Jeff Benton is the Division Vice President of Operations for Southern California at Extra Space Storage. He describes his role as an opportunity to help teams be the best they can be and provide top-notch products and service to our customers. Even though Jeff has a college degree in business, his early career ambition was to be a commercial pilot. We asked Jeff to share more about how his career shifted from aviation to business, his thoughts on leadership, and his experience at Extra Space Storage.
Q: How long have you been with Extra Space Storage?
A: Oh man, I’ve just entered my 15th year here! After a lengthy interview process, I started as a PACE Manager, which was a role similar to what the District Manager in Training role is today. I spent 13 months in that role. The first six months were spent learning how to run a store as a Store Manager. After that, I spent time learning from a Senior District Manager mentor. That time included lots of one-on-one training, job shadowing, and coaching. I ran a store near downtown Los Angeles and still utilize the experience I gained from that year running the store. After that, I was a District Learning Manager for 1.5 years and supported a division in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Later, I found myself back in operations as a District Manager due to a few sizable acquisitions in Southern California and stayed in that role for about five years. Then, as we grew, we opened an East and West support office, and I joined Learning and Development again as the Director for the West. I was in that role for seven years before taking on this new opportunity as Division Vice President. The experience I gained seeing how seven different divisions did things so similarly and sometimes so differently was huge for me.
Q: How did your career path lead you to Extra Space Storage?
A: The career path that led me to Extra Space is an interesting one. I grew up working in retail through high school and college, never thinking about how it would turn into a career. I simply worked to pay bills, put myself through college, and achieve my ultimate goal: to be a commercial airline pilot. While in college, I was also doing flight training. I earned my pilot’s license about the same time I graduated college, and now that I didn’t have to dedicate time to my degree, I could spend more time and money on flight school. Well, flying isn’t cheap and I figured since I had a degree, I’d be able to land a higher-paying job. Ultimately, I joined Extra Space to pay for flying. But armed with my business degree (thanks, Dad, for advising an aspiring pilot to study business because “it’s the language of the world”), I quickly found that the people at Extra Space were amazing. The job was challenging, rewarding, and fun. I thought to myself, “this place is the real thing; I’m going to go all in.” I haven’t flown in over 13 years; the rest is history.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?
A: I’m not sure if this is more career advice or just overall life advice, and I wouldn’t say it was directly given to me but shown to me. Work hard and enjoy the work. My dad worked in sales and later sales management my whole life. He was mostly officed from home, so I’d see him work. I’d hear him work (as he’d tell me and my brother to keep it down after we got home from school). He’d start early, if needed, to either get on the road or start on conference calls, etc. He was always positive, fun, and encouraging. I’d hear “we can do this” or “you got this” all the time. That didn’t just apply to work. He brought the same mentality to his family and his hobbies, encouraging everyone to give it their all but have fun along the way.
Q: Which experience(s) in your career influenced who you are today?
A: Oh, there are so many things. It’s probably better to discuss the people involved with those experiences, though. Mark Stanke was my first Division Vice President when I was in PACE, a District Learning Manager, and District Manager. He provided so much knowledge about our business, our company, and being a great leader. From wearing a goofy Extra Space green suit on a corner while holding an arrow sign for a new store grand opening to having tough, honest conversations about how and where you can improve, he was an example to me in many ways. Karen Pierce, who was then our head of L&D, taught me that I could think outside the box. Coming from a more black-and-white ops world into Learning and Development, she opened the door to more creativity and global thinking for me. Collaborating with her and the District Learning Manager team from across the country was an experience I really needed. COO Matt Herrington showed me what it meant to always be learning. He’d leave articles on my desk about anything and everything, from the real estate side of the storage industry to effective one-on-ones and leadership. There are other folks, but my time with these three really stands out.
Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?
A: Being told “no,” you can’t do that, or “no, you didn’t get that job.” These are challenging while in the moment. There were various ideas that ultimately didn’t pan out or roles I had applied for, interviewed for, and didn’t get. But looking back, I’ve been able to learn from all of those lessons. You learn how to improve, persevere, and try differently next time. These lessons are challenging but necessary.
Q: What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your career?
A: Finally, an easy question! The people! The impact of various relationships I’ve had here at Extra Space has been extremely important to me. During my journey here, I’ve learned so much and had so many laughs from various people at our stores, the Salt Lake Support Center, and the National Solutions Center. Our people keep me looking forward to more learning, challenges, and fun at Extra Space!
Q: What advice would you give to future Extra Space Storage leaders?
A: One. Be yourself but be open to change. People change, business changes, and society changes. Stay true to yourself but be open to change within the parameters of your values and belief system.
Two. Take risks; calculated risks, but make your case and take them.
Three. Speak up. If something can be better, bring it up. If you want to do something or work toward a goal, let it be known.
This article is part of an ongoing series of interviews with Extra Space Storage (NYSE: EXR) leaders. Jeff Benton is the Division Vice President of Operations for Southern California at Extra Space Storage.