In an age when over-analysis seems to be the rule rather than the exception, The Wentworth Management Group has made it a point to keep things simple. Their goal? To do whatever it takes to keep their clients satisfied.
That simple philosophy starts with the more than 500 employees who keep the East Coast's largest management firm moving. "If our staff is happy, that's going to roll out to our clients," says Michael Mendillo, Wentworth's president. "We always tell staff, don't walk behind us because we tell you to, walk alongside us because you want to. As big a company as we are and as much structure as we have, this is a fun place. That kind of attitude helps build relationships."
To create that environment, the company focuses significant energy on staff education, diversifying each employee's base of knowledge—from top executives to the administrative staff on the front lines each day.
With properties in New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, having a company-wide philosophy of customer-satisfaction is key. "We focus on relationship building," Mendillo says. "In the service business, if you have a strong relationship with a client, they are more willing to work with you and let you help them solve problems."
How it All Works
Founded in 1985, Wentworth Property Management is part of The Wentworth Group, which also includes Worthmore Construction and Maintenance, Armstrong Management Services, Inc., Arco Wentworth Management Corp., and Cooper Square Realty. In 1997, Wentworth joined forces with Toronto's FirstService Corporation of Toronto, giving them access to a number of property and business outsourcing services for North American customers. Today, the company manages more than 55 residential properties, with more than 150,000 units spread out from Washington D.C. to New Jersey and New York.
This growth is due in large part to the fact that several years ago, Wentworth restructured in an effort to improve and tailor its offerings to the specific needs of a diverse client base. "So many companies are jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none," says Jonathan Klein, vice president of Wentworth's New York division. "We've educated our people in specific areas so that we can provide more and better services."
To that end, Wentworth is divided into five specialty teams: High-Rise, Active Adult, Home-Builder, Mitchell Lama Specialty for New York and Condo/HOA.
"About three years ago," says Mendillo, "we realized that a significant management challenge is that we as managers are supposed to know everything. So we divided the service areas up into specialties. We felt it should be like a hospital or doctor's office where there is a team of specialists. We're honing in on the specific needs of that client. If we're getting calls from someone about an active adult community, they're not going to be interested in what we know about high-rises."
Within this framework, Wentworth offers in-house CPAs, attorneys, engineers, and services including accounting, contracting and construction, and insurance, among others. That translates into management staff assisting clients in everything from preparation of monthly reports to supervising on-site personnel to tracking violations of association rules and regulations, and overseeing restoration and maintenance projects.
With Wentworth, the old adage of "size matters" can be a valuable one for clients. "We leverage our aggregate purshasing power," Mendillo says. "We promote local size and service, but there are times when leveraging this power is a relief for clients in terms of cost. Our clients are watching their dollars, but they also deserve quality." With properties in five different states, Wentworth can afford to ask contractors and service providers to put their best prices forward, something that can be a win-win situation for everyone.
An Overarching Theme
No matter the business model or power of collective purchasing, the most important aspect of the Wentworth way is old-fashioned communication. At a recent training session for staff, the main topic of discussion was communication and teamwork. "Teaching people how to speak to people is vital," Klein says. "What's more important than returning a client's phone call on a Friday afternoon and solving their problem? Doing that is priceless."
Mendillo agrees. "We have to be cognizant of listening closely to our clients," he says. "The client will always tell you what his needs are, you just have to listen."
To the Next Level
That need for enhanced communication has led Wentworth to create a web-based interactive tool called WentworthConnect. Developed on-site by a team of several "Jimmy Neutron-type geniuses," as Mendillo says, the system allows for instantaneous communication among managers, building staff and residents.
Wentworth representatives talked to clients to get their input on the development of the system. "The conversation started really simply," Klein says. "We asked clients, 'What do you need technology to do for you? Tell us about your life. What happens in an emergency? What do you need this product to do?'"
That product has continued to grow over the course of its development. "WentworthConnect is an evolutionary type of product," Klein adds. "The more we use it, the more we want it to do."
So far, WentworthConnect enables boards and management to send broadcast alerts to all residents or select groups of residents in the event of emergencies or updates. "Before, if there was a shutdown of water on a certain floor, managers would put out flyers," Mendillo says. "Now, within six minutes, they can send out voice mail messages to those affected, similar to what airlines do when they confirm flights. The system will tell them who received the message and who didn't. It's terrific."
The system also allows staff to keep track of, monitor and clear work orders and violations with the help of PDAs and tailor-made software. Each residential community is also given a website which can be updated and maintained by in-house staff. On a smaller scale, the system provides on-line financial statements for board members, enhances security through digital signatures, and even uses wireless keypads for valet service.
Other new technology on the horizon includes call centers that will increase and improve the flow of information for residents all along the East Coast. The centers will allow trained customer service representatives to answer the kind of questions that get asked repeatedly by homeowners, creating a sort of "live" Frequently Asked Questions hotline.
"We had managers and executives answer 500 questions that anyone could ask about any property," Mendillo says. "Every manager of every property was asked to answer those questions that were applicable to them. Everything from 'do you have a pool' to 'where are the elevators?' The answers were put into a database, from which the call centers can pull the information. We're trying to avoid managers getting calls that really someone else can handle, leaving them available to be the professionals they need to be."
Recently introduced in Virginia, Wentworth hopes to have the call center up and running for all their residents within the next 18 months.
Aiming for the Future
As Wentworth approaches its third decade, the company is rededicating itself to preserving its core values of teamwork, communication and personal service while building on them for future success. "The passion we all have is pervasive in this company," Klein says. "To raise the quality of life in all our communities—we have such a commitment to that. It's the crux of what Wentworth is all about."
Recently, the New Jersey Cooperator sat down with Mendillo for some one-on-one chat, and to answer some more questions about his company's goals and future plans.
In your view, what sets Wentworth apart from other management firms?
"If our employees are happy, that's going to roll out to our clients. We want our people to have a voice. We're constantly giving them new challenges and responsibilities. Education is very important too—not just in that person's particular skill area, but the company vision.
"We believe in the unconditional support of our team and our people. Statistically, most people spent three and a half years with a company. We average nine years. People enjoy working here because of the opportunities for growth through merit and service. It all goes back to taking care of our clients."
What does it take to be an effective management provider in this day and age?
"There's a difference between saying things and doing them. Those are just words, but there's a difference in making a commitment and following through and doing it for our clients. The service business is a tough business. You take calls from people who may be having problems or who are stressed out or in emergencies. We have to really listen and react and make sure we are resolving issues.
"No matter how great technology becomes, nothing is better than picking up the phone with a good attitude. If a homeowner is calling me, I'm returning that call.
"It's really about the basics. It's the heart of the company. No matter how good the body looks, if the heart's not healthy, it will fail. You need to be consistent in your service to clients."
What are Wentworth's goals for the coming years?
"We really have steered away from making goals in terms of revenue or size. We look to role models like Jet Blue and Nordstroms and Starbucks—major companies that are global and have outstanding reputations for service. A great place to be in five years would be to have the same talent pool and have them exceed their own expectations. All that equates to keeping our clients happy.
"Also, we're constantly looking at cost-saving opportunities for clients. And we are so focused on relationship building. We want our clients to feel custom-managed to their needs. We don't want them to feel like a statistic."
Liz Lent is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Cooperator.