Career Advice

Property Manager Creates His Own Path

Sean Hill had it made – a top-tier liberal arts education, a legal job with all the perks, and a law school education around the corner. It just didn’t feel right. So he went his own way, leaving corporate America behind to start a property management business and finally get the freedom he’d always been looking for in an unconventional career.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How long have you been doing this job?

I’m Sean Hill and I’m an entrepreneur. I currently own a property management business, which I founded about a year ago, but I’ve been entrepreneurial all my life and I’ve started other businesses in the past, doing everything from connecting black singles to cleaning crabs.

What is your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you?

I’m a black man and I didn’t grow up well off, so I saw a lot of black men like me not given the opportunity to reach their dreams. Those who did have the opportunity to succeed most often went to college and then got a job in the corporate world or became a doctor or a lawyer.

While that’s a valid choice, I think a lot of the time we demonize those people who want to go another way and start their own businesses by calling them hustlers instead of looking at them as entrepreneurs. I think that we would be better off as a people if we focused a lot more on teaching people how to make a product or offer a service and then get others to pay for that product or service.

Not everyone fits into the corporate world – I know I didn’t – and without another option black men may think of ourselves as failures instead of looking for success that’s legal and upstanding but falls outside of the traditional business world. I really struggled with that and I don’t want other people to have those same struggles.

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail?

In my area, most of the rental properties are owned by businesses, not individuals. Simply put, my job as a property manager is to make sure that when a tenant pulls up to one of those properties, it looks good and functions well. I help make sure that the parking lot is shoveled, that the trash is picked up properly, that the grass is trimmed and the outside of the property looks good.

On top of that, my job as a business owner is to make sales calls to potential new clients, which can involve everything from giving an estimate to touring an apartment complex, and to manage my staff and resources so that I can properly service all the existing properties that I work with.

What was your journey to doing this kind of work? How did you get here?

I went to a great liberal arts college, and when I graduated, I thought I was going to become a lawyer. I got a job at the Department of Justice, got into top law schools, and was on my way. But I have always been someone who questions rules and regulations and that started causing problems. Every time someone said do a, b, c, and d, I would think why not do d, a, b, and then jump to k.

In the world of corporate law, that’s a problem. People don’t want to hear about k when you’re supposed to be on b. I also wasn’t able to dedicate enough of my time to business ideas that I had on the side, because I had to dedicate all my time to this job. Eventually I checked out and ended up on the wrong side of the “up and out” policy – either they promote you or they get rid of you, and for me it was the latter.

So suddenly I’m unemployed and trying to figure out how to support myself after coming from a pretty good high-end lifestyle – I had the luxury studio, the new car, the platinum cards, the works. And it felt pretty bad to lose that, so I made myself feel better the only way I knew how, by working. I put myself out there and I started getting calls to help out with properties – I’ll pay you to fix my leaky basement or trim my overgrown grass or deal with a yard full of beer bottles. I started with just the most rudimentary tools and just myself and I’ve built up the business now to the point that I have staff and better infrastructure and real resources. It’s just grown exponentially.

Do you love what you do? Do you think you’ve found the right path?

What I love about being a business owner is the freedom to make my own decisions and the ability to be constantly learning and growing. Recently, for example, I thought about putting more money into marketing my business, until I realized that every dollar that I invest in staff and infrastructure is coming back to me tenfold. So I switched my plan. But I didn’t have to get sign-off from the boss or get approvals from a ton of people – I made the decision and then I acted on it. That freedom is priceless.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

I don’t think you need any specific education, but you do need to have a certain mindset. Some people are planners – they decide where they want to be in x years and then they work backwards from there and figure out their steps. But I think it takes more flexible thinking to be an entrepreneur. You don’t know what’s going to happen next so you have think while you’re running downhill – you have to be able to go with what the moment brings you and take advantage of any and all opportunities in front of you.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

It’s not so much about how you get the job done as it is that you get the job done, no matter what’s going on around you. And if you’re consistently having trouble getting the job done, it may just be that you’re not in the right kind of job.

What kind of challenges do you face and what makes you just want to quit?

Business ownership is tough – it isn’t just fun and free-wheeling all the time. And I’ve definitely chosen a different and possibly more difficult path than many people, but I think that I’m doing the right thing for who I am and how I function. As circumstances change, being a business owner allows me to change with them, so even if things are falling apart around me or something happens that I can’t predict, I know that I will be able to make a decision quickly, adapt to the circumstances, and move forward.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

What’s great about my business is that it’s growing. When I started out, people were paying me $40 or $50 to do a small job here and there. Now the business is bringing in $800 or $900 a day. To be honest, I didn’t even know that you could make that kind of money, especially outside of corporate America. I can’t wait to see how much I can grow the business in the future.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

One of the other great things about being a business owner is that you control your own vacation. If I want to drive down to the beach for the day because I want to get away, I don’t need to clear it with anyone but myself. So I get the time off that I need. Plus I’m more energized with my work now so I don’t need as many breaks.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

As far as entrepreneurship goes, I would say do it. Figure out what it is that you can manufacture or offer and then figure out who is willing to give you money to buy that product or get that service. It doesn’t have to be the world’s biggest idea – not everyone is Mark Zuckerberg, but we don’t all have to be. Some of us can own a plumbing business or a property management business and make good money and enjoy our lives.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

In many ways, I feel I have written my own ticket. And I’m still writing it. So I have no idea where I’ll be in five years exactly, but I know who I’ll be – I’ll be someone who is authentically living their life and owning their choices and doing what they love. And that’s more important to me than a title and a corner office will ever be.