Colin Lenton

At the start of her first job in property management, back in 1990, Patricia “Pat” Hutchison was under the gun. She had been hired as the on-site leasing agent to increase occupancy in an older 600-unit property in Sacramento, Calif., which was at the end of a road populated by newer complexes. “I knew that I just needed to get people down to the end of the road, because I had a rock-star team and good pricing,” Hutchison recounts. “I put up a giant blimp that said ‘Now Renting,’ along with arrows, bootlegs, and sandwich boards—everything I could think of. The property was next to Mather Air Force Base, so I had to take the blimp down every night because it didn’t have lights on it.”

The advertising blitz worked, and Hutchison’s career in property management had its liftoff. Today, she is the president of Denver-based Mission Rock Residential, an affiliate of Hamilton Zanze, a real estate investment group in San Francisco. Launched in 2012, Mission Rock has 675 employees and manages more than 25,000 units in 15 states. It is undergoing rapid growth, onboarding 1,900 units in the past six months alone. “When we decided to create Mission Rock, my partner, Mark Hamilton, and I both knew she would make a highly qualified candidate, able to take the company far,” says Tony Zanze, co-founder of Hamilton Zanze. “At the time, we had no idea just how far and how quickly that would happen.”

A Quick Study

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hutchison recalls a childhood where the family moved a lot for work reasons; her stepfather was an entrepreneurial-minded salesperson who instilled a sense of confidence in her. In high school, Hutchison was fiercely competitive in softball and basketball. “If there was a toothpick to be won, I wanted to win it,” she says. Initially, she thought she would become a teacher, but switched gears after learning about the profession’s salary expectations. Investigating other possible careers, she was inspired by a mentor to try running her own business. At age 20, she decided to leave college and buy a cleaning-supplies franchise. “It was a great opportunity to build a team, and it became clear to me that I had a gift for inspiring and motivating people,” she says. “I had four to six women working in sales for me, and I did very well with that business.”

Given her success at sales, real estate seemed like a promising direction. In the mid-’80s, she moved to Los Angeles to be close to family and study real estate. After seeing a story in the paper about Wayne Pridgen, a broker who sold a record $20 million in listings in six months, she sat outside of his office until she was able to get his attention. “I told him that I was getting my broker’s license and wanted to learn from him, and offered to be his assistant for cheap,” Hutchison says. She schlepped open house signs and hobnobbed with celebrities like Bobby Brown. But after about six months, she knew the business was not for her. “Letting go of everything that people thought I should be doing, leaving behind the glamorous life and making lots of money in LA, was a big turning point for me,” she says.

Bidding farewell to Los Angeles, she moved back to Northern California and took that critical job as a leasing agent at Huntington Group, a boutique property management firm in Sacramento. “I loved taking care of people and making a difference in my residents’ lives,” says Hutchison. “I thought, ‘This is something I can get behind.’” Intent on learning everything about the business, she studied to get the CPM (Certified Property Manager) designation and was promoted to assistant manager and then to property manager over the next couple of years. Then, she became a property manager for Lincoln Property Co. in San Francisco, which morphed into Legacy Partners. Over the next 20 years, she took on an increasingly larger role. Her last position at Legacy Partners was that of vice president, overseeing the company’s properties in Colorado and Utah, and bringing in clients for the company’s property management services.

The Point at Cypress Woods Apartments in Cypress, Texas.
Courtesy Mission Rock Residential The Point at Cypress Woods Apartments in Cypress, Texas.

Hitting the Big Time

Around 2006, Hutchison reconnected with a former boss, Mark Hamilton, whom she had worked for briefly after leaving LA. In the intervening years, Hamilton had started Hamilton Zanze. Hutchison thought she was going to get some more third-party business, but Hamilton proposed she help them start a property management company. “They wanted to bring 10,000 units in-house and I would run the operations and be a partner,” she says. “I was very hesitant at first. I thought it was pretty risky and knew it was going to be a lot of work. And I had a successful career at Legacy.”

But being able to handpick her own executive team and create the company culture proved too alluring. After seeing so few women break the industry’s glass ceiling, she wanted to shatter it: Seven out of the 10 people on her team are women. “For the first time, I also had the freedom to provide the best possible resources for the properties that we took on,” Hutchison says.

At Mission Rock, she’s been focused on cutting-edge technology, bringing in a marketing team that specializes in search engine optimization to drive traffic to properties. The company formed an advisory group that includes staff from IT, operations, accounting, and HR to collectively vet new technologies and decide if they will be beneficial. According to Hutchison, other strategic moves have been to hire its own pricing advisers for lease optimization (according to her, the company has outperformed its competition in all but two quarters so far). Mission Rock also has hired property service trainers in most of the states where it manages properties. “I had to make the choice that we would not be the cheapest option,” she says. “But we deliver a lot of value for every dime.”

At its launch in 2012, Hutchison ensured that Mission Rock would hit the ground running. Thanks to the team’s careful preparation, they were able to transition all of Hamilton Zanze properties over to new management in record time. “We onboarded 10 properties in three days, and accomplished the transition of 14,000 units in seven-and-a-half months,” she says. The company also proved its mettle at handling contingencies. When Hurricane Harvey severely flooded the first-floor units in one of its Houston properties in 2017, Mission Rock contracted with a construction company so remediation could start immediately. The rebuilt units at The Point at Cypress Woods started to come back online at the end of 2018, far ahead of those in other impacted properties. “During this disaster, resident safety was always addressed as the top priority, and the assets as the secondary priority. This value system stood out to us and impressed our executive team quite strongly,” says Kim Rubino, owner of Rubino Properties (whose portfolio includes The Village at Parktown, another Houston property under Mission Rock management).

Hutchison is planning for significant growth in the next few years, preparing Mission Rock to manage 50,000 units.

Among recent wins for the company is the lease-up of Solana Lucent Station, a new luxury complex of 285 units in Highlands Ranch, Colo. Mission Rock stabilized the property, which is nearly at full occupancy, with rents that are at the top of the market. And in this case, no blimp was needed.