REITalent Spotlight: Q&A with Public Storage Regional Vice President Sara Shirazi
Nareit’s REITalent series shines a spotlight on talent in the REIT industry, highlighting various roles within Nareit member companies and the unique career paths individuals have taken.
Most recently, Nareit spoke with Sara Shirazi, regional vice president at Public Storage (NYSE: PSA). You can find current job opportunities available with Public Storage here.
How did you find your job at Public Storage?
I had a recruiter reach out to me on LinkedIn, who said "We're hiring at Public Storage, and we have this great opportunity. Are you interested to learn a little bit more about it?" Coming from retail and having no clue about real estate, I said sure. The next day, I got a call from a senior district manager from Public Storage asking if I would like to do an interview. I set up the interview with them, went through the process, and then I had a two-hour interview with the regional vice president. After that interview, they asked me to fly out to California to do my final interview with the executive vice president, and next thing I knew, I was here. So, it all started with a recruiter from LinkedIn.
Would you describe a little bit about what you do in your role a regional vice president?
My responsibilities evolve every day, but the daily reoccurring responsibilities are the oversight and management of a large geographical area of the Public Storage portfolio. At a deeper level, I'm responsible for the morale and culture within my team. Having great engagement and diversity within my team is the key to success in my opinion. At Public Storage, there are a lot of things the teams must accomplish every day. Ensuring the team knows they're valued, that they remember to have fun, and that we're a team is really the key to long-term success. Our leadership team has done such a great job with diversity, and being part of the senior executive team, my role is to continue to build a diverse and inclusive team.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking for a job like yours right now?
Anything that you're passionate about or any role you want to get into, it's about connection and networking. What I would recommend is to connect with someone that works there already. You can reach out through LinkedIn to someone that is already working for the company and get insight from them to make sure that's the company where you want to go and the job will allow you to do what you want to do. Asking questions like, "Hey, I saw you're working there.
How's it going? How long have you been there? What do you like? What insight can you give me?" I think puts you ahead of other applicants because you really get that inside perspective and you know if it may be a good fit for you ahead of time.
Why do you think someone should look for a role within commercial real estate, and specifically at a REIT?
You can build a future in commercial real estate and you never have to worry about the industry not being there anymore. You can't create more land, but you can buy more buildings and you can expand the buildings that you already have. It's not a trend business, and it doesn't go out of style. And with my sector, there will always be a need for storage.
What would you say to someone without a background in commercial real estate who is looking to make a career change into the industry?
Most of our folks don't have [a commercial real estate] background when they come to us. What we look for is somebody that is good with time management. They have to love to coach and build a team, and develop their team. Those are the folks that have come to us that are very successful.
Would you mind telling us about a challenging situation that you faced during your time at Public Storage?
I think the most challenging one for all of us has been the pandemic because how do you ensure that every decision you make [in a situation] you've never been through is right? How do you ensure your district managers are safe? How do you ensure your customers are safe? There was a shortage of supplies initially. When we got supplies, we had to determine how to deliver them. How would we make sure everyone has what they need to be successful and to be safe in this environment? Really understanding each other, making sure that everybody had trust in one another, and that everyone felt comfortable and safe using every tool that we had available was how we got through this very challenging year.
What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment since you started at Public Storage?
In my role as a senior district manager, I was teaching district managers everything I had learned to help make them successful to help them develop and create that new senior district manager. And after I became a regional vice president and my scope opened up a little bit more, I had a senior district manager [working under me] at that point. I was able to help her to go to where she wanted to go. When she got promoted again that was a huge achievement for me. So to me, the biggest achievement is seeing people grow by teaching them everything you know and helping them go where they want to go in their career.
Did you participate in any mentorship programs when you were just starting out?
I remember when I was a district manager, my senior district manager was my role model. He spent time with me, giving me all the tools he had that made him successful. Up to this day I still talk to him, and now he's the divisional vice president of the company. He still sees me as that protégé and wants to make sure I'm successful and is constantly checking on me even years later to make sure I have everything I need. That's one thing I love about the company. Yes, we're a big company, we're a successful company, but we're valued, and not just numbers.
What do you think that senior executives could learn from people just starting their careers, or just coming into the industry?
One thing at Public Storage that we talk about often is what we call the bridge. It is an open walkway, where ideas from any employee level can be escalated to a senior executive and in a judgment free zone. Of course, not all ideas are implemented or put in action, but the level of openness really helps create a trusting culture in sharing ideas and innovating and supporting change management. I think that other companies in this industry could implement change and innovation faster by encouraging all levels of employees to share their ideas.
Please note: this interview has been edited for clarity.