Today we’d like to introduce you to Brett Kovel.
Brett, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I completed my BS at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). My degree was in finance with a focus on entrepreneurial studies. The main advantage of being at a city school was that many of our professors ran their own successful companies. This was motivating. I also enjoyed learning from and meeting my classmates. Most of us were grinders; working jobs while going to school full time. During my four years, I worked multiple jobs and completed two internships. Each experience was unique and valuable to shaping my future.
After graduating in 2003, I went to work with at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago (FRBC). The FRBC was a great experience. The work environment was fun, flexible, and diverse. I worked at the FRBC for over two years. I needed this time to build the confidence and framework to start my own company. I left the FRBC at the age of 24 to start my first company, Elite Management Associates, Inc. (Elite). Elite exclusively serves property associations. I decided to start this business because I lived in an association and recognized the need for better communication and financial transparency. Also, I simply wanted to make these communities better places to live.
Elite was started in 2005 with only one property (from a laptop computer in the guest bedroom). Today we work with 35+ Associations and over 1600 total units. We take pride in our small business and consider ourselves a boutique company. All of our growth has come from referrals and word of mouth. Our goal remains to provide personalized customer service and thorough communication to our associations. We want to be a partner with the communities we manage.
Currently, Elite Management continues to be the core business. Recently, I also started a small business with my eight-year-old son Caiden. We developed a baseball product called The Pitch Pad (www.thepitchpad.com). This has given me a chance to teach my son about entrepreneurship and making a difference by giving back. Our company commits 10% of profits to Pitch In For Baseball® (PIFB), a registered 501(c)(3) not for profit organization that provides new and gently used baseball and softball equipment to boys and girls in the United States and around the world who want to play ball but lack the equipment to do so. We also hold an annual equipment drive and accept donations throughout the year. In our first year, we donated 100+ items including 25 bats and gloves.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Our biggest challenge was entering the association business as a premium service provider. How can customers agree to pay a premium to an owner-operated unproven business with no customers? I basically said, “Give me a chance at what you pay today. After one year, when you see the value, let’s revisit the management fee.” It was a big risk, but the only reason I was getting the interview was because they were not happy with their current management company. It ended up working out.
The second biggest challenge was building a vendor network. When managing only a handful of properties, some vendors are not interested in working with you. At times it was hard to even generate competitive bids. Vendors would not show up to site meetings or respond to our requests. We were able to work around this by establishing relationships with other small business owners. We wanted to be sure our business was important to them. Many of our best-performing vendors have grown their business consistently over the last 10+ years. Vendors understand it is up to them to deliver for our mutual customer. They have to earn the relationship.
Additionally, we were growing the business through the great recession. Property values within our associations were plunging and owners were emotional. Many owners had financial struggles creating greater collection and foreclosure issues. Communication became more important than ever. We wanted to be sure that our properties stayed the course and continued to properly prepare for the future. Property values have since rebounded, and we feel blessed for that. It was hard to see families within our properties struggling.
Finally, growing a business cannot be done without hiring and retaining great employees. We have been fortunate to build a great team. Special thanks to Kyle Cottrell, Laura Sneed, Jessica Mahany, Jerry Lee, and Angel Sala for their ongoing commitment to Elite Management.
Elite Management Associates, Inc. – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Elite Management is a boutique association management company. We differentiate ourselves by providing consistency, on-site customer service, detailed communications, in-depth financial analysis, and strategic planning.
All of the customer service assignments from assessment collection, accounts payable, treasury management, and real estate closings are handled in-house. No major functions are outsourced which allows quick resolution to any reported problems.
Our on-site customer service is prompt and frequent. This is because we only service properties within 8 miles of our main office and our managers have more time to dedicate per property. This allows us to not only react quickly to on-site issues but also makes it easy to meet with multiple vendors when projects need to be reviewed or when we are receiving proposals.
Our detailed communication system is set up so that owners receive frequent and transparent communication on all happenings at the property. For example, we provide newsletters that are distributed quarterly. Additionally, every quarter we provide detailed financial write-ups covering balance sheet structure, cash flow, and profit-and-loss budget performance. On a monthly basis, we provide detailed financial reporting that includes scans of every check and invoice for the association. Lastly, every year we put together a budget and strategic plan based on all available data. We meet with the board and review the budget line by line. Once the final budget is agreed on, we send out a detailed write-up on plans for the upcoming year to support the numbers provided to the homeowners.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I believe success can be defined through integrity, happiness, and making a difference.
Integrity is about being honest and transparent. In today’s business and political climate, these attributes have become rare. Mark Twain once said, “Always tell the truth, then you do not have to remember anything.” We encourage the staff to admit to mistakes and show the willingness to learn from them. Happiness is in part about having great balance. We encourage working no more than 40 hours a week, leading a healthy lifestyle, and consistently doing the things you enjoy. Making a difference is about taking pride in your career and the way that you live your life. In our business, we can make our communities a better place to live by helping them make the right decisions and giving them a true partner that they can trust and rely on.
Making a difference away from your career is equally as important. We encourage volunteering and we are currently working on setting up annual volunteer opportunities where the staff work together. Currently, we have individually volunteered and/or donated financially to our local churches, The Helping Hand Center (www.hhcenter.org), the LeaderShop (www.leadershop.org), Pitch in For Baseball (www.pifb.org), Crushers Club (www.crushersclub.org) and Feed My Starving Children (www.fmsc.org). These organizations are doing great things.
- Website: www.elitemgt.net
- Phone: 708.352.2870
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/elitemgtnet
Brett with his kids at their annual equipment drive
One of Elite’s properties in Hinsdale, Illinois
The Elite team enjoying a night in the city
Brett and family on the water
Brett and family on the water