Never Stop Learning – An Interview with Ronald Harrington CAM, CALP

With undergraduate and graduate degrees in residential property management plus two NAAEI credentials (CAM and CALP), Ronald Harrington is a highly educated property professional. He recently started as the Multifamily Sales Trainer for Northland, and we recently talked to him about the importance of continuing education and how it has influenced his career in multifamily.

How did you get started in multifamily?

When going through the undergrad program at Ball State, I thought I was going to be the general manager of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Who doesn’t love the lights in Vegas? So I got a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and food management with a minor in residential property management and started my career in hotels. But after about a year and a half, there was a bad snowstorm in Indianapolis, and I had to work the front desk for 30 hours straight. I thought to myself: This is what Vegas will be like, and I don’t know that I want a job where I might have to work 30 hours straight.

So I headed to Sacramento, where a friend of mine lived, to see if I could land a job there. I was interviewing with Horizon Realty Advisors, and the manager asked me to give them a tour. I had never leased before, but I had just passed CALP, so I thought, I can do this; I know how to always be “closing”. Obviously, it worked because they offered me the job.

On my move across the country, there was one moment when I wondered whether I was making a mistake getting into multifamily when all I knew was hotels. Just then, I got an automated call informing me that the national student housing conference was right around the corner. I had never gotten that phone call before, so I took it as a sign that I was heading in the right direction – and haven’t looked back!

What has your career in multifamily looked like?

I started as a leasing agent, then became an assistant manager and manager of a property the company bought at the University of Notre Dame. Then Ball State called and said they had this mansion called Maplewood Learning Lab. It’s an old mansion with nine bedrooms that was rented out to Indiana University medical clerkship students. They wanted a strong graduate assistant to come back and lead this new start-up venture, so they paid for me to get my master’s in residential property management. It went so well; they now own and help run a student housing community on campus.

How have credentials been helpful in your career?

The nice thing about going through the Ball State program is CALP and CAM are part of your curriculum. As an undergrad, I never thought I would be going into multifamily; it was just a nice-to-have credential. But if I hadn’t passed CALP at that time, I don’t think I would be in multifamily. I wouldn’t have understood the leasing process well enough to wow that manager into taking a risk on a boy from Indiana with no experience in multifamily.

When I was getting my graduate degree, we sat for CAM, and part of my coursework was to help teach it to the undergraduates. Dr. Earhart prepared the PowerPoint slides, and I led the classroom activities, which allowed me to hone my learning and development skills. Now when I train people, I can easily explain the process, like breaking down the financials and cash flow.

Why do you recommend credentials to other property management professionals?

First, I think you should always invest in yourself because that’s what’s going to get you to the next level. [Employers] are going to look at the value your credentials add to the company. They know you have a broader understanding of what it means to run a successful property.

Another great thing about credentials is you continue to maintain them. We just went through a pandemic, so we know things are constantly changing. To maintain my credentials, I have to continue learning about and predicting new trends. That shows people I’m invested in this industry. It’s not just something to hold me over until the next industry or the next better-paying job comes along.

What is it that gets you out of bed every morning to come to work in multifamily?

The people I work with and the training I get to provide. I remember early on in my career, I felt really overwhelmed, and my boss said, “Well, you have to speak up. We can help.” So now I make sure I come in every day ready to help my staff. And when a leasing agent has that moment when they finally get it, I know I was a part of that experience. That’s what makes me feel accomplished and excited to come to work and do it again.

What’s next for your continuing education?

Now that I’m working with a portfolio of properties, I’m super excited to get the CAPS certificate, so that I can see the big picture. I want to encourage all our employees to get their NAAEI credentials. Northland offers continuing education reimbursement and I think it’s important for employees to know that we want to invest in their careers.