One day in 1996, Mary Jo Smith got the call she’d been waiting for. Essex had just opened a new community in the region she wanted to transfer to, and there was a position waiting for her. There was one small catch … she would have to start in just four days. For Mary Jo, the answer was a no-brainer. “I can’t imagine working for anyone else,” she says. Right away, she put her house up for sale and she and her family set off on a new adventure.
Having started at Essex in 1990, Mary Jo was no stranger to unexpected career opportunities. She began as a leasing consultant, and in a few months, made the leap to Assistant Manager. After a few years, she was promoted to Community Manager.
In 2008, she once again received a surprise invitation to accept a new opportunity with Essex. This time, Mary Jo was singled out to serve as a Collections Specialist at the corporate level. In yet another twist, this part-time position transformed into a full-time role, thanks to her outstanding work.
After 25 years with Essex, Mary Jo is ready to write the next chapter in her story. Let’s look back together on her experience.
What’s your favorite Essex memory?
I have several! The biggest memory is when the company went public in 1994. It was just a monumental time for the company. The company began to grow more, and we could watch the stocks and see how they were doing. It was exciting to be a part of that. I still keep an eye on the stocks!
What’s something you’ll miss about Essex?
The people, definitely. Everyone has touched my life in a way that I’ll never be able to thank them enough for.
Lisa Demeter, who was my direct supervisor for many years, was very supportive. She always kept things positive and was a good listener.
Karen Seeman (Senior Director of Ancillary Income & Procurement) has always been a wonderful role model, inspiration and mentor to me. She has a knack for making everyone in the room feel comfortable, and her wonderful sense of humor brings joy and laughter wherever she goes. A person could learn so much from her!
Mike Schall (Essex President and CEO) always recognized me and knew me by name, and remembered details about my personal and professional life. He made me feel like I was an important part of the organization.
What is your next adventure?
I’m not going into full retirement just yet. I’ll take a few months off to enjoy the summer, and will revisit things in the fall. For now, I’ll spend time with my children and five grandchildren. Who knows, maybe Essex will call me again!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Yes; Essex has been wonderful every step of the way! I’m proud to have been a part of such an amazing company for all these years.
I would like to thank my wonderful Collections Team: Kristy Graham, Xinia Nadeem, Elizabeth Arcia and Daniel Poertner for their exceptional work ethic and positive can-do attitudes. Their amazing sense of “TEAM” is unique and has been a strong contributor to the success of the department, and I couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of them.
I would also like to thank all of you whom I have had the pleasure of working with either directly or indirectly. You have all been instrumental in the success of my career and I will be forever grateful for you.
Here are a few parting words from the Essex team:
Kristy Graham, Account Representative: When I started with Essex six years ago, Mary Jo was my “counterpart.” I could not have asked for a better person to help me learn the ropes of what can be a very challenging position. With her positive attitude and total willingness to help, she has helped me more than can ever be expressed. As she moved up into a supervisory role, she continued with that “always there for you” attitude and has helped me to succeed at my job. She has not only been a great co-worker, she’s an amazing friend. I’ll miss her tremendously.
Xinia Nadeem, Customer Care Specialist: Your towering presence was always inspiring, your reassuring words were stress-busting and your constant support was highly motivating. You have been a great teacher, mentor and boss—all rolled into one. Farewell Mary Jo; we will dearly miss you.
Elizabeth Arcia, Collections Administrator: Mary Jo can’t be defined with simply just a word. She is warm-hearted, encouraging, motivating and leads by example. I’ve worked with her for almost eight years, and her presence is infectious. The love for her team is undeniable, and the impact she has made will forever be felt. It’s been my pleasure to work side by side with such a beautiful person.
Daniel Poertner, Collections Administrator: I’ve worked with MJ for the past four years, from her days as a collector to when she became our Collections Supervisor. She’s a great leader, but more importantly, a great person. She’s very uplifting, loving and motivating. She always has a smile on her face and encourages us. She tells us when we are doing well. You can always count on her being there for you, at work and outside of work. I will really miss her. I am glad MJ came into my life.
Mike Schall, President and CEO: I was very sorry to learn that Mary Jo was leaving Essex. She had several positions with the company over many years, and in each of them, she worked diligently, cared greatly and was focused on the customer and the company. I appreciate her long tenure and contributions to Essex’s success over the years. Her great smile and many contributions will be greatly missed.
Lisa Demeter, former Customer Care Manager: I had the pleasure of working with her since 2001, when we owned the portfolio in Portland. Soon after the sale of that portfolio, she joined the Collections team—not exactly everyone's idea of fun, but Mary Jo brought her amazing level of customer service and creativity to the department. She earned the trust of her peers and customers quickly. Not once can I recall a time over 15 years that a customer was unsatisfied with her service. I would conservatively estimate that she interacted with over 30,000 customers in collections with not one complaint!
She is kind, thoughtful, resilient and honest. These attributes make for a great leader and the face of Essex for so many customers over the years. I wish her the very best.
Sherrie Clevenger, Regional Portfolio Manager: Mary Jo has always been like a ray of sunshine. My years of working with her as her Regional [Manager] and traveling to visit her were always pleasant. She always made the visit fun, and we worked hard and had plenty of laughter.
Carol Swanson, Regional Portfolio Manager: Mary Jo was one of my first Community Managers when I came to Essex. She welcomed me with open arms and helped me to make a seamless transition. I will always remember Mary Jo for her infectious kindness and compassion. I wish Mary Jo the very best!
Karen Seeman, Senior Director of Ancillary Income & Procurement: Mary Jo is one of those amazing people who, no matter what the situation, handles it with calmness, fairness and integrity. She is an inspiration to her team and to all who have the pleasure of working with her. Thank you Mary Jo; I will miss you.
John Kirchmann, Vice President of Operations Support: Legacies are left behind for the purpose of guiding those of us who remain towards the path of accomplishing great things. In that regards, Mary Jo Smith has left an indelible legacy here at Essex. She exemplifies our core values with her ability to respond whenever (and wherever) there is a need and with the relationships and trust she has built across so many parts of our organization. I have had the pleasure to see firsthand how well she runs her department, but I think it is clear to anyone who reads this article how much respect and admiration Mary Jo engenders from all quarters of this organization.