Extra Space Storage has leaders in 40 states that support over 1,900 stores and store employees. They’re some of the industry’s most renowned storage experts. To help connect the leadership group across the organization, Mitch Pope, Vice President of Operations Support, hosted a recorded interview with Executive Vice President & CMO Samrat Sondhi. Pope and Sondhi discuss how Sondhi happened upon a career in self storage, the pace of change in the organization, and what gives him hope for the future of Extra Space Storage.
Below are audio clips, along with highlights from their discussion.
Q: I want to start by talking about your early career with Extra Space Storage, then jump to some of the present-day stuff. How did you come to work in self storage?
Sondhi: I think, like a lot of us, it was by accident. I’d be surprised if anyone in our company went to college thinking “I want to go into storage.” I was laid off from a management consulting job. This was in 2003. The recession bug bit me, and I was looking for a job. I interviewed for a role with General Electric, and toward the end of the interview, the guy said, “Oh, by the way, this job is for a subsidiary of GE in Memphis with Storage USA.” I had no idea what Storage USA was or what self storage was.
Q: What kind of position were you looking for with GE?
Sondhi: It was a pricing analyst role. When GE acquired Storage USA, the pricing function was very decentralized. It was with all of the District Managers. They would do the day-to-day pricing. GE came in and wanted to centralize pricing. So the group was new and needed few resources, and I was fortunate to join as a pricing analyst, being the nerd in the group and crunching models.
Q: Eventually, Extra Space Storage purchased Storage USA from GE, and you came over with that transition. What was that transition like?
Sondhi: It was a very unusual transition because, at that point, Extra Space Storage had 150 stores and was acquiring a company five times its size. I was fortunate to get an opportunity to continue to work with Extra Space Storage. It was not per the plan. The plan was to work for Storage USA for a couple of years and later join the mothership with GE and make myself a career GE person. But I got an opportunity to work for Extra Space Storage, and the next thing I know, it’s been 18 years.
Q: You came to Extra Space Storage doing Revenue Management. At what point did you make the switch to Operations?
Sondhi: I was in Revenue Management for about seven years before I made the shift to Operations. I always wanted to get close to the action, and I think Operations is where all the action is. It’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s where you interact with Store Managers and the customers and learn so much about the business. That’s what I wanted to learn.
Q: Were there any important lessons you learned in Operations?
Sondhi: There are so many things about the business, but perhaps I learned the most about working with people. We have so many leaders in different roles in the Operations world. People who have different strengths and skills. Seeing how people use their skills and strengths to run the business, hire, lead—it’s just a great environment to work with people, learn, and contribute.
Q: You made the switch from Operations to your current role in Marketing. Tell me how you have approached that transition.
Sondhi: The last year has been a transition year with COVID-19. I am very fortunate to work for an organization that has given me different opportunities. One day, I’m with Operations talking about how you fix door springs, and the next day, I’m talking to our Marketing people about how customers interact with Instagram. There are very few organizations that allow people to move around, learn, and be in different roles. Having worked with different people and groups, I just think we have great people everywhere, and it’s amazing how everyone comes together for a common goal.
Q: The pace of change continues to be very fast. Does that give you anxiety, or is that energizing to you?
Sondhi: That’s a great question. First, let me say this: I think the way we adapted and changed and challenged ourselves, especially in the field in the last year, is just simply amazing. From closing our doors to plexiglass and kiosk to managing over the phone, it’s simply amazing what we did in a really short time. And changing human behavior in a short period of time with such drastic changes, that’s very hard to do. Launching Rapid Rental and other technology changes in some ways is easier to do because you’re not changing human behavior. But what Store Managers and District Managers had to go through, I’m just wowed by how we adapted. That energizes me. It energizes me that we’re constantly moving to a better tomorrow. We’re constantly challenging where we are today, asking if it’s the best thing we can do and how we can improve. It’s exciting to me that we look at things from that perspective. Change can be challenging, but I would rather be in an environment where we’re managing that change versus being stale, stagnant, and trying to push ourselves to change.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone in the organization who wants to be successful and do more with Extra Space Storage?
Sondhi: Everyone is hired to perform. To make our stores perform, to produce the numbers, to meet or exceed expectations. That’s core to our role. In addition to performing in your role, it’s also equally important how you perform and how you go about achieving your goals. I call it the “what” and the “how.” What you achieve is equally important as how you achieve it. The “how” is more about the intangibles—our values, how you work with your team, your peers, your Supervisors, and your Support teams. So not only do we want you to drive the business, but we want you to drive the business in the right way. If you do those two things, you’ll be very successful.
Q: What gives you hope about the future of Extra Space Storage?
Sondhi: Our people. I think we have really good people in the organization. What’s special is how we all come together and create this team that’s constantly moving forward and doing bigger and better things every day. I’ve been fortunate to work with different teams to see that. Not everything is rosy and good, we have our conflicts, and that’s part of being on the team, but it’s amazing how people just come together and are constantly thinking about what we can do better for tomorrow. That gives me a lot of hope for the future and makes me confident that we will continue to beat our competitors.