By Tammi Sulliman, Camana Bay Times
For Linda Podlaski, the secretary’s desk was where she thought her career would begin and end, while she focused on being a mother.
However, a call she received a few short months after leaving her job to raise her son set her on a different path. Three decades later, she is the Vice President Property Management for Dart Real Estate.
“I had recently quit working at AT&T Paradyne in Florida,” said Podlaski. “I was very surprised to receive the call asking me to come back to do a job I didn’t know much about. They needed help with the operating expense reconciliations for their 62 field office leases. They didn’t have anybody to do it so I came in and they showed me how to do it.”
Striking a balance between learning a new trade and raising her son became the new norm for Podlaski. “I was working part-time as my son was still a toddler. I was able to save a significant amount of money for the company by reviewing the expenses and catching the mistakes before the invoices were paid.” She took on more responsibilities within the Facilities Department and ended up working for what she calls a “pure property management company.”
“I learned with my feet in the fire.”
FROM THE U.S. TO CAYMAN
Podlaski’s training in the United States would prepare her to lead the diverse 41-person Property Management and Facilities teams at Dart Real Estate.
“I love it. It’s such a varied job,” she said. “You deal with tenants and you work to solve their problems. You touch everything, from leasing, accounting, management, tenant improvements, to helping with construction design for the benefit of the tenant, and for maintenance efficiencies.”
It’s a job she calls fun. “You never know what the day is going to bring. No matter how long I’ve been in it, I learn something new every day. Don’t get me wrong, you can pull your hair out some days, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
For Podlaski and her team, their daily duties involve one key component – a heavy focus on customer service. A typical day begins with the Facilities and Property Management teams walking the property at Camana Bay to ensure everything is working as it should. Daily logs are checked for any overnight issues that may have cropped up so they can be addressed immediately.
“We have constant contact with tenants about issues they are having specifically or checking in just to say hello. The team is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and we place a huge focus on customer service, making sure the tenants know we are there for them in trying to resolve their issues quickly,” said Podlaski. Property Management looks after all of Dart’s properties on Grand Cayman, with Camana Bay being the largest.
“Camana Bay is unlike any other property on Grand Cayman and I would argue anywhere else in the region,” said Podlaski. “We want to make sure our tenants know the service they receive matches, and even exceeds, the money they pay to be with us. We strive to keep lease rates competitive with market prices and still provide excellence in property management. The choice our tenants have made to pick us as a landlord is one we value immensely.”
Podlaski points to a past situation where, during the weekend, a leak in a washroom flooded the third floor of a tenant’s space. “The leak was found Monday morning and we worked quickly to repair it. Operations resumed the next day and our team worked nights and weekends to fix the damage caused by the flooding. We don’t normally get the opportunity to spring into action as we do a good job with routine and scheduled maintenance, but in the event we are needed, we are always available and ready to move,” said Podlaski.
Podlaski notes Camana Bay is much different from other properties she has managed. She credits her team with paying close attention to detail to uphold the standard of service.
“It’s a very unique property and there are so many moving parts,” she said. “It’s not an office park or a shopping centre. It’s a destination. I always say it is a national park in a lot of ways because it is used by the community. We have a large influx of people here all of the time with up to 2,500 visits on a typical day. Doing the little things right takes both time and effort, neither of which can be discounted.”
It’s not always a smooth ride for Podlaski and her team. “Parking is the number one issue that we are actively working on. It’s not a matter of parking shortage, but the distribution of space. As Camana Bay continues to grow and develop, we know it’s a situation that must be addressed and we have a plan we are announcing and preparing to implement soon.”
Making sure the tenant’s needs are addressed, including parking space, is always centre stage.
“As we continue developing this beautiful space we call Camana Bay, we have to consider our customer’s needs and in that process, we need to make sure we are not sacrificing functionality for design.
“It’s up to us who deal with the day-to-day tasks and to go to executive management or the design team to ensure they keep in mind what is most important to our tenants. The end result: thoughtful, groundbreaking design that benefits everyone,” said Podlaski.
Dealing with daily issues or complaints is not always easy on the Property Management and Facilities teams. Podlaski says she is acutely aware that positive affirmations are necessary to keep the morale high.
“The focus for us is customer service and that means not only making it better for the tenants, but also making sure that we the providers of that service are happy to do so. We do a lot of training and we have built a culture of helpfulness and support. It takes all of us, working collaboratively, to be successful in our jobs and to ensure the highest level of customer service is provided.”
For Podlaski, the creation of opportunities and growth for her team is a function of success. “We continuously give people opportunities to learn and build a career path. Two of my team members came to me in the last month and said they want to make property management their career. I can tell you that warms an old property manager’s heart,” she said smiling. Her mission includes ensuring Caymanians are receiving the training they need to be part of the Property Management and Facilities teams.
“I see this as my way of giving back to the country,” she said. “I didn’t really come here for ‘just a job’ because Property Management is more of a passion for me. Being able to teach others the skills needed to become a successful commercial property manager, watching them grow and seeing that ‘aha!’ moment when it all starts to click, is a joy for me. It is my definition of success at this stage in my career.”
Podlaski organises weekly outdoor lunches and the occasional Friday dance party as part of team and morale building. “My goal is for everyone to want to come to work every day,” she said. “I want them to be happy because happy people produce.”
She said every member of the Property Management and Facilities teams needs to play an active role.
“This is a team, not a one-man show. I can teach you everything, but if you don’t have the initiative to learn and the drive to do better and to provide the level of service that is expected from Dart, it fails,” she said. “I am lucky that everyone on the teams understands that notion and comes to work giving their best to the company and the tenant every day.”