From his early days as a real estate analyst to his current position as the Senior Vice President of Real Estate, Zach Dickens has experienced incredible growth in his 16 years with Extra Space Storage—both in terms of company direction and his own personal growth as a leader for his team.
As head of the real estate department, Dickens identifies opportunities to help Extra Space Storage expand its storage property portfolio. He leads three teams spanning various regions across the U.S. and has brought in an average of $880 million per year in investments over the last five years.
We recently sat down with Dickens for a Q&A to learn more about his work within the real estate sector of the self storage business and what he’s discovered about his career along the way.
Q: How did your career path lead you to Extra Space Storage?
A: Prior to coming to Extra Space Storage, I worked at Starwood Hotels and then eBay. My experience at Starwood Hotels opened my eyes to the benefits of working for a real estate company. It wasn’t until my MBA program that I discovered the language of business (accounting and finance) and the advantages of being able to articulate a corporate strategy. It may sound overly simplistic, but developing a business vocabulary and the ability to lay out a rationale for an investment decision goes a long way in achieving one’s objectives.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?
A: Never compromise your integrity. This advice was shared by one of Extra Space Storage’s vice presidents when I was early in my career. Being honest and consistent in one’s actions and words allows others to trust you as a leader and allows your team to function at a much higher level.
Q: Which experience(s) in your career influenced who you are today?
A: Following the Great Recession, Extra Space Storage’s stock price was down in large part due to the lack of capital for lending in and reticence of banks to extend loans on real estate. I learned from that experience that continuing to work hard and finding alternative solutions does indeed work. During this period, the company contacted over 800 banks and established nearly 40 new banking relationships. Over the next decade that followed, the company re-established its business and emerged as one of the top-growth real estate companies in the nation. It wasn’t an easy process to go through, but valuable lessons were learned.
Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?
A: Being patient with the pace of one’s career growth can prove to be difficult at times. There were instances where I felt like I was in line for this or that promotion. When the promotion didn’t materialize, it was easy to get down on myself and frustrated with the process. I learned that exhibiting patience is key. There is always something to work on or something to learn from the roles we play in an organization. Having a good attitude and commitment to getting better goes a long way in improving our employment prospects and developing our underlying character.
Q: What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your career?
A: Seeing Extra Space Storage grow as a company has been extremely rewarding. The growth has led to the ability to employ many people around the nation, provide a best-of-class product to our customers, and generate profits for our investors. Being a part of this growth story has been the most fulfilling part of my career.
Q: Describe your most successful endeavor with Extra Space Storage.
A: Early in my career, I was fortunate to be part of the team which acquired Storage USA from General Electric. At the time, Storage USA was about three times the size of Extra Space Storage. In order to acquire the portfolio of nearly 450 properties totaling $2.3 billion in value, it took the combined efforts of nearly everyone in our company coupled with the efforts of our partners at PGIM. I learned from this experience that having good partners makes all of the difference.
Q: What advice would you give to future Extra Space Storage leaders?
A: Leaders often fall short of their objectives because of their inability to marshal the commitment of their team. Much of this comes from not recognizing the key contributions of others. As leaders, we can all be better champions of our fellow team members through extending appreciation of their efforts and better recognizing their individual achievements.
This article is part of an ongoing series of interviews with Extra Space Storage (NYSE: EXR) team members. Zach Dickens is the Senior Vice President of Real Estate with the Extra Space Storage Acquisitions team.