Building the Future – Michael R. Bottos

Building the Future – Michael R. Bottos

We’ve probably all been there. We’ve been dismissed or discounted in our early years in business due to our lack of experience, and we’ve all felt the resultant self-doubt and the drain on our levels of confidence.

That is a dynamic that Michael R. Bottos, CPM®, would like to change. Happily, he is in a great position to do so. Bottos is president and COO of 1st American Management Co. in Valparaiso, Indiana. But that’s not all. He is also a member of the IREM Next Gen Advisory Board and president-elect of his local chapter, all positions that can influence the mentorship of young professionals.

Professional growth within this industry, any industry, really, “is partly a matter of advocating for young professionals,” says the 37-year-old Bottos, who gained his CPM two years ago. “It really comes down to just working with them and making them feel like someone is listening, that they’re as important as those who have been around for 20 or 30 years.”

He cites IREM’s recent Global Summit in Las Vegas as a case in point. “We invited college students to our Next Gen Advisory board meeting,” he says. “We tried to get them actively involved in the meeting, and who better to ask what we need to do as an organization to get young people involved than the young people that were sitting there?”

That sort of outreach is evident at the local level as well. Bottos reports that at the Northern Indiana Chapter, “We’re trying to find ways to engage local high schools and colleges to promote property management as a career path. It seems that most people just fall into management rather than targeting it as a career. We hope to change that.” It should be noted that Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, has a property management program, and Bottos says the chapter is looking forward to working more closely with them.

Engagement requires a bit of thinking outside the box. Rather than subjecting chapter newcomers (and importantly, interested outsiders) to “another luncheon discussion,” the chapter recently hosted an outing to a sort of bowling alley on steroids, featuring such additional activities as go-karts and ninja-style obstacle courses.

Engagement outside the box applies as well to 1st American. But first, a little history. Bottos came to the company as a part-timer when he was 16, and pretty much learned the business from the ground up. (He began as a lifeguard at a community pool managed by the firm.) In January 2021, he and his long-time coworker and CFO bought the firm. Today, the portfolio consists of about 15,000 residential units–mostly condo associations and HOAs–and approximately two million square feet of commercial.

Guiding the firm through both the latter stages of the pandemic and one of the worst talent shortages in recent history was probably his biggest career challenge, Bottos says, and the area most in need of talent is maintenance. “No matter how good a property manager or asset manager you might be,” he says, “without someone to call when there’s a leak or a toilet overflowing, it doesn’t matter.” That a talented maintenance tech can earn as much as a property manager is some of the messaging he wants to get out through his IREM connections.

He adds that the dual challenges of early ownership “couldn’t have been any more difficult.” But he has found solace in his talks with other CPMs, particularly in Las Vegas. “Whether you’re in Northwest Indiana, the East Coast or West Coast, people are struggling with employees.”

In his own shop, he is seeing the average age drop as more boomers mull their retirement options. In what was a company population leaning toward 50- and 60-year-olds, “We are now heavily weighted in our management department between 25 and 40,” he says. (Three other managers in the shop, by the way, also have their CPMs.)

Therein lies the opportunity to tweak culture, and it is where the issue of engagement reenters the picture–and in a way that truly defines out-of-the-box thinking: “We had a company picnic in September, and we had a mobile axe-throwing station set up,” he says. “It was great to watch the 20-somethings and 60-year-olds launching axes at boards, and everybody had a good time. We all took our property management frustrations out on those boards.”

Closer to home, 1st American emphasizes flexibility in work routines. “We want people to go on their kids’ field trips,” he says, “and as much as I hate the term, we want them to develop a healthy work/life balance. If we don’t do that sort of thing internally and make it a fun and compassionate place to work, if we don’t take advantage of innovative thinking, this won’t be a place people want to come to.”

He has seen first-hand how the younger generation can reverse-mentor more senior professionals in such issues as increasing efficiency and effectiveness through technology. But he adds that the biggest lesson to be learned is that healthier work/life balance.

“The younger generations will get the work done, but they can also show us there is a balance. We’re trying to take some of that in to help change our company culture and make sure we’re providing an ideal workplace.”

In other words, the leadership at 1st American is listening.