Part III of a multi-part editorial series, the Watermark Team will define what we like to call “The Watermark Advantage.” In the non-stop cacophony of noise reverberating from real estate firms regarding options, opportunities and advice, we want to highlight how Watermark is unique and why our partners choose to entrust us with their investments.
If Watermark's mission as an organization was restricted solely to serving self and our own corporate agenda, such uninspiring goals would be far too small to get people to show up to work, let alone strive for greatness. Once stated by famed architect and urban planner, Daniel Burnham, “make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
Ask anybody at Watermark about our plans as a company and you’ll get the same response. Since our inception in 2013, from the first stroke of an architect’s pencil to the last nail into a piece of finish trim, Watermark is about one thing; relationships. Whether it’s the bonds of friendship with our partners, the family atmosphere amongst our team, collaborating with end-users, or volunteering time to serve our communities, Watermark exists and succeeds because of the people in and around this organization.
The clearest example would be the way in which the people in and around Watermark refer to each other. Project managers don’t talk about their subcontractors by position title or by the names of their company, rather, by their first names. Cory is our framer. Derek is our mason. Randy does site work. Our subcontractors aren’t ambiguous builders addressed by rank and file number. They’re people with whom we have relationships. This manifests itself in little moments throughout the life of a project. It is these seemingly mundane relational moments – from grilling hot dogs for the entire site crew, to providing Watermark branded construction gear for our subs- that are the lynchpin moments that create something bigger than just dutiful contract work – it creates a relational bond where our subcontractors are a part of the Watermark team and vision. We believe this “buy in” is what helps us deliver a superior end product.
Similarly, while other investment companies are silently backed by pools of unknown equity stakeholders, Watermark has "Partners." Our Partners are certainly the lifeblood of the company, providing vital capital to get projects off the ground and our operation teams running, however, they are also our personal friends. It’s not uncommon for Partners to stop by the office to hang out for lunch or to invite our team to an after-work Happy Hour or BBQ. Our Partners aren't merely a name on a monthly investor statement, they participate and are actively present and involved with Watermark. To us, these relationships aren't transactional, they're meaningful, important and cherished.
These close relationships amongst the Watermark team only fosters a stronger motivation to work harder, do better and accomplish more. At the end of the day, our staff isn’t only working for themselves, they are working for their teammates, their builders, and their Partners. It’s no longer an atmosphere of punching the clock regardless of hours logged or effort invested, rather, it’s completing each job to the satisfaction of each of our friends. So ask why a project manager is staying late, and he might say that he’s helping out Derek, our mason, with a design question. Or ask the finance director why he’s re-checking all his numbers, and he might say that he's making sure all the numbers are correct for a Partner that requested updated figures. The idea of 'self' is completely eliminated from our identities. We each look to the team member beside us in the trenches and do better for them, not because we're coworkers, but because we care about serving our friends well.
And it’s not only our internal teams for whom we endeavor. Oftentimes, our efforts take us beyond the walls of Watermark and to those outside our organization. What does it mean to serve our neighbor? We believe, in part, it's ensuring our end-users are getting the very best from us. Most of our projects consist of tenants occupying our buildings, so in turn, we spend time with them to make sure we’re addressing any concerns and helping deliver a living environment that exceeds expectations. At Mills Creek, for example, our project manager, Chaz, will spend time each week walking the jobsite and visiting our current tenants to say hello and make sure each family is comfortable in their new environment.
Lastly, even to those completely unrelated to day-to-day operations, Watermark cares about reaching out and making an impact. Each year, a portion of our profit is allocated to the Watermark Scholarship Fund, a financial aid program aimed at offsetting costs for students at Chicago Hope Academy. Not only that, but Watermark has fostered a culture of ministry, encouraging staff to take time-off to volunteer their time in low-income or impoverished neighborhoods across the world. In recent years, Watermark has sent Eric (to Cuba), Freddy (to Africa), Luke (to Africa) and Karl (to Colombia) to be involved and serve those in need.
Whenever I’m asked about my experience at Watermark, I tell people that I work for and work with my friends. Everyone works hard because everyone is working for each other’s success. As a result, we find fulfillment individually and achieve greatness corporately.
Karl is the Director of Operations of Watermark Equity Group. Since graduating Wheaton College (IL) with degrees in Business and Economics, Karl was active in both finance and construction before joining Watermark in 2016.