Q&A with Senior Vice President of Operations Southeast Michael Pontillo

Michael (Mike) Pontillo is a Senior Vice President of Operations for Extra Space Storage. In this role, Pontillo leads regional and field operations across multiple divisions throughout the Southeast region of the company. Together with his peers in the Northeast and West, as well as department leaders from across the organization, he creates standards and establishes strategic initiatives for more than 4,000 team members located throughout the U.S.

We recently asked Pontillo to share more about his career and time at Extra Space Storage.

Q: How long have you been with Extra Space Storage?

A: I have been with Extra Space Storage for 12 exciting years. I joined the team in 2010 as a District Manager in South Florida. That was the beginning of a ride I could have never imagined. After some time with the company, I was promoted to Senior District Manager. Then, in 2015, my family and I relocated to Salt Lake City, UT, to pursue a position as the Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships at our Store Support Center. I oversaw our Third-Party Management Department and was a liaison between our third-party and joint venture partners and the various departments throughout our organization. During that time, I was tasked with managing the second largest transition in our company’s history when we acquired SmartStop Self Storage.

In January 2017, I returned to the Operations team after a promotion to Division Vice President of the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC markets. A few years later, I was fortunate to return “home” as the Division Vice President of Southeast and Southwest Florida. I was in that role until recently when our COO, Matt Herrington, offered me the position of Senior Vice President of Operations for the Southeast.

Q: How did your career path lead you to Extra Space Storage?

A: My career took some interesting turns before ending up at Extra Space Storage. I started my career in Human Resources as a Consultant and Operations Manager. The firm was sold to an accounting company and later dissolved. At that time, through networking, I was offered a director position at my high school alma mater. That was a rewarding career change. Although I felt “at home,” it was not intended to be forever. My previous consulting firm boss introduced me to a self storage portfolio owner who hired me as their Director of Operations to oversee the third-party management company. The irony of that would not be realized until later in my career. I ultimately transitioned to the management company when my boss decided to sell his storage portfolio. I served as a District Manager of that management company and ended up starting an auction company with them, specializing in self storage auctions throughout the Southeast. In doing that, I met the newly promoted Division Vice President in Florida at Extra Space Storage. He was clearly a better negotiator than I was—I tried getting him to commit to moving his auctions to our platform, but he actually ended up hiring me as a District Manager instead. As they say, the rest is history!

Q: What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?

A: Two pieces of advice have been profound in my career. First, never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do. That mantra can apply in so many situations and has always steered me to be a servant leader. Provide for your team, and they will do the same in return.

The other advice has more of a sales spin but applies to business in general. In any given sales call or business interaction, you will only need to know about 20% of what you do or offer. The challenge is that you never know which 20%, so know the business thoroughly and be ready to lead. Extra Space Storage added a unique spin to this. You don’t need to know everything, rather, build relationships and utilize these resources to find what you need to be an effective leader.

Q: Which experience(s) in your career influenced who you are today?

A: I would say it’s more of who influenced me rather than which experiences influenced me. Although I have had many influential experiences in my career, I have had more influential people who have made me want to work harder and smarter to support their efforts. I have been blessed to have leaders that sincerely and truly cared about me, my family, my success, my well-being, and my career. They inspired me. I think, at best, most people meet one person like that in their career. At Extra Space Storage, I’ve had four direct supervisors—all of whom fit that criteria. In addition, I’ve had other mentors and leaders throughout the organization do the same. To outsiders, that seems foreign. To those who have grown through the Extra Space Storage ranks, it’s simply our leaders living our culture and being themselves. I’m not sure they’ll ever know their impact on all aspects of my life, but I will forever be grateful to them for it and aspire to be more like them. It’s the who that has inspired me to grow and stay at Extra Space Storage.

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?

A: The most challenging aspect of my career has been the relocations associated with my growth. I often joked that if anyone asked me (and they did) if I would ever relocate when I joined the company, my response was quick and easy—“no.” What I didn’t know then was the mutual trust and support I would find with the leadership at Extra Space Storage. That mutual trust allowed me and my family to make some pretty awesome sacrifices and leaps of faith, which always ended up being beneficial for me and the organization.

Q: What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your career?

A: Hands down—people development. Completing projects, achieving excellent results, and leading in performance are all fantastic and necessary to be successful, but I love to coach, teach, and develop people, which is undoubtedly the most fulfilling part of my job.

Recognizing abilities in others that they may not see in themselves. Pushing individuals out of their comfort zones to achieve something they never thought possible. Giving open and honest feedback to others in order for them to understand how they are perceived or to understand their opportunities. Being there for people in times of need, personally and professionally. Challenging people to be their best version of themselves and lead in ways others admire and want to emulate. Supporting people in these ways brings me the most fulfillment at the end of the day. And ultimately, it leads to greater success in all areas of the business, including personal and team performance.

Q: What advice would you give to future Extra Space Storage leaders?

A: I wish I had some earth-shattering advice, but I think it’s pretty simple. Be vulnerable. Own your development. Live and breathe the company values. Be vulnerable by not being afraid to say “I don’t know” or by asking for honest feedback. Take charge of your growth and development by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Take on more. Take some risks. Challenge yourself with accountability partners that will tell you when your breath smells. Be a student of the game. Learn in any way possible. Live and breathe our values—you’ll be a better leader because of it. Integrity, Passion, Teamwork, Innovation, and Excellence will steer you to great things in all aspects of life. If you do these things well, you’ll continue to grow and be the best version of yourself as a team member and as a leader.

This article is part of an ongoing series of interviews with Extra Space Storage (NYSE: EXR) leaders. Mike Pontillo is the Senior Vice President of Operations Southeast at Extra Space Storage.

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