From an Accidental Job to an Industry Leader

Posted By: Russ Webb DEI,

This is part four of the weekly series featuring the profiles of African American leaders in the apartment industry throughout Black History Month. An initiative of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, these interviews aim to highlight our existing leaders and promote inclusion within our organization.

Walter Niles is a District Community Manager with First Communities and the first time you meet him you realize he is someone you needed to meet. Walter truly wants to make a difference in this world and we are very lucky to have him here with the Bay Area Apartment Association.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Walter! Tell us how you got started in the apartment industry.

A: Funny story actually. I went to Florida A&M majoring in broadcast journalism and graduated at the worst possible time to find a job in that field as social media had exploded and fewer real news jobs were out there. I needed a job so I started applying for as many as I could find not even reading the full job descriptions. I received a callback for a leasing agent position that I didn’t even remember applying for... never knowing that would start my career!

Q: Are there individuals that you feel like have been pivotal to your success in multifamily?

A: Absolutely. My first manager, Denise gave me the initial shot to show what I could do and my current boss, Shannon Rico, made it her goal to advance my career and I don’t know where I would be without her.

Q. What did you learn in training for your other career that has been beneficial?

A. Great question. In journalism you learn that good communication skills are necessary to relay a message and that has been invaluable in multifamily. I use these skills daily when communicating to my properties or to residents. Being an active listener helps solve all kinds of problems.

Q. So what skill would you tell people is most needed in this industry, besides the communications ones you mentioned?

A. That’s easy. THICK SKIN! This industry is challenging and always changing. To be successful you need to not dwell on issues and have a wide area of knowledge to draw from. I like the saying that to be successful we need to be “a mile wide and 6 inches deep” - know a little about a lot.

Q: Let’s talk Diversity & Inclusion. As a whole, how do you feel the rental housing industry is doing in its D&I efforts?

A: We are doing okay, but could be doing better. For the Association I think BAAA is doing good and I like that it is a focus right now. The affordable housing task force is a place I want to focus on as that part of our population is underserved and I feel like our industry can be part of the solution to that problem.

Q.What did you want to be when you grew up?

A. (laughing) A young Michael Jackson and/or Michael Jordan. Music and sports are my love and those two set the bar for everyone else. Later in life I looked at what Will Smith has done, being a jack of all trades in entertainment, that is really a career to be admired.

Q: If you could give your younger self a piece of advice when first beginning your career in property management, what would it be?

A: Speak up! Let your voice be heard and don’t be afraid to share your thoughts. They hired you for a reason.

Q: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

A: I would like the ability to spend whatever I wanted without my bank account going down! I could do a lot of good and help so many people.

Q: What advice would you give minority professionals seeking to enter our industry? 

A: Don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars. I never saw this as a career when I started but I wouldn’t change a thing. This industry is rewarding and no two days are alike. It IS a career path and use your voice.

Q.Tell us a book or podcast that everyone should seek out:

A.Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene.