2017 was the year Alliance Residential broke the 100,000-unit benchmark, increasing its count to 110,712 from 99,364 units the year before. The growth pushed the Phoenix-based company into the ranks of the top five largest property management firms in the country, at the No. 4 spot on the 2018 NMHC Top 50 Managers list—a three-spot jump from its previously held No. 7 position.

If you ask Brad Cribbins, president and COO of Alliance’s management division, how the company ultimately reached the milestone, he’ll tell you it wasn’t about just adding units alone, but about fostering personal growth within Alliance’s team.

“There are a lot of things in this industry that every company does well. Internally at Alliance, we’ve been trying to shift our focus to what it means to be the best, and not just be good at what we do, but be great,” he says. “We want our employees to think about how to leverage their abilities for a higher purpose—to create an unprecedented lifestyle for our residents at our communities to enrich their homes and lives.”

The company says it encourages those at the company to think in a “Me, We, Us” mind-set: First, employees take ownership of their roles and master what they do individually; then, they commit to building partnerships with other associates and leveraging the power of teamwork. Finally, they work collectively to make Alliance a firm that seeks to build a lifestyle housing brand for its residents.

Alliance isn’t alone in this approach. Seattle-based Avenue5 Residential was the biggest mover and shaker on the Top 50 Managers list this year, jumping a dramatic 16 spots, to No. 30, after adding almost 12,000 units. The company even broke property sales records in Seattle—after it managed a 314-unit high-rise in the city for 10 months, the property sold for $225.3 million, or $717,516 per door, the highest sale price per unit for a high-rise in Seattle to date.

As Avenue5 looks ahead to the coming year, the company, like other apartment management firms, is aware it will face unique hurdles in this part of the cycle, such as supply challenges, pricing constraints, a labor shortage, and declining rent growth.

Though, like Alliance, the company is confident in the ability of its personnel to overcome the industry’s obstacles.

“We’ve invested in hiring and retaining the industry’s smartest, most-experienced, and -driven people, and our team is committed to a hands-on and personalized approach to property management,” says Avenue5 CEO Walt Smith. “Our leaders have been in the business for several cycles, so we understand how to capitalize on local market expansions and turn them into greater opportunities for our clients. Our employees are our biggest competitive advantage, and their strengths will continue to help us overcome any challenges with market dynamics.”

Dallas-based Pinnacle, also, appreciates the importance of top-notch personnel. The company, which retained its No. 3 ranking this year by expanding its Northeast portfolio and creating a new student housing management platform, cites finding and retaining top talent as one of its biggest looming hurdles.

“In today’s economy, the fight for good talent is always on,” says Woody Stone, Pinnacle’s executive vice president. “But we want to continue placing emphasis on our cultural platform because we truly believe this is the glue that will bind us in a tough market.”

That emphasis on building a strong company is what today’s top management firms say will not only help them weather any future storms, but also capitalize on the industry’s biggest opportunities for growth.

“Every challenge is exciting, because everything that has a problem has an answer to it,” says Cribbins. “The market is seeing a lot of pressure right now, and that means owners need to have a sophisticated operator to leverage the management to its effect. These challenges will create a lot of opportunity for us with our clients and, frankly, will be what helps us be a better company as we continue to move forward and grow—we hope to add 50,000 units by 2020.”