+IMPACT Spotlight: Building for the Future with Bozzuto CAO Julie A. Smith
As the Causecast team revs up for our exciting +IMPACT East conference next month, we’re sitting down with some of the fascinating experts speaking at the event for a little window into their worldview.
First up is Julie A. Smith, Chief Administrative Officer of Bozzuto, a privately held, integrated real estate services organization that puts environmental concern at the forefront of its business in building homes and communities. Giving back to those communities through the company’s Bozzuto Cares program is also a top priority, a value that has helped Bozzuto be recognized as a “Top Place to Work” by several sources, including The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun in the last year alone.
In 2015, Smith was named one of Washington’s Women of Influence by the Washington Business Journal as well as one of the top ten most influential women in the multifamily residential industry by Multifamily Executive Magazine. She was also named the magazine’s 2013 Multifamily Executive of the Year.
(Note: this interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)
Q: What are the biggest challenges right now in your workplace CSR/giving/volunteering program?
A: Coordination, not interest, is the biggest challenge. There’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm among our employees and residents to give back to communities in which we develop, construct and manage properties. But meeting that interest is a big organizational undertaking. Bozzuto has 2,220 employees, including 500 corporate employees, plus employees located throughout 250 different ‘field’ offices. Beyond the sheer numbers, there’s a challenge in creating a program that is cohesive and focused on the areas in which we are particularly interested.
Additionally, Bozzuto does not have a dedicated CSR team, but instead an employee-led program. Although this means that employees who are leading the Bozzuto Cares program are genuinely and authentically interested in making the program a success, it also requires that the employees be disciplined in what they can actually do as the program develops. When you have enthusiasm and a broad range of candidates with whom you are working, discipline is important.
Q: How do you bring your values to work?
A: Concern is the first listed value of our company; it fits hand in glove with CSR. This value of Bozzuto is led by employees every day in the corporate office, at construction sites, and at the properties which we manage in a variety of ways. For example, “Paint our Town Pink” was a huge campaign across the entire company that raised $21,000 last October. And for the last Movember campaign, we raised $13,000.
Outside of volunteer and giving campaigns , Bozzuto shows concern by celebrating Women’s History Month, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and more. During these months, company-wide emails are shared that celebrate employees and their accomplishments, personal success stories and more.
Q: How does your commitment to sustainability/social impact help the company's bottom line?
A: Sustainability and social impact are critical for employee engagement, and employee engagement is critical to bottom line impact. To put it another way, having the ability to provide community support is important to employees, which leads to retention. Additionally, it can enhance a company’s reputation for employing good citizens.
Q: What trends have you noticed around social/environmental impact in the real estate industry since you were founded in 1988, and where do you think things are going in the next 20 years?
Generally, the real estate industry has always been socially responsible, given the nature of our business (building homes, environments, working within communities, etc.) As an industry, we have always sought the support of the communities in which we are building or managing; we want to be strong community partners that bring brightness to these areas.
That said, I believe that having a corporate-centered program is fairly new, and it’s definitely a trend to have more organized efforts. Over the last 20 years, we have seen a giant increase in activity, largely because of the interest of employees to participate in some kind of community service through their workplace. Larger companies have always had an easier time sponsoring and leading these kind of efforts because of their bigger infrastructure. But now we’re seeing more and more involvement among companies of all sizes.
The trend of focusing on CSR could be generational. When I was attending high school, there was no mandated community service requirement. Now community service is such a big component of what students do, starting at an early age, that young people coming out of college expect companies to have a similar mindset and they want employers to help them participate.
Q: What inspires you to be an active member of your community?
A: As a resident of the Potomac River, I really care about protecting the area around me and guarding it as a natural resource, as well as ensuring that it’s a safe area. I think it’s so important to take care of what we have. I feel very blessed and fortunate, and am acutely aware of the fact that we who can give back are the very lucky ones. Overall, I believe in a culture of giving back and taking care of what we have.
Q: Why are you looking forward to speaking at the +IMPACT conference, and what will you be talking about?
A: I’m excited to speak at the +IMPACT conference because Causecast has been such a phenomenal company to Bozzuto in helping grow our program. I’ll be speaking about our experiences with Bozzuto Cares in regards to how we chose our pillars and designed the program. I’m really proud of what team has accomplished so far, so I hope to share the path to our accomplishments as well as what we hope to accomplish in the future. And I’m also very interested to hear what other professionals are doing and how we can use those lessons to further develop Bozzuto Cares.
Q: Anything else you would like to mention regarding CSR?
A: Including CSR as part of your company culture is a win-win for communities and the company. I think it’s important to think about and strategize around how to be a good corporate citizen and what you gain from that effort. I believe it’s well worth senior management’s time to understand how to harness CSR and what you gain from that effort, as it really helps drive company contributions.
I think that there needs to be a culture of generosity that comes from the top. Bozzuto has always been generous as an organization, and the principals, Tom and Toby Bozzuto, have always been generous personally, giving their own money to organizations that are important to them. It’s the same with other Bozzuto leaders like John Slidell and Rick Mostyn; they don’t wear it on their sleeve, but they’re generous towards the causes they care about. Giving back has always been a part of their collective ethos, and that gets translated into the ethos of the company.
So many organizations ask for financial donations. Having a strategy helps create a discipline in a meaningful way, and having an employee-led effort helps drive these decisions because we want to give to causes that employees support. It all has to flow within the corporate culture.