A lifelong coach, Tom Beaton’s calm and calculated approach both on and off the field will shape his year as NAA’s 2015 Chairman of the Board.
As draft days go, Tom Beaton was a first-round pick.
The former quarterback and Massachusetts native graduated from Tufts University in 1982 with a degree in economics and history, and spent the summer coaching high school football. Then he received a letter that would change everything.
Don Dolben, President of The Dolben Company and father of Beaton’s college roommate, Drew, asked if he had any interest in property management. Although there were no open positions at the time, Dolben reached out again in October with a job offer.
Beaton immediately shot from the sidelines to first string, taking on a small portfolio as Regional Property Manager. Five years later he was named Senior Property Administrator; the following year, Vice President of Property Management. It’s the same position he holds today, now known as Senior Vice President of Management.
“That job trajectory would never happen today,” Beaton admits. “Today someone with no experience would come in as an assistant property manager or leasing agent.”
Instead, Beaton has spent the past 30 years learning on the job—always cool, always patient, always able to see the whole field.
“Tom is incredibly deliberate, professional and calm, but he’s also competitive,” says Bill Wollinger, President & Chief Operating Officer of WinnResidential, who has known Beaton for over 20 years. “There’s an outward calm, but at the same time, he’s intense about achieving what he sets out to do.”
It’s a combination that Beaton will draw upon as 2015 NAA Chairman of the Board.
“I see myself as a coach and a mentor,” says Beaton, who counts membership growth, improved affiliate relations and a greater focus on the next generation of apartment industry professionals among his goals. “When we have a topic of discussion at Dolben, I look for everyone to provide their input and try to build a consensus. If there isn’t one I’m not afraid to make a decision, but my management style is inclusive—and it will remain that way at NAA.”
A Wicked Whirlwind
Massachusetts born and bred, Beaton grew up in Groveland, Mass.—a small town half an hour north of the city.
His father, Donald, owned a financial management business and taught accounting at the local college. His mother, Mildred, was a professor who taught secretarial sciences. Both instilled in Beaton and his four siblings the value of an education.
When Beaton wasn’t in school, he was playing sports. It was through football that he would meet his future wife, Ruth—the daughter of his coach who lived in the next town over.
In college, he quarterbacked an undefeated team with a style all his own.
“He wore big coke bottle glasses and the team called him ‘The Professor,’” says Drew Dolben. “We always used to say, ‘There goes Tom—No. 18 on the program, but No. 1 in our hearts.’ We’d tell that to the girls, too.”
After college Beaton went to work as an offensive coordinator for a high school football team. He knew the Dolben’s well, rooming with Drew for three years, but only had a base knowledge of the family business.
Regardless, Don saw something in Beaton that would translate well to property management.
“We were too busy having fun in college to really think about the future, but my father had the vision to bring in young, bright minds to grow the company,” Drew Dolben says. “Tom had been over our house quite a bit and knew the family well.”
Hired in October 1982, Beaton worked part-time at Dolben until football season ended. In 30 years at the same company, he says the best advice he’s ever received came from the man who hired him.
“Don said ‘we are in the people business,’” Beaton says. “Everything evolved around people. You have to attract talented people, train people and retain people.”
Beaton’s career has been shaped by that sentiment. Today he oversees 325 of Dolben’s 385 employees, putting them in a position to succeed.
“I empower my staff to take ownership of their positions,” Beaton says. “I provide guidance when needed, but I don’t micro-manage.”
Leader of the Pack
A lifelong proponent of continuing education, Beaton was involved with the Rental Housing Association (RHA) of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GREB) early in his career. In 1998 he served on RHA’s Board of Directors—the same year the association became an affiliate of NAA.
He and Deane Dolben, CAPS, went to the June conference in Las Vegas, Beaton says. “It was my first NAA event and my leadership at NAA naturally evolved from there.”
After serving as the 2001 President of RHA, Beaton took a more active role in NAA during Dolben’s 2004 Chairmanship. In the following years, he served as a Board Member for the Budget & Finance Committee, Governance Task Force, Education Committee and as Chairman of the Communications Advisory Board.
However, Beaton says his big break came in 2010 when Marc Rosenwasser, CAPS, asked him to chair the 2010 NAA Education Conference & Exposition.
“It was the biggest opportunity I’d been given,” Beaton says. “I’ll be forever grateful to Marc for enabling me to show what I could do.”
What Beaton could do, NAA soon discovered, was lead a team.
“Tom is the type of leader who brings you along rather than pushes you along,” says John Lafferty, Executive Director of RHA. “You always have a clear sense of where he is headed and why, and how being on board with that direction makes a lot of sense. The hallmarks of his leadership style are a high level of integrity, an expectation of excellence and collegial style that brings people together.”
Adds Wollinger, “Tom brings a great appreciation for this organization and is incredibly passionate about NAA, what it is, and what it can be.”
Under Beaton’s guidance, NAA made significant and well-received changes to its premier conference, eliminating the Saturday tradeshow and Saturday night party, and creating an Executive Forum—which invited top industry executives nationwide.
“We listened to the members and volunteers, built a consensus and executed our plan,” Beaton says.
When Beaton says he enjoys everything about his career, he means everything.
“I don’t even have a problem with budgeting,” he admits. “I like it all. I have an idea of what I’m going to accomplish and I usually do it, but there’s always something that comes up with marketing or maintenance or people. There’s no normal day and the best part is that it’s always changing.”
With 12,500 units throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, Beaton spends approximately 25 percent of his time walking Dolben’s properties. The remainder of his work week is spent in the office, often soliciting new third-party business.
