Linda Warren learned about being neighborly while she was growing up in a small, rural town — Davenport, Neb., population 420.
Her dad worked at the local Skelly gas station and provided fuel to the local farmers; her mom was a schoolteacher.
“I learned very organically about being involved in your community,” she said. “It’s a precious upbringing, because it taught me things that some people have never learned, like how to be a helpful neighbor, what it means to care about people around you. It doesn’t mean they’re your best friend, but you look out after each other.”
As founder and CEO of Warren Management Group, Warren puts those lessons to good use every day. The company contracts with the boards of homeowners, condominium and business owners associations, helping them manage day-to-day activities and navigate legal and other requirements in their communities.
Warren graduated from a Christian high school in Nebraska, where she met her future husband, Mark. After a year at Union College in Lincoln, Neb., she and Mark married, and she transferred to a business college in Omaha, Mark’s hometown.
Warren worked for an attorney and then took a job with a corporate insurance company, which she did not like.
After nine years in Omaha, “I finally convinced Mark that there were better places to live,” she said. “So we rented a van, took a three-week vacation and traveled virtually all of the western United States looking for where we wanted to raise our family. And we ended up here [in 1985]. … We love the beauty of Colorado. And in my very first job here, I got connected to the community, and I think that one of the greatest blessings is that connection, because I felt like I finally belonged. … I mean, the beauty attracts us, but the people keep us here.”
Warren spoke with the Business Journal about how she learned about managing communities, how she became an entrepreneur and why she loves her job.
What was your path to founding Warren Management Group?
I got to spend my first year at home with the kids. And I was so blessed in 1986 to get a job as the marketing assistant with a community developer called Vintage Communities that was developing the Peregrine community. I worked with Michelle [Grove-Reiland] there and Peregrine for six years. And in that time I knew nothing about development, … but they gave me a chance, and I got to be a part of the envisioning of a community from the ground up. … Once we started having homes being built, they said, ‘Oh, Linda, part of your job is to get the homeowners association up and going.’ Well, there was another foreign word — homeowners association. I had no idea. … But I started to learn and connect the dots and see what it took to get this entity up and going. By the time I left there, six years later, we had 500 homes occupied in the community, plus we were doing all this really delightful marketing of a 5K run every year and Easter egg hunts and concerts in the park. And you know, it was just engaging.
But at the point of six years, that job had become a job in itself. … My hats were too tall, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. So I with great sadness resigned. And they said, ‘Oh, wait a minute. Nobody knows how to do this HOA but you.’
‘Okay, how about if I keep doing it? I’ll do it, working from my home, and please find someone else to do the rest of it.’
So that’s what we did. … And because the development was moving along, some of the development teams started going to other developers and companies, like Jerry Novak, who went to Classic Homes. So it wasn’t all that long before Classic called me and said, ‘Hey, Linda, we’d like you to be the management for all of our communities.’ Well, I couldn’t do that by myself; I had to have people. … I took the leap, and I started hiring, and 27 years later, this is Warren Management Group Inc. — 30 employees, 52 clients, touching 9,100-plus homeowners and business owners every day through our clients. …
One of the communities we have the privilege of working with is Wolf Ranch. Wolf Ranch is Nor’wood’s star development. It’s right now just over 2,000 homes occupied, and will be 7,000 to 8,000 to build-out — a town in itself. It’s already bigger than — twice as big, three times as big as — the little town I grew up in. … But we also have a community that is 17 homes, in a small, gated community on the Westside. It varies from here to there, and everything in between.
What does your company do for those clients day to day?
What we do every day is to teach people how to be neighbors. We look for ways to connect people so that they at least get acquainted, because if I know that the neighbors over here are Jim and Amy and they lived in Iowa before they came here, now they aren’t just the neighbors, they’re Jim and Amy, and now we’ve got a connection. And when people know the person next door, they’re much less likely to be irritated by their neighbor or being the one who is un-neighborly, because now you have a name and a face to it, and that makes a huge, huge difference. And I would much rather spend my time planning activities and events and ways to get people connected than to spend time sending violation notices. … And so we work very hard on not just collecting the assessments and addressing the violations and making sure that the grass gets cut in the common area. We work on building the sense of community. And that’s where it connected me back to Davenport.
Every year Davenport had what it called Davenport Day, an annual celebration of community. Everybody got involved. We had a parade and we kids, we got to ride our bikes at the beginning of the parade, with a playing card clothespinned onto the spokes. And then we had our little town carnival. …Everybody celebrated community. That’s why so many people never leave their small town, because they feel a part of it. And we want people to feel proud of their community. Sure, we want them to be proud to be in Colorado Springs. But we want them to be able to say, when somebody says, ‘Where do you live?,’ not just to say ‘I live in Colorado Springs,’ but ‘I live in blank townhomes in Colorado Springs,’ because they feel connected to their neighborhoods.
With each client, we work with the board of directors in their decision-making role of taking care of the association for the greater good. They’re responsible for a lot of administration, policy setting through governance, setting up procedures for things like architectural changes. And it’s maintaining the property. … We get proposals from certain people that do that kind of work, and the board decides which contract they want to accept. And then we oversee that they do what they’re contracted to do. I didn’t learn that right off the bat. In my early years of managing Peregrine, I spent Mother’s Day with my two children out cleaning the dog poo in the common area, because I thought that was my job.
What do you think are the most valuable skills an entrepreneur needs to develop?
First of all, I think that an entrepreneur needs to have the skill of curiosity to ask themselves, ‘What if?’ or ‘Why not?’ To stand up to the attitude, well, it’s always been done this way, to consider a new idea and then play it out, rather than just running in the crowd of like companies. The second thing that I think that owners need to have is to hold the attribute of knowing the strength of their own standards. And what I mean by that is, you have to know your own integrity and where do you draw your line and where your standard is, and then be willing to stand to that no matter what. And you have to be very honest with yourself and know … where those boundaries are. Because if you don’t set them, the customer will always challenge them.
How has the role of women in business changed since you first started out?
There weren’t as many women entrepreneurs or just truly leaders in business as there are today. And I think it’s just because women have woken up and said, ‘I could do that.’ … This industry is very heavily engaged with women entrepreneurs. There are a lot of women and there are a lot of husband-and-wife teams. But women excel in this business, because this business is about relationships. … Women are more touchy-feely, we’re more engaging, we’re more communicative, we’re more empathetic, and so we have a special opportunity in this industry to excel over our male counterparts. Not that there’s not many men that are successful owners of management companies. But they don’t have some of those attributes that we women have. And for this industry, it’s a great fit.