Written by: Matrix360
“Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.”- Helen Keller
Helen Keller’s words continue to be the epitome of the mindset of leaders who continue to fuel our drive towards excellence at Matrix360. Helen’s courage, conviction and determination is reflected in our next leader in our X-Cellence Leadership Series, Karen Walker, Director of Tenant Experience at Hullmark.
Karen is an experienced Property Management Director who is skilled in property management and operations, while leading a team of professionals to improve the tenant experience. Her knowledge with sustainable practices continues to deliver exceptional services to all stakeholders.
The first step in any career development path is exposure, followed by access, and the mindset of curiosity to tap into knowledge. The pathway to career success consists of a multi-pronged paradigm, as can be seen shown through our Matrix Driven Model™:
Moreover, it is your mindset of curiosity, the ability to think big, and stepping out of the limitations of your comfort zone that will put you on a pathway towards excellence. Karen’s story is reflective of this and we are honoured to share her story with you.
Karen Walker, Senior Director, Tenant Experience at Hullmark
Where are you from and what is your cultural background?
My parents were born and raised in Jamaica, and after some time in the UK, we all came to Canada in the late 1970’s. I was born here in the GTA. My ethnic background is Jamaican Irish Scottish.
What inspired you to work in the field that you are today?
While working for a developer in Mississauga as an Executive Assistant, I was looking for a new challenge so I volunteered to manage a small retail plaza we had built recently. I had no experience in managing a property before but I figured it out as I went along in the process. I asked questions and expanded my learning. I enjoyed managing that property so much that I decided to pursue Property Management as a career path. When I did eventually decide to leave that company, it was for a Commercial Property Manager position with a larger firm. What I love about Property Management is that there is a constant opportunity to solve problems. No two days are ever the same and it takes creativity and resourcefulness to find the right solution for each challenge.
What was your career vision when you first started your career journey?
My career vision was quite short-sighted at first – it is the type of role where you can only get better through practice and real-world experience so my initial goal was to take on as many different challenges as possible in hopes of becoming a well-rounded, seasoned property manager. My 5-year plan was to achieve a Sr. PM designation. However, when I was offered the Director role at Hullmark, my perspective and career vision completely changed.
Were you aware of the commercial real estate and development industry as a career option for you?
Not at all! Before pursuing a career in property management, I was unaware of the commercial real estate industry and the various roles associated with it. If I hadn’t worked for a development company in Mississauga and volunteered to manage one of their properties, I don’t think I ever would have the exposure that would lead me to consider this as a career path.
When was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power to change or to do something meaningful?
When I took on my current role at Hullmark and I was tasked with building a property management team, I had the opportunity to hire people for various roles and manage an entire department for the very first time. I consider the opportunity to support, teach and influence the careers of others to be the most meaningful part of my career journey so far. I am also grateful to be in a position where my team and I can change the status quo in terms of the traditional role of the property manager.
What are some of the struggles you faced throughout your career and/or life journey that you would like to highlight?
Being a woman of colour with very few executive role models to look up to, I never really considered myself reaching higher than a manager role. Although we have a long way to go to reach parity, I’m pleased to see that there are now more women of diverse backgrounds in executive positions.
Thinking more critically is so important in the times we live in. If you could go back in time, what piece of leadership advice that you know now would you give to yourself?
“Invest your time and energy in the things that align with your goals, values and priorities. It’s easy to waste time on actions that won’t advance your goals. Check in often to make sure you’re on track and making the best use of your time”.
Did you have any role models/mentors that have shaped your career?
I was fortunate to work for a female-led property management company, where I learned that women could sit at the table with men and contribute to solving operational and facility management matters just as effectively. I also worked for a General Manager when I was just starting out who always stopped what he was doing to help me when I needed him. He taught me the power of patience and compassion. My parents, who are both working professionals, gave me a strong work ethic, taught me how to conduct myself professionally, and gave excellent career advice.
What is your mantra or what are your words of inspiration?
“You get out of life what you put into it!”
Exposure and access are the two initial keys essential for your path towards excellence. Karen’s determination to learn and grow, while embracing challenges allowed her to be recognized for her leadership competencies at Hullmark. The ability to build, manage and lead a team that truly elevates the tenant experience and how properties are managed continues to inspire many. Karen’s tenacity to step outside her comfort zone, and her mindset to alter her perception on what can be achieved, continues to inspire many women of colour and men that everything is possible when you believe.
As Bart Jackson once said: “Behind every successful woman is herself”. This simple sentiment captures the mindset of belief in oneself where success is a product of your journey. Matrix360 salutes Karen Walker as one of our 2020 X-cellence leaders and are excited to showcase more women and men who shine through with their achievements and brilliance!