There are days when Khushbu Sikaria is on the highway at 4 a.m., on her way to the airport to fly to her latest pitch meeting, and others when she’s on the fifth floor of Bozzuto Group’s headquarters in Greenbelt, Md., until 3:30 a.m., poring over paperwork to wrap up another RFP with her team.
She also gets things done during conventional business hours. That’s why, in less than five years, she went from an entry-level social media specialist to vice president of advisory services, simultaneously managing Bozzuto’s brand development and business development teams.
Colleagues describe her as a quick learner who cares about her clients, her employees, and the Bozzuto brand. Those were among the reasons Jamie Gorski, Bozzuto’s chief marketing officer, nominated Sikaria for multifamily executive’s 2016 Rising Star Award. Although she’s worked with plenty of qualified employees, this is the first time Gorski has nominated someone for the honor.
When she learned her nominee had won, Gorski confided to a colleague shortly thereafter: “She is a star, not a rising star.”
Not bad for someone who says she “stumbled upon” Bozzuto.
A Diverse Background
Born in India and an emigrant to New York and then Florida as a child, Sikaria, 33, wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do professionally in her formative years. She had an interest in law, so after college she went to law school, passed the bar in Florida, and began working for a firm in Jacksonville. It didn’t take long for her to realize that practicing law wasn’t what she wanted to do. The industry didn’t allow her to maximize her creative side, Sikaria says.
Creativity, Sikaria realized, is something she couldn’t go without, so she left the law firm and moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for a branding company before starting her own business in 2009—Sicaria.com (spelled with a “c” rather than a “k” for branding purposes). The idea behind it was simple, she says: Provide emerging luxury fashion designers with a marketplace where they could sell their products and give customers an in-store shopping experience online.
The concept seems commonplace now, she says, but in 2009 it was cutting edge. Still, the business never took off, and she gave it up in 2012.
Running a company did have its benefits. “Being an entrepreneur is a difficult job,” Sikaria says. “You’re no longer just doing what you’re good at; you have to be a salesperson, you have to understand finance, you have to know marketing and branding, you have to understand logistics, talent acquisition, payroll.”
Those years running a business taught her more than any traditional job could have. “I always say it was my second MBA,” jokes Sikaria, who got her master of business administration and law degrees in a dual program.
And while her business allowed for creative thinking and problem solving, thinking like a lawyer, she says, lets her deliberate analytically through a problem. “It’s easy to get distracted by all the other noise that’s happening around an issue, making it difficult to stay focused on the core issue and also be succinct about identifying the true problem,” she says.
Up, Up, Up
She came to “stumble upon” Bozzuto by way of her husband, who’s good friends with Duncan Slidell, son of the Bozzuto founding partner John Slidell. At the time, the company didn’t have anyone to coordinate its social media strategy. Gorski was tasked with changing that.
When Gorski interviewed Sikaria and eventually offered her the position, she recalls being worried about whether it would work out. But not for the typical reasons.
“I actually was a little worried about her in the beginning because she was overqualified,” Gorski says, since the position was entry level. “You take Khushbu with her rich experience and her education and you think, ‘Is this going to work?’ And she said, ‘I know this company. I know I want to be here. I will take this position and I will work my way up.’ And that’s exactly what she did.”
It didn’t take long for Bozzuto to recognize Sikaria’s talent—and for the first talk of promotion to begin. It was Sikaria, though, who initially pressed pause on that notion. “I felt like being in a role for six months wasn’t sufficient to make an impact, so I didn’t want to make the move until I had accomplished my big projects.” After nine months as a social media specialist, a marketing manager position opened up and Sikaria embraced the new role.
At the time, the marketing staff numbered fewer than 10; it’s now more than three times that figure. During Sikaria’s nearly two years as marketing manager, she got a deep look at what the firm was working on nationwide. Her philosophy was to never say no to extra work, and she had more than 50 development properties in her portfolio in early 2013.
“It was a great learning experience,” she says. “I worked on other initiatives that were outside my role because I’ve always been interested in innovation and technology.”
She has since been promoted three more times: to brand development manager, followed by director of brand development, and to her current position, vice president of advisory services, in which she oversees both brand and business development.
When Bozzuto takes on a new development project, a brand manager and a project manager are assigned to the development even before ground is broken on the property, Sikaria explains.
“How can you customize your amenity offerings to reflect the lifestyle that you think your anticipated customer will have?” she says. “We really wanted to create a team around it.”
So Sikaria created one. She hired three brand managers and a coordinator to fill out her team. Ryan Kasperski, who was hired in 2015, says Sikaria has a hands-on approach but is not a micromanager. Sikaria says she likes to understand the daily functions of her employees so that if an issue were to arise she could step in and finish the job.
Her position also focuses heavily on business development, a side of the industry in which Sikaria had minimal experience. She took a “bottom-up” approach to learn what the job entailed. She has since instituted processes and strategies for how best to assess potential new business, evaluate leads, and determine the type of resources the company should allocate to specific projects.
She can handle the pressures of increased responsibilities, she says, because she makes tough decisions and takes risks. It’s one of the traits she attributes to her rise at Bozzuto, but not the only one. When she has a thought that can add something to a given conversation, she’s not afraid to speak up. “Even if it’s uncomfortable, or if I’m in a room with people who are not expecting my opinion, I always have a voice,” she says.
Also, Sikaria says she’s always ready for the next project. “I’m never satisfied doing what my job is,” she says. “You’re not going to move forward if you do just your daily job. That’s not what gets you to the next level. I’m always looking for ways to move the company forward.”
One way Sikaria looks to move Bozzuto forward is through her thinking—both creative and analytic. “She uses the right and left brains,” Gorski says.
She worked with Todd Butler, Bozzuto’s director of technology development, to create a 20-page Web standards guidebook filled with best practices for all of the company’s websites. It took about six months to complete and now gets updated quarterly.
In the guidebook is a section devoted to floor plan searches. From her experience running a fashion-centric website, Sikaria knows customers like to zoom in to see a product’s details before making a purchase. The same is true for floor plans.
Sikaria still monitors the fashion industry. “We look so much to the hospitality industry in multifamily, and I think we also need to look at others,” she says. “The fashion industry is always innovating first when it comes to luxury brands: photography, marketing, digital experience.”
Sikaria and Gorski traveled to Manhattan last fall to attend TrendWatching, a seminar in which consumer trends from around the world are showcased. There, the two picked up a simple idea, Gorski says: making sure company websites are as up front as possible when it comes to pricing. A basic concept, sure, Gorski adds, but not something the multifamily industry does all the time.
“She sees national trends and thinks how she can apply them to our business,” Gorski says, adding, “She’s becoming the thumbprint of our brand.”
According to Kasperski, Sikaria encourages her team to look outside the industry for inspiration. “If we’re looking within our industry, we’re already behind the eight ball,” he says. “We take on a lot of global projects, not that it’s part of our job responsibility, but because she pushes us to take on more than what’s asked and gets us out of our comfort zone.”
More to Come
Sikaria was out of her comfort zone when she began working on the business development side of Bozzuto, but it was the next career step, so she dove right in.
“When you have that next role in mind and you’re a little bit nervous about it, that’s the role you need to take because that’s the next challenge,” Gorski says. “And that’s what she’s done.”
If Sikaria thought she had earned a promotion or salary bump, her supervisor would know it. “[It’s] important, especially for women, to ask for what you want,” she says. “Sometimes people want to give it to you but they don’t know if you want it or don’t know if you’re ready. Nobody is going to freely hand it out to you.”
Earlier this year, Sikaria and her team were recognized as a 2016 Webby Award Honoree for their work on the digital presence and marketing for the Hecht Warehouse at Ivy City project, a residential building in Washington, D.C.
Gorski says she expects more big things from the woman she hired five years ago. But Sikaria isn’t one for getting ahead of herself.
“I realized in life you can’t control what happens to you tomorrow,” she says. “I’ve stopped planning. Even this role, I wasn’t planning on getting. Good things happen when you continue to work hard and be ambitious, so for me it’s prioritizing my family and the fact that I’m a mom.
“I’m a very ambitious, career-minded person. I know that I want to be successful and continue to grow and add value to the company.”
So instead of making plans, Sikaria will focus on moving both herself and Bozzuto forward. Day or night.