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Top Workplaces 2022

Leadership winner for large businesses: James Dahlgren Jr. of WPM Real Estate Management

James Dahlgren Jr. wasted no time advancing his career at WPM Real Estate Management.

A lifetime Baltimore-area resident and 2006 graduate of McDaniel College in Westminster, Dahlgren turned a 2005 internship at the Owings Mills-based real estate management firm into a job offer after college as an assistant property manager.

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He became a property manager in 2008, overseeing an apartment complex for WPM, which provides management services for more than 22,000 apartments and rental houses in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia. It’s also expanded its portfolio to include commercial, industrial and retail properties.

He quickly rose to become business development coordinator the next year, then director of business development in 2011. He became a partner in the firm in 2012 and was promoted to vice president in 2016. Then in early 2018, he was promoted to president.

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Dahlgren talks about caring for both the “citizens” who reside in the properties managed by the firm and WPM’s employees.

James Dahlgren Jr. is president of WPM Real Estate Management. He is receiving a leadership award for large companies in The Baltimore Sun's Top Workplaces for 2021.

“I care about each team member and do my best to work with them in a positive, cooperative way,” Dahlgren said in a blog post on the company’s website. “This ensures that our clients get the best service possible because they have a whole team of experts working together on their behalf.”

Employees notice that leadership at WPM.

“They understand and care about employees,” one said in response to a Top Workplaces survey.

Dahlgren took a moment from running WPM to answer some questions about leading the firm through the coronavirus pandemic:

What are the lasting changes COVID has left on your organization? Can you point to any positive outcomes from the disruption?

There are a number of positive changes and lessons learned that will help shape how we approach the future. WPM has built a strong team of leaders through our ongoing training and development programs, giving our associates opportunities to grow and excel. This solid foundation served us well as our teams were able to pivot, adopt new technologies, adapt to ever-changing policies and procedures, and learn how to manage and communicate remotely. We don’t manage from behind a desk. So, while this disrupted our normal operations, it also gave us new skills that allowed us to successfully extend our geographic footprint into Virginia and Delaware and grow our existing presence in Pennsylvania, and of course the Baltimore metro, over the last 18 months. In the end, it fostered more leaders within our organization and reinforced the value of our commitment to being an agile organization.

What has been the biggest test of your leadership?

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When the pandemic hit, we quickly moved into triage mode: implementing new protocols, establishing redundancies for business continuity, addressing client, homeowner and resident concerns, and adapting our own operations. As the crisis drags on, I think the biggest challenge is refocusing the workforce on our core work and overall performance. