For those of you that follow me on Facebook, you may have noticed some blog posts I’ve been sharing by Jeff Spanke. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jeff to chat with him about his life and to ask him a few questions. When the meeting was over, I realized there were still ten more questions I wished I would’ve asked, so I emailed those to him and asked him to reply. He did so accordingly, though, I will have to say, in a verbose manner customary to men of scholarship. Bright fellow, that Jeff Spanke. And nice too. He’s a bit new to the multifamily social space, but you can find his blog posts on MultifamilyInsiders.com or connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Me: What’s your experience with apartments?
Jeff: I believe I started working in the industry after my junior year in High School. At the time I worked as a leasing consultant at two different properties owned by the same company. Over the years, I worked for several different companies throughout the state as anything from a temporary maintenance technician to an assistant manager, to a parking garage attendant.
Me: Jeff, I hear you’re quite the educator. How does the apartment industry relate to your career in education?
Jeff: Great question, Mark! I consider them linked, if not entirely similar. Education is all about marketing: pedaling an undesired product to a consistently disengaged customer base. The most effective teachers utilize marketing strategies to engage their students in whatever material the teacher wishes to deploy. And, like apartments, it’s not just about the initial closing, but rather the creation of a valuable experience with that product. I don’t teach to the test, and managers don’t work for the lease. I teach to the students, and managers work for the leasee.
Me: You have your masters in History and Literature; how does that experience/knowledge help you every day?
Jeff: I’ve always been fascinated with the power and value of stories to change the world. They can. They do. With the right voice, a single person can create a religion, start a war, change a law, destroy a country, build a town, create a life, frighten, inspire, confuse, excite, and arouse the imaginations of countless people. As a student, I love studying how certain stories have shaped various historical events and with my psychology background, how those events in turn shaped the people of the world. It’s the same reason why I love education and apartments; I’m a story teller, and the best story wins. Period.
Me: What’s one of your proudest accomplishments in teaching?
Jeff: In 2010, I was voted Montgomery County “Teacher of the Year,” which basically means I got my name spelled wrong in the paper, but hey, it’s on my resume. Though, I think a more fitting question would be, “What’s one of your proudest accomplishments in life,” and I would say, “Teaching.”
Me: Do you have any fun leasing stories?
Jeff: Of course! Appropriate ones? Maybe not…most of them involve incidents that resulted in the closing of our community pools.
Me: As a writer, what do you hope people can take away from reading your blog posts?
Jeff: That a human being wrote them. Seriously, it’s so easy to mechanize everything these days and to fall into the perilous routine of thinking our jobs are futile. Albert Camus, a French philosopher once said, “Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm – this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the “why” arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement.” I guess, with my writing, I want to remind myself mostly (but if other people pick up on this, then hooray for me!) that people live in apartments. People with lives and stories and concerns and dreams and passions. If we can remember that and not simply go through our days looking at the clock and filing away lease renewals—if we seek to find the meaning in the meaningless (like cotton balls), then not only will our lives be more enriched, but we will be better at what we do.
Me: You recently wrote about local schools connecting with apartment communities. Why is this so important?
Jeff: Because the conditions in which people live and their success in school are so inextricably linked. It just makes sense that schools and apartments should work as closely as possible to provide a safe and productive environment for the academic stakeholders of a given community. I can’t tell you enough how important home life is to students. You wanna fix the schools? Fix the homes. Apartments can’t do the first one, but in working on the second one, both will improve. Right?
Me: How has technology affected the way you study and teach? How do you see that continuing to evolve?
Jeff: How much time do we have? I’ve found that as information becomes more readily available, two primary shifts have occurred in education. For one, the incentive to establish and maintain a strong credibility with my students has increased drastically. No longer do students feel the need to simply take a teacher at their word and believe whatever they say because at any moment, what the teacher says can be verified with the use of a phone—something virtually every student has. This forces teachers to master their material and the best means to disseminate it to the students.
Another interesting shift in education stems from the fact that students now have a lot more power. Because of their capacity to access information and share in that discovery, teachers must not only establish credibility as instructors, but also relevance for their product: in this case, knowledge. In democratizing information, technology has turned knowledge into capital. In turn, classrooms have morphed into a sort of digitized free-market economy wherein students warrant attention and respect. In truth, I’m more of a tour guide nowadays than the teacher of previous generations; I direct, facilitate, and indicate rather than lecture, test, and scold.
Me: What are your goals with your writing as they relate to the apartment industry?
Jeff: Honestly, having worked in a variety of apartment communities, I wish would have had something to read that was somewhat industry specific, but that offered a refreshing blend of casual insights/social observations and professional wisdom. I guess I’m trying to get as close to that as possible. As a teacher, I pride myself on finding the teachability of everything. I think the same is true with apartments; there’s value in everything. At the end of the day, I’d like to be the guy who talks about it on the internet.
Me: Book you think everyone should read? Movie you think everyone should watch?
Jeff: Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House is an all-time favorite. I also enjoy Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Movies that everyone should watch? Hmmm…The Truman Show is a classic. Ask me again tomorrow.