating 12,000-plus apartments, but also place him at the helm of NAA. Over the next year, Lowry will draw upon that wealth of diverse experience to help NAA launch its strategic plan.
The Winding Journey
Lowry is a native Tennessean from Manchester, a small town located halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga on Interstate 24.
“Growing up in Middle Tennessee, the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, afforded me the pleasure and opportunity of living in a rural setting and being an outdoorsman,” says Lowry, a Boy Scout who attained the rank of Eagle Scout. “I also went through the Boy Scout program which enhanced the opportunity to participate and learn outdoor skills while in the program to the point of obtaining the Eagle Scout rank. Fishing, hunting and camping were a part of my life.”
That passion has never diminished and is something he shares with his sons, Ryan and Tyler, and his wife of 33 years, Kristy.
“It is relaxing for him and it’s a place where he finds peace and solitude,” says Rick Graf, President and CEO of Pinnacle. “That shapes how he conducts his business. He understands what is important. It shapes how he treats people.”
Lowry’s love of the great outdoors, faith and family played a large role in molding the executive he became today. But his humble start in the business, as a porter for an independent owner and real estate broker named Pat Garrett, also made a difference.
“Jeff has a real passion and heart for people who work at all levels of an organization,” Graf says. “He wisely understands that it is not the people at the top who do the work. It is the people at the properties.”
Not only does Lowry appreciate that, but David Marcinkowski, a Partner at Madera Residential, says that background earns him credibility with employees throughout the organization.
“Because of his experience, he can sit there and relate to their day-to-day lives and what they are up against,” he says. “He is able to see the big picture—not just the executive side of things. He is able to see it all the way down to the front-line troops.”
Making the Climb
After starting as porter, Lowry moved into a lead maintenance role and then became a building manager.
He then took a journey through the real estate business during the boom-and-bust 1980s and 90s, working as an independent contractor, real estate appraiser, becoming a Texas real estate broker in 1992 as well as a property supervisor in retail, office and industrial property management.
“From there, I worked at a couple of companies in an executive leadership role as a Senior Vice President,” Lowry says. Lowry landed at Madera Residential in 2012, starting off as President of Operations before becoming COO last April. The growing Texas-focused company has 12,296 units (1,080 of which are fee-
“It is easy to focus on the big picture,” says Marcinkowski, who met Lowry through the Lubbock Apartment Association (LAA). “Jeff is able to focus on the details that you need to do and make sure those are a part of our everyday operations.”
Lowry quickly made his mark at Madera—a company whose portfolio stretches across the Lone Star State—with his mentorship skills.
“Jeff is all about helping people to develop personally,” Marcinkowski says. “He has helped to foster a culture and environment that allows us to build from the bottom up.”
Specifically, Lowry focused on developing regional supervisors and turning managers into business operators.
“Jeff understands the fact that you have to run an apartment community as a business and the people on the front lines need to be looking at it as a business and how everything comes together, not just at their specific role,” Marcinkowski says. “Jeff does a good job creating a role where people understand that.”
A Service Mentality
As Lowry moved up the corporate ladder, he became more involved in the Lubbock Apartment Association (LAA). He started when a director at the association asked him to teach an NAA Education Institute (NAAEI) Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) course for managers.
“I found it was successful so I began teaching CAM courses on a regular basis for our local association and from that, I taught the first CAMT [Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technicians] course in Lubbock in 1993,” he says. “It was a very hands-on course at that time.”
Lowry soon moved from the classroom to the board room, joining LAA’s Board of Directors in 1995. Since, he has been a constant presence either serving as a voting member or as an advisor, which he has done the past two or three years. In 1999 and 2006, he was LAA’s Board President.
Lowry branched out in 2005, becoming a board member at The Texas Apartment Association (TAA), later serving as its President from 2011 to 2012. Nationally, he was an NAA Regional Vice President and served two years as NAAEI President.
“When I finished up my NAAEI role, I became an officer for NAA,” Lowry says. “I have been moving up this ladder for the past five years. I have been blessed beyond measure.”
Lowry’s involvement means a lot at Madera.
“It is a people business,” Marcinkowski says. “We manage people as much as we manage apartments. Jeff’s relationships help to open doors, whether it is our product service relationships, the route we go as far as partnerships or finding new hires or people who fit into our system.”
Lowry does not mince words when asked what his biggest priority is for NAA as its Chairman in 2018.
“I want to focus on getting our strategic plan implemented this first year,” he says. “[Our volunteer leadership] formulated it, put it together, and it has been approved. Now, we have to implement it.”
Lowry’s goal is to identify the stakeholders, build support for the roll out and align the strategic goals with NAA’s vision and culture.
“The roll out has to be thoughtful,” Lowry says. “We have to implement it in the first year because the year will help determine the effectiveness of the strategic plan. We have to work on getting our stakeholders involved.”
If past is prologue, John Mitchell, Executive Director of the Apartment Association of Tarrant County, has no doubt that his friend will deftly manage the rollout.
“When Jeff sees a goal, he’s is going to push through and do everything possible to create coalitions and reach those goals,” he says. “He was one of the first people to graduate from the NAA Leadership Lyceum and helped propel that program into one that has touched hundreds of lives across the nation.”
While implementing the strategic plan is the goal, Lowry knows it cannot distract from other core tasks.
“NAA still has many other things to accomplish,” Lowry says. “The three-legged stool of education, legislation and advocacy has to be focused on at the same time we are implementing a new strategic plan.”
In this mid-term national election year, Lowry knows that the legislative leg of that stool cannot be ignored.
Heading the legislative agenda are tax reform, issues with rent control and the proliferation of local and state government intrusion into the apartment industry, Lowry says. “We must keep our eye on that,” he says.
With his NAAEI background, and a “day job” as the head of operations, Lowry also has an acute knowledge of the labor shortage facing the industry.
“We must continue to make people aware of the career opportunities in our industry as well as educating those who work in it through NAAEI’s programs,” he says.
With oversight for the roll out of the strategic plan, NAA’s other core responsibilities and the operations at Madera Residential, Lowry will remain busy in 2018. And Graf, who became good friends with Lowry the first time they met several years ago while serving on TAA’s Executive Committee, is confident in his colleague’s abilities.
“Our relationship goes beyond business,” Graf says. “We counseled each other through some very difficult times. I am very proud of him. I know he will do a great job.”
Les Shaver, Senior Manager of Content for NAA