Below is a message communicated from James Overturf, CMO at Extra Space Storage.
As I organize almost 22 years of files and emails in preparation for my departure from Extra Space Storage on June 30, many memories have come back into focus. I joined Extra Space after our former CEO, Spencer Kirk, called me out of the blue in late 1998. It was scary since I was in a good place at a technology company, but I decided to take a flyer and joined the company thinking it would be a temporary gig. I mean, storage? What the company has accomplished in my tenure has been nothing short of inconceivable. A wise person once told me that we tend to overestimate what can be accomplished in a month but underestimate what can be accomplished over several years. This has held especially true at Extra Space Storage.
When I first started in January 1999, we operated 18 properties in three states, had a couple of dozen employees, were always begging for capital to grow, had no website, acquired customers through direct mail and Yellow Pages, and our technology system could fit into a literal closet. Fast forward nearly 22 years, and we’re kind of a big deal! We’re now the second largest self-storage operator in the world with nearly 1,900 properties in 40 states, have 4,000 employees, we’ve been a public company for going on 18 years and part of the S&P 500, have deep access to capital, and we’re seen as the driver of innovation in the storage industry. The accomplishments are great to think about, but what I’m most proud of is being a small part in creating a culture where we value the individual, work together as a team, and foster innovation through pursuit of excellence. Have we made mistakes? Yes, many of them, and a good number of them can be attributed to the guy writing this update. As a growing company making up a lot of things as they go, this is what happens! But through teamwork and integrity, we were able to overcome any missteps and always ended up learning something that would help us in the long run.
I wish I was leaving Extra Space Storage in a more positive macro-economic and cultural environment. The last few months have been “eventful” and put us all under personal and professional stress. Regardless, Extra Space is in a strong position to withstand current market forces and capitalize on the opportunities that will surely come in this time of great change. We are modernizing our technology platforms rapidly and re-engineering our business processes to allow us to flexibly interact and transact with our customers, and we are financially stronger than ever with access to multiple capital sources. Most important of all, we have truly great people. The level of commitment and focus of the thousands of talented people at Extra Space Storage has never been better. With these factors in mind, I truly believe the best days of Extra Space Storage lie ahead, not behind.
I am so blessed and grateful to have been invited to take a chance with a little storage company at the end of last century. It was scary, but I believe if you want to lead a good and full life, you can’t ask yourself: “Is it safe?” I wish you all the best in the future and look forward to what you will all achieve from afar.
Thank you, James Overturf, for all you’ve taught us over the years.
Every employee who has worked with James has a story or lesson from James they’re remember forever! Here are ten team members’ stories:
Noah Springer – Executive Vice President of Assets & Third-Party Management
“The best thing that I have learned from James is that no matter how hard, important, difficult, or boring of a job you are doing, there is always room to have fun doing it. James has an admirable balance between life and work. He can make any task fun while working incredibly hard, and he has been able to accomplish an incredible amount without taking himself, anyone, or any task too seriously. I remember years ago, Extra Space was completing an important bond offering, and everyone was looking for James in the early morning meeting to discuss pricing the offering. The night before the ski resorts received 12 inches of snow, and James walked in a few minutes late in ski pants and boots, and when asked why was he late, his response was ‘The only reason we do all of this work is so that we can do what we want. Let’s not miss what we want so we can only do work!’ A real leader is someone that people want to follow. James is followed by everyone at Extra Space.”
Mike James – District Vice President
“James has been an awesome person to work with over the past 20 years. Not only has he helped the company culture become what it is today, without knowing it, he also personally taught me to find what I love to do and have fun doing it. When I read James’ Inside Extra Space interview, he gave advice to leaders to not take yourself too seriously, strive to have a team smarter than you, and don’t be an a-hole. That will be an inspiration for me in the years ahead. From Senior Ops Meetings to Town Halls, thanks for the memories – party on!”