As the company continues to expand, Beaton says the greatest challenge is making sure it’s a controlled growth.
“So many companies grow too quickly and they can no longer serve their clients and employees,” Beaton says. “We’ve grown from a small, family-owned company where I used to know everyone by name at all of the properties. Today, I don’t know everyone and that bothers me.”
A player’s coach and an employee’s boss, Beaton takes pride in mentoring the next generation of apartment industry professionals. Seven years ago his company instituted a management training program that takes promising college graduates like Beaton with no industry experience, offers them positions at the company and trains them appropriately.
“I spend a lot of time with these kids because I want to find out who they are and what they’re all about,” Beaton says.
A testament to Dolben’s commitment to continuing education, the company was also the first in the country to host its management meeting at the June conference. Beaton says the conference is the highlight of the year for his staff—75 of which attended this year’s conference—and helps attract and retain talent. Employees are also required to earn their appropriate NAAEI designations.
“To succeed, you must build a team,” he says. “That’s the most important thing. You must educate and have the right people in the right places. We’ve done that at Dolben and have a great group of people who are willing to help out whenever they are needed. This group also has a lot of fun.”
“As a college quarterback, Tom studied the playbook well,” Drew Dolben adds. “He transferred that intensity to work. He understands tactics and the long-range plan, and does a fantastic job of creating a team of very loyal people who enjoy working hard for us. And he’s a lot of fun to be with.”
The Beatons of Beantown
Family comes first; and, in the Beaton household, you’ll likely find them on the field.
As the father of four to Tommy (27), Lyndsay (25), Shannon (21) and Patrick (17), Beaton has spent nearly all of his free time running back and forth to his kids’ games.
In addition to cheering on his children over the years, Beaton has also coached them in everything from basketball to baseball and football. His wife—whom he dated in high school before reconnecting with after college and marrying in 1986—played college field hockey. She has coached at the high school where she teaches AP psychology for the past 20 years.
“Sports are a big part of our lives,” says Beaton, who formed a youth league in West Newbury to bring all of the recreation sports under one umbrella. Until recently, he served as President for 20 years.
“My parents always gave back to the community and were always involved in a non-profit organization,” Beaton says. “Today, my brothers and sisters do the same.”
All within 10 minutes of one another—Beaton’s 92-year-old mother in the same house he grew up in—his family remains very close, he says.
“The grandchildren have gone to school together and played on the same teams, and we’re together for all of the holidays and many weekend events,” he says. “You can never truly get away from work but my family recognizes the job responsibilities I have, and when I’m home, I try to do a good job of being home.”
When the diehard Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics fan isn’t at the office or on the sidelines, he enjoys taking at least one big trip each year with his wife and children to see a different part of the world.
Still, don’t expect Beaton to slow down any time soon in favor of a globetrotting retirement.
“I think it’s important, even for your mental health, to work late in life,” says Beaton, who likes the change of seasons and nearby family too much to leave Massachusetts. “My parents did it and I see myself doing the same.”
Yet for now, all energy is on the task at hand.
“I didn’t set out and say ‘I’m going to become the Chairman one day,’” Beaton says. “I’m glad. It gave me the opportunity to relax and let it transpire naturally.”
Beaton says it’s the professionalism—of both NAA and the industry as a whole—that’s changed the most since he first started.
“NAA evolution’s has been substantial,” Beaton says. “There were a lot of financial issues within the association in the late ‘90s. Today finances are not the sole focus; now, it’s about meeting the future needs of the association and continuing to serve our members and manage our growth.”
In the coming year, Beaton says his No. 1 goal is growing NAA’s membership from 7.5 million units to 10 million units.
“It has to be the top priority because it all revolves around membership,” he says. “More members help us continue growing, strengthen our legislative voice and create additional NAAEI educational opportunities.”
Next on the agenda: Improved affiliate relations through AE brainstorming, regional liaisons and CAMP (NAA's new centralized affiliate management platform). Beaton says affiliates and Association Executives are the lifeblood of the association. His role is to work with them, grow the association and serve its members.
Finally, Beaton says NAA must look to the next generation of industry professionals.
“We need to bring them in to the fold because they’re our future,” says Beaton, who aims to offer young professionals more education opportunities and committee positions through the Next Gen Committee. “We’re all getting gray. We have to make sure they feel prepared and welcome.”
Though no small task, Wollinger says Beaton is a man with a plan.
“Tom’s demeanor comes with a degree of patience that allows him to deal with the incredible politics and complexities that come with any large organization,” Wollinger says. “In spite of all the clutter, he really gets things done. There may be a tornado going on inside, but on the outside, he either leads or crafts a solution without any sense of being overwhelmed. I can’t remember a time I’ve ever seen him go crazy like the rest of us. He just takes it in and manages those times in an effective way.”
Long-time friend and service partner Phil Bogucki also describes Beaton as a true family man. "Not a conversation goes by that Tom does not speak with pride and joy about his wife, Ruth, or his children and their accomplishments," he says.
Beaton says it all comes back to treating people exactly how you’d want to be treated.
“My No. 1 priority is acting with integrity, doing what you say you’re going to do and treating everyone with dignity and respect,” he says. “It’s all about loyalty, a strong work ethic and having fun. I’m the same person at home as I am at Dolben and NAA. I think you just have to be yourself, have core values in place as a person, and be consistent. My style is the same no matter where I am.”
By Lauren Boston
Lauren Boston is NAA’s Staff Writer and Manager of Public Relations.