Kendall Parisi, corporate designer at Passco Companies LLC, looked over the numerous stacks of marketing supplies, brochures, and trade show materials spread across the conference room table.
Time was passing rapidly, and she needed to move all of the paraphernalia downstairs and into the car right away so she and Stacy Stemen, Passco’s director of marketing, could take off for the International Council of Shopping Centers’ convention in Las Vegas.
“I knew I could never do it all by myself,” she recalls. “So I asked a couple people in the office for help – and within a minute or two, at least 10 people showed up, ready to help me out.” In fact, she adds, her office mates kept showing up – so many that she had to turn away the would-be helpers.
“That’s just what people are like here. Everyone steps up when you need the help – and even when you don’t,” she says with a laugh.
Hefting boxes of marketing materials may not on the surface seem like the most productive way to spend time in the dynamic world of commercial real estate investment, with its can’t-miss deadlines and high-stakes deals. On the contrary, says Gary Goodman, Passco’s senior vice president, acquisitions. It’s precisely because everyone is so willing to help one another that the company – which holds a diverse portfolio of more than 60 properties in 20 states – is so healthy.
“This is a very fun-filled, energetic group of people who work together to get the job done,” he says. “Day in, day out, I’ve walked these halls for the better part of 10 years. I’ve never seen a frown on someone’s face. It’s always ‘How are you doing? How can I help you?” That attitude, he explains, is the foundation on which Passco is built.
Passco is the 2016 winner of the Orange County Business Journal’s Best Places to Work in the mid-sized company division. It was founded in 1998 by William “Bill” Passo – thus the play on words – and focused on retail investments. It’s now a national real estate investment firm specializing in the acquisition, development and management of commercial properties.
The rapidly growing company has close to $2 billion in assets under management, more than $3 billion in acquisitions, and approximately 5,000 investors worldwide. It’s added several multimillion-dollar projects in the past six months alone, including apartment complexes in Alexandria, VA., Orlando and Nashville for $69 million, $54 million and $51 million, respectively.
Those sorts of high-value projects require that everyone communicate with each other, says Victoria White, vice president, investor services. “Everyone understands that in order to get a project to its goal line, we all need to pull together. Sometimes that becomes very daunting, because we have investors who are signing documents that are 6 feet deep, and we need a lot of help. We have such an open-door policy here at Passco, especially with senior management. They’re in here helping because they understand.
Senior management’s open and understanding approach is one of the key reasons employees enjoying working at Passco, White says. “Our company culture starts at the tope. Bill’s (CEO/founder Passo) main philosophy is balance. Bill doesn’t want our lives consumed by work. He wants you to leave here knowing you’re going home to a great home, a great dinner, maybe a glass of wine. You know that your life is better because of the work you’re doing here.”
Goodman adds, “Here, there is true empathy for employees and their personal challenges. Management understands if you have to take time off for personal reasons. Graduations, health issues, there is never any question about what is more important. We recognize that it is good to get the job done, but that if you have a personal challenge, that trumps it.”
Work-life balance is one of the key reasons employees voted the company top among the Best Places to Work, as is Passco’s commitment to employees’ professional growth.
Ronnie Harrell, analyst, realty investments, jokes that he “started in the mailroom” at Passco. Now, a decade later, he has held a variety of positions at the company, always moving onward and upward when the time was right. “At Passco, the upper management believes in its people,” he says. “We’re empowered to make decisions.”
White agrees: “Passco gives everyone an opportunity for growth. Not only growth within yourself as a professional, but also paths within the company. Every year, Larry (Sullivan, Passco president) meets with every single employee…to ask, ‘Are you getting what you need? Where do you see yourself professionally?’ He genuinely wants us to succeed.
Stemen, director of marketing, adds her perspective: “[Senior management] puts you in situations that you may not be comfortable, but it stretches you as an individual and as a professional.”
She cites a time when she was invited to a senior management retreat and upon her return to the office was tasked with relaying to the other associates what was presented at the event.
“Being the spokesperson for the mission of your company to your associates is a hard thing to do,” she says, “but they (senior management) did it intentionally. They want to push us to be our best.”
Rewarded with Good Times
Adriana Olsen, vice president, sales, points to Passco’s culture of inspiring employees as another reason it has a good reputation in the industry.
“Larry came up with this terrific idea at the beginning of the year. It was called ‘just one more.’ The concept was that before you leave for the day, you do just one more task, be it answer an email, make one more phone call…if everyone does just one more thing, every day, the opportunity for success is infinite.”
Harrell says of the concept, “This goes hand-in-hand with our work philosophy. We’re competitive, and we push each other in a positive way. We ask ourselves – and each other – ‘How much can we do today?'”
Olsen credits “just one more” as one of the reasons Passco employees recently celebrated a significant milestone – the company raised a record $100 million in investments in the first five months of the year.
Employees’ commitment to the company is regularly rewarded, she says. There are fun, stress-relieving activities like the Summer Office Olympics, when employees break into teams and compete in events such as “office golf,” and senior management organizes activities such as bowling, ice cream socials, and scavenger hunts. The office was rewarded in the past year with a week day trip to Catalina Island.
Employees’ needs are never far from senior management’s considerations, they say.
“When we moved our offices to this location, the management took a map and figured out where each employee lived relative to work,” Olsen says. “Then they put the office smack-dab in the middle so that no one’s commute would be negatively affected by the move.”
A culture of communication and helpfulness, along with a sense of “we’re all in this together” has shaped the company’s growth. “From the senior management team to accounting to analysts to department managers – everyone just seems to step up and do what needs to be done and we love doing it,” White says. “We’re growing as a company, and we are better today than we’ve ever been.”
This article was originally published in the Orange County Business Journal.