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Michael Markus: A PARAGON of Maintenance Service

Michael MarkusCould your apartment community benefit from a property-specific preventative maintenance schedule and emergency response procedure that reduces and stabilizes expenses? How about an inventory tracking and ordering system that reduces maintenance and fuel expenses?  Those are just two of the innovations that have been spearheaded by Michael Markus, CAMT, of Cincinnati-based Access Property Management. They are also two big reasons why he won the PARAGON award for Certified Apartment Maintenance Technician of the Year at the 2014 National Apartment Association Education Conference & Exposition in Denver.

Prior to serving residents, Markus served our nation in the United States Marine Corps. He became a civilian in 2009, moving home to Ohio with his wife to start a family. His father-in-law, an independent rental owner in Cincinnati, offered him a maintenance position with Access Property Management. The rest is history:

NATIONAL APARTMENT ASSOCIATION: How has your military background helped you in your career?

MICHAEL MARKUS: It was definitely one of the better decisions I ever made. If I wasn't such a family-oriented individual, I would still be in the military actually. I loved it, and it certainly shaped what I do now. Every aspect of the military is about discipline. I was an administrator. I did a lot of computer-based work. Strangely enough, I also did a lot of customer service. Even Marines need to be served in their own little box. I was an honor grad coming out of boot camp. I was a Lance Corporal, which essentially means I got two promotions in the three months I was at boot camp. That put me in a leadership role right when I got out to the fleet, which is when you are actually working, so to speak. I ended up running a four-man office when I was 19-years-old. Everyone had been in that office a couple of years prior to me checking in. But the way my promotion schedule worked out, I was pretty much put in charge of that office and went on to recruiting in Pennsylvania after that. We actually covered 13 states, and I think we had 500 recruiters that we oversaw. This put me in a position to deal with a lot of upper-end officers, colonels and one-star generals. And that is a way to develop some ... uh ... tact, I guess! You're talking to people who can pretty much ruin your career with the dash of a pen! 

NAA: I can see where that would help with the customer service end of our industry.

MM: Absolutely. Your residents are essentially your masters in this industry. You have to keep them happy or else they go away. And if they go away, things usually don't end well. So, it was very beneficial to come from that into this and be in a position within my own company to weigh in on decisions. As a result, I've been able to make some positive changes.

NAA: One such positive change -- and this is one that I believe helped you win the NAA's PARAGON award -- was you developed a preventive maintenance schedule.  Can you talk about some of the components of that?

MM: Often times in this industry, you get so hung up on putting out the fires day-to-day that you forget the stupid, little things like making sure dryers are cleaned and the lint is gone, like making sure the roofs are inspected, like the caulking around your windows are getting inspected, and so forth. It started off as a Gmail preventive maintenance calendar with reminders. We've been slowly building on it to the point where we're running a full-service software platform that has been very beneficial for us in trying to get work orders done in a more effective manner. It's been a lot of work frankly, but our properties look as good as they ever have and hopefully we can continue to build on it.

NAA: You also developed an inventory tracking and ordering system.  How has that also improved operations?

MM: It's helped in that it has cut out a lot of those side trips to Home Depot and the various supply houses. Gas is around $4 a gallon in Cincinnati, and 15 miles here and 15 miles there adds up. Essentially what we did was take a look at what we use on a regular basis and started small. Staying on top of the five people who have a key to our supply room is my biggest pain in the rear. Things have a tendency to disappear.

NAA: What do you consider to be the favorite part of your job?

MM: I enjoy dealing with the residents, taking calls and helping people. When people call in and they have a problem, it's enjoyable to serve them. It's a good feeling to go into somebody's apartment home and take something that's not working properly or something that looks bad. And by the time you leave, it's working like it is supposed to work or looking like it is supposed to look. There's a certain satisfaction on the resident's part when they come home from work, the job has been done right and they know who did it.

NAA: What else do you like about the job?

MM: I really enjoy the transformation of properties. We've done a couple of complete rehabs where we've taken the shells of buildings where copper, drywall, and everything has been ripped out by vandals and transformed them into livable apartments. We contract out the major electrical and plumbing work, the window replacements, and the roofs. But the interior portion -- the flooring, the drywall, the counter tops, the sinks -- we did ourselves. It's fun to watch that transformation into a viable community that people enjoy living in.

NAA: What remains a challenge for you?

MM: Time management. My role is constantly developing, considering that we are a growing company. Our two primary partners are in their 60s and looking to retire. So, I'm sort of the "senior young guy," and I'm moving into more of a managerial role. There are constant phone calls and fires popping up that I need to deal with from contractors, from residents, from our maintenance staff. There's just always something going on, and managing all of that is tough.

NAA: In coming from the military into our industry, was there some advice given to you back then that has stuck with you?

MM: Always remember that everything is a work in progress. The day you feel you've conquered all problems and mastered all skills is probably the day you should retire. That's because the way our industry is now, with the technology and different building codes, you have to be on top of it all. Open your mind, be willing to listen to what's going on, and constantly educate yourself. That's probably the best advice I've ever gotten, and it started with taking over that four-man shop. The Chief Warrant Officer I had who was my boss was just phenomenal. He would sit down with me and go over all of my mistakes. Thankfully, at that young age, I was willing to sit there and listen to what he was telling me and correct myself.

By Teddy Durgin

Operations Insights