What do a positive attitude and company growth have in common? Quite a lot, according to Zachary Dickens, Executive Vice President of Investments at Extra Space Storage. As head of the company’s Investments department, Dickens is responsible for self storage acquisitions and real estate. How does Dickens manage such a significant role for the company? The answer begins with optimism.
Leading with Optimism
Dickens has been with Extra Space Storage for 18 years. Starting as an analyst with the Investments department, Dickens moved his way up through the team as Director, then Senior Director, followed by his current position as Executive Vice President of Investments.
“What kept me at this company was a lot of things. Awesome opportunity was number one,” Dickens said. “I’m on the growth side of the business, which is the most exciting part of any job I think you can do…Secondarily, the value system that Extra Space Storage has feels very natural and part of who I am as a human being. So I love our values, and I gladly talk about it.”
Whether it’s striking up cheerful conversations with others at the office coffee machine or building lasting relationships with partners, Dickens’ unwavering belief in leading with optimism is his ethos in life and business—not to mention, his positive attitude is as infectious to the internal organization as it is impactful in his ability to connect the company with the right partners.
Dickens’ management approach at Extra Space Storage also centers on being positive and letting people do what they do best. His style is what he refers to as a “fix it and go” mentality, in that he likes to give direction to his employees and then get out of their way so they can do their jobs. It’s an approach that shows his trust in his team. “I’m not going to micromanage them,” he added.
While being optimistic is a driving value in his life, Dickens admits that finding and maintaining balance is just as important, and it’s something he’s continuously working on.
“To be an optimist can be difficult when things aren’t going right,” he explained. “If you’re too Pollyanna, it’s possible to not see things as they are. I enjoy being a champion, but I also must set realistic expectations for my team. I need to be realistic on what the outcome will be.”
Finding Creative Opportunities
In his role as Executive Vice President of Investments, Dickens facilitates accretive acquisitions for Extra Space Storage and looks for additional ways to grow capital. This includes providing unique financing for deals and nurturing partnerships with investors for future business opportunities.
“We do all these cool things to structure investment deals to make it better for Extra Space Storage…It’s all about building relationships.” Dickens adds that this can even mean closing on smaller deals simply to support a relationship with a partner that would be a valued asset in the long-term. “The reason we get deals done is we’re fair with people. We do what we say we’ll do, and we’ve structured those win-wins.”
How do these deals work? Dickens’ department—which is comprised of two investment heads from the West and East Coasts, an underwriting team, and a group of analysts—evaluates the acquisition. Once a contract in place, the deal goes through a due diligence process that involves the Legal and Operations departments, which assist in legal aspects of the contract and budget forecasting for the acquisition. From start to finish, Dickens oversees and tracks progress of the deal, stepping in where necessary.
When speaking to the recent accomplishments of his team, Dickens says he’s most proud of the work they did closing on a net lease with an outside group. “It was the first time it had ever been done,” he explained. In addition, the team started working with bridge loans when putting together deals, which Dickens says he was excited to see, as it was a creative opportunity for the company’s acquisitions.
“If you think about it, we’re not just growing down one channel or another. We used to just buy properties, and that was our primary mode of growth. Now, we diversify, and it’s strategies like that that change the way we grow this company.”
Facing Challenges Head-On
On the other side of those accomplishments are plenty of challenges. For example, the rise of private equity real estate investing has now moved beyond houses and into the self storage industry, which makes Dickens’ job difficult since saturation of the market drives the cost of everything up.
“As we keep growing, we’re having troubles with new competitors,” Dickens said. “It’s a double-edged sword for me. I love the new products. I want to buy it. But it’s hurting the properties by introducing more and more supply in the market.”
Fortunately, Dickens and his team have found ways to combat this through providing better expertise and support with Extra Space Storage acquisitions. “We always have a better mouse trap,” he added. “We’re a better manager than most. If we’re doing it better, then we’ll be fine.”
Of course, it’s not just having the better mouse trap that helps Extra Space Storage stay on top of competitors in this arena. Sometimes, even the unpredictability of the economy can be beneficial.
“There’s always going to be some sort of threat or issue going on in society that’s going to slow down the economy growth and that will lead to fallout from our smaller competitors who don’t have as strong of a balance sheet as we do. At that point, they could be looking to sell or going out of business, and either one is an opportunity to position our company and buy more.”
Preparing for unexpected events like an economic downturn is how Extra Space Storage is able to emerge from crisis on stable ground. It’s this focus on resilience that Dickens thinks allows the company to return from setbacks in a positive way. “We teach so much about fundamentals in society, but we need to teach a little bit about bouncing back. We tend to focus on high achievement, but we don’t teach the skills you need so that you’re able to rebound after you fall short.”
Certainly, Dickens knows how to bounce back, thanks to his optimism and ability to make creative adjustments. It’s how he got to where he is today. And as he looks forward to the coming years with Extra Space Storage acquisitions, he does so with a positive attitude, a focus on building lasting relationships, and the drive to keep growing.