Rob Reynolds | Crain's Tampa Bay

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Rob Reynolds

Background:  

Avesta is a Tampa-based real estate investment and management firm that oversees 10,000 apartment homes throughout Florida, Texas and Colorado. The vertically integrated company has handled acquisitions, and property, construction and portfolio management. For the past two years, Avesta has been ranked among the top 20 best places to work by Fortune magazine and Great Place to Work.

The Mistake:

In the early days, we didn’t value virtue over talent.

Avesta started in 2010, but we got into real estate in 2005 and started buying three- and four-unit buildings in the Northeast. And in 2007, we initially took the approach of “get someone who’s going to get the job done at the right price.”

We learned over time that that’s not the way to go. You have to go with virtue over talent. I remember hiring a gentleman who ran our maintenance. Now he had a tough background. That was clear. It was not clear [whether] he had gotten past his background. He knew how to fix things, and he knew enough people that could jump on the job with him and assist him to get vacant apartment homes ready to rent.

When [my brother and I] were there that summer, he was reliable. He got there on time and got the job done. But at the end of the summer, we had to leave. And after we left, we would come back on weekends. [It turned out that] he probably spent five days figuring out how to steal from us, and he did so successfully and cleverly.

By the time we discovered it, he had stolen a lot of money. And it was just devastating. We just couldn’t believe it.

After that, we were in a position where we have to hire someone to do maintenance. The next person didn’t do so much stealing but would lie all the time. He wasn’t fixing the things he said he was fixing. And that really put us in a bad position with our residents. They started distrusting us.

We realized over time that you can’t put a price tag on trust. They’re wearing the Avesta shirt and if they do something dishonorable, that’s our brand. That is Avesta to that family, so you can’t compromise.

We realized over time that you can’t put a price tag on trust.

The Lesson:

What we have evolved into now is we have a strict hiring process and a centralized HR system. They’re going to get the right person for the team, but they’re not going to compromise on virtue.

Today our prospects have to speak with a number of people, and we ask them a few, very pointed questions. For example, our director of hiring asks them, “Who are the five most influential people in your life and why?”  He has them explain each, and it tells you where people’s values lie.

If you say, “I admire my dad because he made a ton of money and he’s a millionaire,” that’s just really not the value we’re looking for. I hope everybody can achieve the kind of wealth they’re looking for, but for it to be your top aspiration, it’s not going to work here.

We’ve also developed a lot of training inside our company – in terms of the why and not just the how and what. 

The main lesson was to have a defined set of values for the company. Because once you do, you can screen for whether or not a potential teammate is going to be inspired by that. When you’re building a team, you’re going to want to have people that are going to be willing to march in the same direction.

Follow Avesta on Twitter at @AvestaCommunity.

Photo courtesy of Rob Reynolds

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email nryan@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Tampa Bay.