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JPM Exclusive Interview with John Combs of RiverRock Real Estate Group

AMO Firm Spotlight


You put emphasis on hiring and nurturing leaders. Describe your “Rock U” education program. How was it implemented, and what has your success been like with it?

Rock U is an internal monthly educational program designed for our managers and project coordinators with its primary focus on relevant real estate topics. Some topics are taught by our Director of Property Management, who works on a daily basis with our managers and focuses on the areas that help in their growth and skill enhancements. Other topics are taught by various external providers who are skilled in their fields and provide knowledge in operations and legal provisions. In addition, Rock U serves as a platform to review and train all personnel on RiverRock’s standard practices and procedures. We also have an intranet that provides a library of all the Rock U courses which our “Rock Stars” (our team) can use as a reference. We are committed to providing the highest standard of education to our management team to ensure they remain current and can provide the best value to our clients.

Your work environment is described as “creative, passionate, responsible and personal.” Can you elaborate on what sets apart your workplace culture from other Firms, and why your formula is successful in retaining employees and clients?

Creative: RiverRock fosters employees’ creativity. We encourage employees to communicate new ideas and procedures through our confidential employee forum. Our intranet fosters employee interaction through its online forums. The “Rock Pile” delivers employee news and articles of interest by RockStars. Feedback from all levels is solicited when new procedures or projects are being developed. We’re creative even in our physical work environment—our offices are welcoming and do not look too corporate. For new offices, employees select art from an approved black and white photography collection; our employees also get to pick the art in their offices that they see daily.

Passionate: RiverRock’s passion for its employees translates to Rock Star passion for the company. Because RiverRock thinks long term about employees’ well-being, employees feel cared for, secure in their jobs and part of a family atmosphere. We also look for employees with a love for what they do. Matching employees to jobs where they can excel increases employees’ passion. We are a “family first and business second” company. RockStars are encouraged to have pictures of their family at their desk. We have been recognized as “Best Company to Work For” by Orange County Business Journal for the last four years.

Responsible: RiverRock is responsible in a global sense. We are committed to volunteering in each community where we work. We are involved with Habitat for Humanity, Food Banks, beach cleanup days, etc. RockStars work together at these volunteer events, which furthers team building and community involvement.

Personal: RiverRock’s leadership is paramount to creating a personal environment. We set the tone of by being extremely approachable. Everyone has access to top management to ask questions and share new ideas or concerns. Leadership is very sensitive to employee suggestions and concerns and considers them when making company decisions. In fact, many company changes have resulted from employee suggestions. A key difference at RiverRock from our competitors is the Principals of the Firm are engaged daily at the properties with the property level staff.

RiverRock is successful in retaining employees and clients because of its relationships. No employee or client is “just a number.”

Describe one of the most challenging situations you’ve been in as a company, and how you’ve grown from that point. Were there any significant changes implemented as a result? How do you continually work to improve your business plan?

As a service provider, one of our largest challenges is delivering the service level our clients expect and customers deserve while meeting the financial objectives of the investment. We focus on staffing to ensure that we have the right talent base to meet the needs of a specific asset or portfolio. Often assets are underwritten so tightly that staffing is minimized, which impacts the service delivery and overall quality. We thoroughly analyze each assignment and take a multitude of factors into account when conducting our diligence. We work with clients to understand its requirements, adapt our approach or alter delivery requirements so that we can meet the financial objectives of underwriting while maintaining the platform that we have become known for.

We constantly evaluate our staffing models, corporate support and technology in an effort to maximize our internal resources while continuing to drive value and performance. At times, we’ve been forced to make the difficult decision of passing on an opportunity, as the potential impact was not favorable for either party. In the long run, understanding when to make a concession and when to walk away may be the best decision for all. If nothing else, it earns the respect of our clients.

RiverRock has 12 offices in Calif. and Ariz. and numerous RiverRock Alliance Group relationships that span the Northern, Central and Southern regions of the State. How do you ensure consistency and quality management in each of your offices? Are there differences or challenges in aligning your values with geographical or cultural differences in the U.S.?

Hiring is key. We look for individuals who work well within our system: True team players, who don’t use the phrase, “That’s not in my job description.” We listen to our people and incorporate their thoughts, suggestions and ideas. We always like to say that individually we haven’t done everything, but collectively there isn’t anything our group has not handled. We operate focus groups that drive ideas and change, and conduct quarterly regional leadership meetings where we review our opportunities, successes and setbacks. The results of these meetings are shared with the local team in onsite follow-up meetings and company conference calls.

We have extensive formalized programs with guidelines and tools for our management professionals to deliver the highest standards in operation performance and efficiencies. Each new hire participates in an orientation program which provides them with a thorough understanding of our policies and procedures. In order to ensure that our best practices are maintained and followed, an annual internal audit or quality assurance is performed with each manager at each property we manage. As our policies are standard procedure throughout each office, our expectations are understood and honored and we have not come across any challenges in aligning those values.

Our goal is to be as transparent as possible and that has earned us the loyalty and one of the lowest levels of turnover in the industry.

Read the original article from JPM here.