Matt Walker – District Vice President
“I have always appreciated James’ sarcasm and humor; it added much needed levity at times. But I will remember most James’ passion and vision for looking around the next corner to what might be, pushing the envelope and not accepting this is the way we have always done things. And I will never forget back in 2000 when I opened the Raynham, MA site…after a couple months of being open, James’ department put together a Saturday Grand Opening with a local radio station to bring exposure and awareness to the site. Lots of work at the time, I’m sure. When he called to ask how it went, I said, ‘We didn’t get one rental.’ He just laughed. No disappointment at all. Enjoy your retirement, James! You’ll be missed.”
Dayna Hathaway – Senior Vice President of Marketing
“When you’ve worked with someone for over 20 years, it’s hard to know where to begin. James recruited me to join Extra Space Storage, when we had 30 facilities, telling me, ‘This will just be a quick couple years gig,’ but something that would be good for my resume because I would be involved in building the marketing team from the ground up. It’s still a ‘good gig,’ and one of the main reasons is because of his leadership over the years. I owe James for the success I’ve achieved in my career. It’s because of his patience, desire to see me grow, and ongoing coaching over the years that I’ve been able to excel in my career. James has a unique ability to lead and teach while also connecting with people on a personal level, while keeping it light and fun. His ability to make it fun will be missed—everything from watching him laugh harder than anyone else in the room at his OWN joke or gathering the team for a contest to see who can kick a random slipper down the hall the furthest. He’s always ready for something to make Extra Space a great place to work. I count myself lucky to have had his leadership over these past 20+ years. And I count myself blessed to be able to call him a friend.”
Kenny Speegle – Senior Vice President of Southeast Operations
“For years, I have appreciated James’ knowledge, insight, sense of humor, and approach to being the best! Few people are able to pull off the combination of intelligence, a wicked sense of humor, and a drive to constantly improve the approach and results of Extra Space like James has. I have picked his brain on many occasions in order to increase my knowledge or obtain some honest advice from someone who has experienced many different cycles in the business. Thank you, James, for teaching me that you can achieve success without losing touch of the true ‘you’! Best of luck with your retirement! Looking forward to our next fishing trip in the back country!”
Brian Whitham – District Vice President
“James was my EDP mentor last year. As his last mentee, I would like to thank him for all the time he spent with me. My goal when James became my mentor was to try and understand how he always could see into the future and how he crafted vision for our company’s evolution. He gave me great perspective and some books to read that helped me frame the growth of technology and customer interaction and how that would impact our business. That future thinking is so critical for a company’s ability to change, and I really appreciate James trying to help me understand how to look farther down the line.”
Gwyn McNeal – Chief Legal Officer
“You often hear about James’ unique vision. As I have gotten to work with James over the years, I have come to understand that this vision comes largely from James’ blend of creativity and empathy. One of the reasons James is so good at what he does is that he can imagine what it’s like to be our customers, as well as our front-line employees. James has used this perspective over the years to try to solve for pain points and anticipate demands. I will miss his perspective, as well as his outrageous sense of humor, which always makes meetings far more interesting than they otherwise would be.”
Mike Pontillo – District Vice President
“I can’t thank James enough for all of his support over the years. He’s helped us launch into the company we are today in a fun and never predicable way! I was lucky enough to have James as my mentor during my EDP program. That was quite an experience and helped launch me into a few roles since then. I wish you the best. You deserve it!”
Maddi Aki – Senior Manager of Web Optimization
“On my first big site visit trip, I got to travel with James. He helped me with every aspect of the trip, from letting me board the plane with him to patiently explaining different aspects of the store functions. I remember he ran into Starbucks, and even without me requesting anything, brought me back a cookie. Being thoughtful and caring for his employees was what makes James a great leader and mentor. We’re going to miss him a lot.”
Bron McCall – Senior Vice President of Information Systems & Information Technology
“Favorite quote: ‘Let’s do it! Not like anyone’s going to die if doesn’t work.’ The shenanigans that took place on many trips to stores, town halls, etc. always made these trips more fun. To protect the innocent, not sure many of the details can be published, however. I’ll never forget within my first few months at Extra Space, James and I went and worked at the Emeryville, CA store for the day. The manager put us to work cleaning doors. I was exhausted, pretty sure we almost finished a whole floor. We had many deep conversations that day, and of course there may have been a little time spent goofing around.”