Head of the Class: Gateway North Shows Commitment to Top-Notch Education and Training

By Jessica Bates


This is the first in a series of articles exploring the six different criteria evaluated by the BOMA 360 Performance Program®.

A commitment to training and education is at the heart of the work culture at Gateway North, a high-rise office building in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. “It’s a part of everything we do,” says Jennifer Laforest, portfolio manager for Washington, D.C.-area property management company Vornado/Charles E. Smith, which owns and manages the building. “Everyone here is encouraged to teach each other on a daily basis and to seek out any outside training they need.”

In 2015, Gateway North became one of many Vornado/Charles E. Smith buildings to achieve the BOMA 360 Performance Program designation. As part of their submission process, the property team documented their excellence in six areas of building operations and management, including training and education. Laforest was pleased to see the building gain recognition for areas that are easily overlooked by tenants, but that can make a huge difference behind the scenes. “Tenants aren’t going to know that our building engineer taught a brown bag session on the HVAC system or that my assistant property manager is pursuing a new designation, but they can see the results,” Laforest says. “They can see that we work better as a team or that their maintenance requests are completed more quickly because the building engineers and the property managers know how to communicate better.”

This emphasis on learning is evident throughout the company. Shawn Kyle, Vornado/Charles E. Smith’s senior vice president of Management Services, explains that supporting and developing their employees’ careers offers tremendous rewards. “We have high standards for our property teams, and we want to do everything we can to help them do their jobs well,” Kyle says. Vornado/Charles E. Smith offers all employees “enrollment” in the Vornado University School of Property Management, a comprehensive training and development program designed to guide them through every stage of their career.

As soon as someone joins the staff, they are ushered through a three-month program designed to provide them with the basics they need to succeed in their new position. All employees benefit from monthly software training and brown bag lunches on a wide variety of property management topics, as well as an archive of recorded trainings. As employees advance, they are encouraged to pursue professional designations and given career advice and mentorship. Laforest is especially excited about a new program debuting this year that matches employees who are currently pursuing designations with those who have already achieved them to help guide them through the process. She and many of her colleagues also are active members of BOMA/Metropolitan Washington (AOBA), which not only supplements the company’s in-house training but also provides an outside perspective on their work. “People say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, but in property management it’s both,” she says. “I always say BOMA is a great way to make connections and find out what’s happening in other parts of the industry.”

A commitment to learning is a large part of what motivated Vornado/Charles E. Smith to commit to submitting their entire portfolio to the BOMA 360 Performance Program. Kyle says the program was a perfect fit for their company mission. “The BOMA 360 criteria are best-in-class practices, which is exactly what we want to embody,” he says. “We originally set a goal to submit just 15 buildings, but it was such a rewarding process for our property teams—and such a valuable learning experience—that we decided to keep going.” The company has submitted more than 40 buildings this year alone. In addition to BOMA 360, the company also sets a goal to submit at least one building to BOMA’s The Outstanding Building of the Year® (TOBY) Awards each year. “We want our employees to gain the recognition they deserve,” Kyle says. “Achieving the BOMA 360 designations for our properties has been a great confidence booster for our teams in addition to adding prestige to our company.”

Laforest’s team at Gateway North celebrated their BOMA 360 designation at a recent staff meeting with a breakfast celebration, and they’ve happily displayed their new plaque in the lobby, sharing the news with their tenants. “Submitting to the BOMA 360 program was like getting a report card for your building,” she says. “And by earning the designation, now we’re on the honor roll.”