Place Properties announced May 4 that executive vice president Bob Clark will head Place Management Group, the property operations unit of the Atlanta-based student housing development and management firm. Clark has been with Place for more than seven years, serving as chief financial officer as well as overseeing finance, acquisition, and asset management. His familiarity with the company's portfolio and operating platform is expected to help increase efficiencies and strengthen growth. A strong background in the hospitality sector (including a decade at Marriott International) likewise has Clark poised to deliver to the increased expectations of both the students and parents comprising its customer demographic.
Clark checked in with Multifamily Executive senior editor Chris Wood this week for an exclusive interview on his promotion and the market prospects and opportunities for Place.
MFE: Are you now managing the platform that you built?
CLARK: I am one of the longer-tenured folks at Place, and in some shape or from have been intimately involved in every piece of what we have built here. So what makes it nice in terms of this transition and promotion is that I’m coming in with plenty of knowledge: I know these deals and know the background of why we are there. That is extremely helpful.
MFE: What does the portfolio look like right now?
CLARK: Generally speaking, our assets are newer versus older. A lot of our projects have been developed over the past several years. So in an asset quality, we are typically Class A, A-plus. We have built and/or are managing some extremely interesting projects. From a locational standpoint, we feel we are above the industry average on distance to campus for our portfolio. We have some outliers, but we have a well-located portfolio with respect to proximity to the university. In terms of markets, we have a mix of large, very well-known universities all the way to universities that you have never heard of personally but are very interesting in terms of how they our housing their students and the opportunities that brings to us. We haven’t focused exclusively on the top 50 markets.
MFE: You spent a portion of your career with Marriott. How did your experience there help you approach student housing customer service?
CLARK: I’ve spent a lot of time talking about that over the past couple of weeks. I spent almost 10 years at Marriott, and they deserve the reputation for focusing all day, every day on customer service. Customer service is what I cut my teeth on in terms of my professional career. It has stayed with me, and it is something that we focused on here at Place before I had this job, and it will be something that we continue to focus on, absolutely. We have been very deliberate that our property management staff is trained and has a focus everyday on serving our customers, and a realization that our customers include parents as well. While they are not living with us, they certainly have a say in the buying decision.
MFE: What are the top trends influencing customer service in student housing?
CLARK: We think it is very important in serving this demographic to be green, and technology is also a big thing. Not only do we market to our residents almost exclusively in the virtual space, but everyone comes to college with a computer, and it is absolutely critical that the sites we manage have the appropriate amount of bandwidth to serve our students. That complements amenities that we feel are becoming standard in the delivery of student housing: tanning booths, exercise rooms, pools, and volleyball and basketball courts. We are trying to bring those complete amenity packages to every site we serve.