Innovation . . . it’s become a somewhat over-used word in business. A recent Wired article even referred to it as the “buzzword of the decade,” becoming “the canned response of executives, politicians and educators to the question, ‘What do we need to be successful?’”
Waterton is a notable exception to the buzzword mentality, however, beginning with the fact that they don’t just do apartments. Their portfolio includes nearly 18,000 units of residential real estate in major markets throughout the U.S., and 13 hotels including brands such as Aloft, Sheraton, Westin, Hyatt and Marriott.
CEO, Chairman and Co-Founder David Schwartz has a lot to say about innovation, both within Waterton and in the multifamily industry. “Multifamily in general has been slow to embrace innovation compared to other industries. In our organization, we feel strongly about trying new things and the potential that new technologies offer by way of improving productivity, and customer service.”
“We’ve seen first-hand how quickly the hospitality industry adopted innovations such as keyless entry and single-click reservations – could you imagine if we could do that with a lease?” Schwartz continues. “Ironically, an apartment resident can list their unit instantly on Airbnb with one click, but leasing an apartment still takes days or weeks, with endless amounts of paperwork. As an industry, multifamily is behind the times.”
This is why Waterton leadership is so passionate about taking the lead on innovation, not only internally, but also throughout the industry. So much so, that they’ve made significant investments and have a seat on the board of Elmspring, an accelerator for real estate startups located at 1871 in Chicago – the home of over 400 early-stage, high-growth digital startups.
“It’s important that people in our industry support this type of new technology focused on real estate,” says Schwartz, “so that we find the Mobile Doorman’s of the world in their early development and help them. Whether it’s capital, professional advice, fundraising, coding, we need to be vested in helping move great new tech forward.”
Waterton also has an internal Innovation Council to foster ideas and while Schwartz acknowledges that there’s nothing novel about such a group, he feels it’s important to have a “bottom-up strategy; the best ideas often come from the people at the ground level. We have a diversified group of participants from every walk of the company, as well as leadership to promote some thought starters.”
The approach to the Innovation Council is also in keeping with the Waterton passion for utilizing technology. They leverage an employee portal powered by Ezassi to share, comment on and track ideas. As Schwartz explains, “My first real estate job was in a hotel, and we had an ‘idea box’ where the employees could place their written ideas for improvements. We simply took this concept and recreated it using an online portal, doing this has greatly accelerated the development of some really interesting ideas. For example, we bolted onto the Mobile Doorman app a way to apply an Uber-style rating from the resident on work orders. "
Also born out of the hotel business is the trademarked concept of “Resitality™,” which integrates Waterton’s unique expertise as managers of both residential and hospitality properties. “We took our hotel operating platform and merged it with residential which created the genesis of Resitality™,” Schwartz explains. “When you stay at a hotel, you expect certain property standards surrounding everything from check in/check out procedures, to lobby appearance and scent, to food presentation, you name it. You know what to expect when you stay at a Westin and that’s why you choose that hotel. Our industry has massive potential to embrace this, and that’s what Resitality™ is all about. We want our hotel guests to have a home-like experience, and our residents to have a hotel-like experience. It’s the convergence of the best in residential and hospitality. “
Utilizing the best of what the hospitality industry has to offer also extends to sourcing and placing talent within Waterton, where roughly 1,000 of the organization’s 1,600 employees are in their hotels. “Moving talent around that are hospitality-trained is an enormous benefit,” according to Schwartz, “and we believe that service-culture background is phenomenal for multifamily and easy to transplant.” The company has also developed a training module for multifamily that is based on hospitality training methodologies and authored by professor of hospitality Dr. Ali Green, PhD. “This education piece is critical for us, and we are in the early stages of tracking a variety of areas including rent growth, our Satisfacts surveys, reputation management metrics and others to show that the Resitality™ model makes a difference in multifamily. These are the things we do in hospitality, we’re simply leveraging this on our properties.”
While Waterton is very much in the business of innovating and elevating how multifamily owners and operators think about our segment or real estate, they are also very focused on the community and giving back. As Schwartz points out, “Our Vice Chairman and Co-Founder Peter Vilim spends a great deal of his time on leading Waterton’s community outreach and philanthropy efforts – a longtime passion.”
“We have a long history of being involved in the community and growing our philanthropic strategy as a company in many ways. For example, we offer two extra days of Volunteer Time Off (VTO) to our employees to spend time giving back to the community. We also have a company-wide Volunteer Day each year – last year we painted and helped landscape at a local Chicago school. Our team loves these events, and it gives us all an opportunity to personally give back together.” Schwartz believes their philanthropic programs particularly resonate with millennial team members, and help to attract great talent. “We give a lot of money away, and it’s very rewarding to be able to do that, and to be a part of that.”
Waterton is a real estate investor and property management company with a focus on U.S. multifamily apartments and hospitality properties. Founded in 1995, Waterton executes value add strategies and manages a national portfolio of multifamily and hospitality properties on behalf of institutional investors, family offices and financial institutions. Waterton manages its investments through wholly owned property management subsidiaries. Waterton is privately held by its co-founders and is headquartered in Chicago with regional offices throughout the United States. Currently, Waterton’s portfolio includes over $4.5 billion in assets including approximately 18,000 multifamily units and 13 hotels.
We here at Mobile Doorman couldn’t be prouder to be one of those start-up tech companies Waterton has chosen to support!