27 Mar Women in Corporate Housing and Relocation-Part 2
In honor of Women’s History Month, three women in the corporate housing industry discuss their careers–from difficult decisions to satisfying moments and things they wish they’d known.
Part 2 Features Leslie Batsford
Leslie Batsford, SuiteAmerica’s Director of Business Development and Strategic Marketing, has a very personal connection to the relocation industry. When her family was relocated her senior year of high school, she thought it was “glamorous.” She still loves that “there is never a dull moment” in corporate housing.
As a “politely persistent” person, Leslie has built a reputation for securing new clients and growing existing business. She’s grateful for the opportunities and network she’s developed over her career, but more importantly, she’s grateful for what corporate housing has allowed her to do—help people.
She’s not afraid to be personal. It’s her strength. Here, Leslie shares how she’s worked her way up, “literally, I’ve done whatever it takes,” how she crashed an airplane at SFO, and how one of the scariest things she’s ever done in her life was also one of the most gratifying.
(Answers have been edited for length and clarity.)
1. Tell me about your career arch. How’d you get into corporate housing and relocation?
My father was an executive for a technology company in Southern California. He was relocated to Northern California when I was senior in high school. It was a crazy time, and the household goods company accidentally took my prom dress with them in the move. My mom and I had spent days shopping for it. Looking back, it’s not that big of a deal, but at the time, it was. That was my first experience with the relocation industry.
Early in my career I went into property management. I had a young family and wanted to work from home, which I was able to do. The company I worked for owned apartments, strip malls, medical offices, mobile home parks, and even agricultural crops. I started very low-level, then was quickly elevated and started reporting to the CEO.
It was a really fun and interesting job where I learned so much, and I could take care of my kids. It was the perfect storm. Over time I felt that my girls were being neglected at some level because I worked around the clock.
I learned from a friend that there was a land management and development company that needed someone for their management team. I felt bad leaving my job in property management, but it was necessary to make a change and allow my girls to have a mom with a normal schedule so that I could have my career and be there for them too.
I loved my job at the land management and development company. I’ll never forget the first day I started. As I walked off the elevator, I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” I had a big office with a fancy desk on the top floor, and I was completely overwhelmed. The company had a corporate housing division, which is why I chose the job to begin with. I reminded myself that this is what I wanted. It was here that I could bring my relocation experience with me to help others going through a tough relocation transition.
I’ve never looked for work. I’ve had the good fortune to be recruited from company to company and at that point in my life had never been on a job interview. For that I’ll always be grateful.
When I started in corporate housing, I learned that it’s a complicated business. It took quite a long time to learn the industry, and in fact, I’m still learning something new every day. I was fortunate enough to receive extensive training and eventually became a Corporate Housing Certified Mentor. My first year in the business I was recognized and awarded rookie of the year.
I love corporate housing because there is never a dull moment. There’s always something going on. Some days I say that I’ve heard and seen it all. I’ve had the good fortune to meet talented people, like Mark Zuckerberg and beyond. At one point I had a client who provided me the opportunity to go on a field trip. It was the most fun field trip ever! I got to go in a flight simulator and be a pilot, and my host was the co-pilot. The take off and flying went well, but on landing, I crashed the airplane into the terminal at SFO and took out the entire thing.
Another one of my clients presented me with a hand-held device as a gift back when they weren’t used by the public as they are today. I didn’t even know what it was. I was just excited to have it and showed it to anyone who was interested. I’ve been able to do and see all kinds of amazing things in Silicon Valley throughout my career, and I’m forever grateful.
2. As Director of Business Development and Strategic Marketing, what is your typical day like?
It’s pretty jam packed. I start on email at 6am. My days consists of problem solving, prospecting for new clients, managing relationships and current clients.
Securing new business is my favorite thing to do. My reputation has been built on landing new business and expanding existing business. When I get a new appointment, that makes my day and my week! I love it! Growing with my client’s companies and keeping relationships after the initial contact is what I look forward to everyday.
Prospects and customers tell me that I’m politely persistent and that I listen to people’s needs and then bring solutions to the table.
One of the amazing things about SuiteAmerica is that we’re an employee-owned company, meaning it’s my business. I get to make it exceptional because my name is attached to it. SuiteAmerica is all about genuinely partnering with clients and providing the best housing and DSP solutions for them. I believe in SuiteAmerica. I often ask clients to tell me what issues they are experiencing, and let me see what I can do to solve them. I’m going to present a custom solution that works for them.
Sales professionals are good listeners. Sales isn’t about feature dumping or discounting a rate, it’s about providing solutions and delivering. I’m more than a corporate housing sales professional. I’m a relocation industry consultant.
3. What’s the toughest decision you’ve ever made in your career?
When I left my last company, it was very difficult because I worked so hard to build their business nationally and internationally. I had a lot of success and relationships that I was worried I would have to leave behind.
4. What has been the most satisfying moment in your career so far?
Building the last company where I worked and now working to bring the same to SuiteAmerica.
Another thing I’m grateful for in my career is the platform it’s given me to speak my truth. I had the opportunity to speak at ERC about domestic violence. Most people are not aware that I’m a survivor of domestic violence. I felt shame and kept silent about the abuse for over 20 years. The platform at ERC allowed me to share my experience with my peers. I thought sharing my experience would present me as weak and afraid.
It’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life and also the most satisfying. The organizers struggled with where to put me in the lineup with the other speakers. I remember going to my hotel room and practicing, and practicing, and practicing in front of the mirror.
The day of my speech, I was scared to death. I focused on the speeches before mine. I didn’t want to focus on myself. This wasn’t about me. It was about delivering a powerful message. I tried not to stay in my head and really listen to what the others had to say.
When I started speaking, the microphone was having problems, allowing me to step back for a moment and collect myself. That brief pause enabled me to carry my message forward with conviction, and I didn’t miss a beat. I was able to get out of my situation alive. Sharing my experience reinforced what I know about myself. I am strong, and I can accomplish everything that I want to.
The relocation industry has helped me be involved with people in a way that I never expected and to give back. I want people to know my personal story. I want them to know I’m a person who wants to help. This is a career that I’m passionate about. I want to help others.
5. What’s the advice you wish you’d been given before starting in corporate housing and relocation?
It’s an amazing career, especially for women. If you’re a young woman looking for an opportunity where you can help others, no two days are ever the same, and you don’t like sitting behind a desk, this is it. My work in corporate housing has met all of my career needs without redundancy. I learn new things each and every day, and every day, something new happens to challenge me.
6. How do you see corporate housing and destination services changing in the next five years? 25?
We are moving toward the self-serve model. There are more apps and more real time/virtual services being offered.
Because we are in the people-business, the one thing that will never change is the need to demonstrate empathy and a high level of understanding and kindness about what the transferee is going through. We always need to remind ourselves that our guests are being uprooted from their family, church, community, schools, and everything that is near and dear to them. Therefore, I believe that high-touch will always be part of our industry.
I’ve had a lot of fun throughout my career. I take it one day at a time, especially when things are coming at me fast. I’ve made so many wonderful friends and got to meet so many amazing, talented people who I wouldn’t have been able to meet if I wasn’t in this industry. Every day in this industry is about demonstrating empathy, kindness, and compassion.
How can I serve you? How can I help you? What can I do to earn your business? That’s what it’s all about.
Part 3, featuring Emma Thurston, will be available Friday!