Everyone frets about hiring and retaining leasing consultants. With industry turnover rates as high as 70 percent in that position, who wouldn't worry? But smart apartment executives also know to spend time and money at the middle of their organizational charts, where their next generation of leaders is often found.

At BRE Properties, a San Francisco-based apartment REIT, each area of the company–investment, property operations, and finance/accounting–has its own program for developing future leaders in their respective groups. In the investment area, which is overseen by Bradley Griggs, BRE's chief investment officer, the real-world curriculum lasts two to three years, as management interns with business or development degrees begin as analysts and work their way up to a management level. Along the way, they gain experience in a variety of BRE departments–construction, property management, and more–giving them on-the-job experience that complements their education. "The whole goal is developing well-rounded associates and future succession planning," explains Griggs, who says the company has retained about 75 percent of its investment-side management interns.

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As you'll discover in this edition of Conference Call, that's the goal at other big apartment REITs as well. At AvalonBay Communities of Alexandria, Va., senior officers meet regularly to identify high-potential employees worthy of additional mentoring and resources, says Jonathan Cox, senior vice president of development. Post Properties is also investing in learning and development up and down its corporate ladder, from on-site leasing staff to management.

It's a difficult task, as many executives know. "[Real estate] is such a fast-moving business with so many moving parts that the challenge for us as leaders is to make sure we're communicating with those people and giving them those opportunities for career growth and spending time mentoring them," says Griggs, who calls such work "critically important." Postpone such coaching conversations one too many times and "you've got a disgruntled employee who's leaving the company, because the perception is you don't care about them," he warns.