Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 341

The Problem With Over-Qualified Managers

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Very few Harvard MBAs apply for jobs as mobile home park managers – and that’s probably a good thing. In this Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast we’re going to explore the problems with over-qualified managers and why they rarely work out despite having glamorous resumes.

Episode 341: The Problem With Over-Qualified Managers Transcript

When I was at Stanford University back in the early '80s, I don't recall anyone sitting around in the dorm saying, "You know, my goal is to not get a medical degree or a dental degree. I don't wanna be a lawyer. I wanna be a Mobile Home Park manager". And flash forward to the past 30 years, I don't recall ever seeing in any of our applicant resumes, somebody who has an MBA from Harvard or a Master's of Public Policy from Yale. And that's all worked out fine because we have oftentimes hired people that appear to only have very, very highly qualified resumes, and it has not worked out well. This is Frank Rolfe with the Mobile Home Park, Mastery Podcast. We're gonna talk about the problems with hiring over qualified managers.

Now, first, what would be an overqualified manager? Well, we all know that Mobile Home Park management is not something where you need technically any actual degree. There's no licenses, there's no certain clearances that you need. It's not like someone going into the securities business where you have to have different securities levels of licensing, so anyone can pretty much do the job. But sometimes people apply for the role of the Mobile Home Park manager who have very lofty resumes and it makes you question, "Wait, is this a good idea? Should I hire somebody who has a master's in philosophy from Vanderbilt? Or should I stick with my regular type of candidate who is maybe someone who didn't even go to college but does have some background, at least in people skills?"

And here's how it's worked out for us, typically, when we have tried out hiring someone who has very high educational status and a really, really strong past record of working at very prestigious companies. The first problem you have is often they just don't wanna get dirty because, as a Mobile Home Park manager, frequently you're out in the field and you're walking around in grass and sometimes in mud, and sometimes you have to get down on your knees and look under a mobile home that just got brought in. And many people who have overqualified status, they don't like that. They're used to jobs where basically you're in a desk format and you don't go outside and you don't have the potential of getting your clothes dirty. And often, that one item alone doesn't fit well with us. Because our job, although it is predominantly in an office in nature, it does require some degree of field work.

Another problem you have with many of those type of managers are they're afraid of the customers. There's kind of a culture shock when they go from their background and their past business experience into operating your typical Mobile Home Park. Now, mobile home parks have many different personalities. You can have the super upscale ones out in Malibu, Paradise Cove and Point Dume, but you can also have some that are much more down and dirty with the focus on affordable housing. And in those properties in particular, they have difficulty in the culture shock of dealing with customers that are not the kind of people they are accustomed to being around. And that can cause problems. Another issue is that they seemingly always want continual raises because they are, the entire time you're struggling with this concept, they're struggling with it too. They're saying to themselves, "Wait a minute, what am I doing managing a mobile home park? This is kind of embarrassing". So the only way I can explain this to anyone is if I'm in it for the money.

But the problem is as mobile home park managers go, it's not a really high paying job. So there's this constant internal struggle that they often have to try and rationalize what they're doing. And as a mobile home park owner, you're trying to keep your costs down as best you can. So there's really nothing more annoying than the manager whose goal is to try and hit budget or beat budget with net income, try to be the one that breaks budget all the time, pitching you on the fact that they need more money. Another issue is that because they want more money, they're always wanting more responsibility. And for many mobile home park owners, there is nothing to aspire to. There's just the owner and then there's the park manager. There's not really a big hierarchy of positions between the two. It's not like a big corporation where you can work your way up from the bottom up to the CEO. There's just not that many different permutations of jobs. So as a result, it is kind of a dead end and employment gig. You just really can't get around that.

And then, another issue is often people who have very lofty scores on SAT exams and ACT exams and do very well in the classroom and therefore have obtained high levels of academia, there's something lacking, which is what helped them to attain that, which is that they're very numbers oriented and they're very good at answering and solving, reading, writing, and mathematical problems, but they don't have very good people skills. And because they don't have good people skills, what invariably happens is that they're unable to solve routine problems. Let's say for example, you've got a dispute from two people on adjoining lots over someone claiming that the other resident has placed something over their property line, even though Mobile Home Park lots do not have property lines. And a good manager would go to them and they would say, "Look guys, we don't have property lines. So you are mad about Mr. Smith having his lawn chair four inches onto what you perceive to be your lot. Mr. Smith, could you move it over four inches?" And Mr. Smith says, "No, I can't move over four inches because this is the exact spot where I get that great view of the hill over there".

So then you say, "Okay, well if you don't wanna move over four inches, let me ask you, Mr. Johnson, is there anything you could place four inches under Mr. Smith's lot?" And he says, "Well, yes, I'd like to place my chase lounge four inches over". And then it's suddenly solved and you move on. Or the fact that often, as the mobile home park manager, you have to talk people down from a ledge who are just having a bad day and they go to the office to complain. And again, people skills are an essential part of being a mobile home park manager, but often many overqualified applicants don't have people skills.

I would much rather have a manager with great people skills with the worst resume and academic performance in history over someone who has done wonderfully in college and wonderfully on every exam known demand, but is not able to talk to people to listen and to get the job done. And then finally, over qualified managers rarely stick around, and this is one of their most frustrating attributes, is that after they often can drive you nuts, they always leave. Because the entire time they're working for you as the mobile home park manager, that's not what the end goal is. Often when you get the over qualified manager, what's going on is they're having some kind of career interruption. They got laid off at their job at McKinsey & Company or something, and they're just trying to find something to pay the bills in the interim until they can get back on track of what they thought the future of their career would be. So as a result, you put all this time in trouble and training them, and they sometimes do a good job, but then suddenly out of nowhere they just notify you that, "Oh yeah, well, I'm leaving. I got a job back in my dream industry and I'm out of here".

So it's kind of always a tale of heartache when you have the over qualified manager because despite all of the time and trouble you spend training them and learning about the business, they typically always let you down. Now, you also have to ponder as a mobile home park owner, do I really need someone like that as the manager? You know, back when I got in the industry, back in the '90s, the standard operating procedure for Mobile Home Park manager was, they collected up all the rent, they deposited it in the account, they wrote all the checks for the park, and then they gave the owner the difference. That's a terrible system. It's ripe for embezzlement and all kinds of problems. But back in that day, if you had someone who had a higher level of education, it was probably a benefit to you because they might be more skilled and accurately doing the accounting and all the various book work. So then, it might have made a difference if they had gone to college and let's, for example, say they had a degree in accounting, but that's the old days.

Today the modern manager doesn't do anything like that. A modern mobile home park probably has the majority of payments coming in under ACH, so they don't really collect the money and use software like Rent Manager, so they're not gonna be doing any kind of books or accounting at all. And the meters are read remotely via satellite. So really today, the Mobile Home Park manager is mostly focused on people skills, on making sure that customers are happy so you have high levels of retention and then some degree of sales and marketing to make sure you can fill any vacancy. But I don't think you really need people today that really have MBAs or masters or have gone to prestigious colleges because that's really not the nature of the business anymore. And again, I would happily take somebody straight out of high school who never even went to college, but has great people skills because that's more the nature of the work today. On top of that, when you grow someone organically through the organization, when you take someone with no prior experience and you mold them in to an effective manager, that's more of a long-term solution. They're gonna be happy with the career path, happy with the math that they're making, and a satisfied manager is a critical step to having a satisfied client base. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.