Recently, we sat down with James A. Burwell, MBA, CAM, an award-winning property management professional based in Jackson, MS., to get his thoughts on earning an NAAEI credential. 

James recently joined VineBrook Homes LLC as a Portfolio Manager, after serving as a Multi-Site Property Manager at Belhaven Residential for almost five years where he managed over 450 multifamily and single-family units. He specializes in strategic planning, leadership development, and is devoted to cultivating strategic relationships with stakeholders while championing organizational change. In other words, James is a people person.

James is a recipient of the Alexandra Jackiw Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship — earmarked to assist diverse candidates with attaining designations. We couldn’t be more pleased to share his story  – we know you’ll be inspired. 

James, let’s start with what led you to a career in property management.

Well, my transition from retail to property management was fueled by personal loss. I’m a Southern boy, so there are very few things we love more than our mothers. And, in 2013, my mother passed away and I took it incredibly hard. 

I began to think about my career and the amount of time I spent away from my family. I felt remorse for not spending as much time with her as I could have. 

For almost 10 years, I worked in several Walgreens stores and trained numerous employees across the country. At that time, Walgreens was opening a new store every 18 hours so I was on the road all the time and I loved my job. I knew all my customers by name and I connected with each of them on a personal level. I had a very fulfilling career in retail.

But, one year after my mother passed away, I quit my job and spent the next year soul searching and spending time with my wife and son. About six months into my sabbatical, we were driving back from Disney World. My wife was driving and I was in the backseat with my son. She said, “I think it’s time for you to go back to work.”  Knowing I didn’t want to go back into retail, she encouraged me to think about what I enjoyed most in life. My response was, “You know I’m a people person and I don’t want to be stuck in a cubicle!”

On the 12-hour ride home, I explored job sites in search of the perfect job. I came across a property management job and, after reading the job description, decided this is the job for me; helping people find their new home fulfills a basic human need and I couldn’t think of anything more enjoyable or rewarding. 

Why was it so important to get a credential?

My mom was an educator and she instilled a desire for knowledge that I have carried with me throughout my career. When I was at Walgreens, I wanted to be a great leader so I got my MBA. 

I knew if I wanted to become an expert in this field and be recognized as an industry leader, earning a CAM credential was a must.

Also, it’s universally recognized, and it shows other people that I’m committed to my profession.

How has having a credential helped you in your career?

I’ve received promotions and salary increases. And, having a CAM has opened doors for me that wouldn’t have been possible without it. I have a desire to keep moving up and I’ve already started working on my next credential, CAPS.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about earning a credential?

Just do it. Believe in yourself and take the next step – it’s a no brainer. The courses are extremely relevant and it will give you the tools you need to better execute at your job. There are so many opportunities for growth, and I think it’s essential to be students of our industry.

Any other thoughts on what it takes to be successful in this industry?

I was raised by a single mother who taught me the importance of treating everyone with respect and dignity. She taught me to speak to people and call them by name when you meet them. She would say, “You may be the only person to call their name, and it makes them feel like they are somebody.” We could be in a store and if she saw a student from 30 years prior, she always knew his or her name – and the grade she gave them! My grandad always told me to have a firm handshake. These two pieces of advice have served me well in my career. I want to be a good example in life and on the job — it’s how I try to conduct myself every day.

Click here to learn more about how you can advance your career in property management with Visto.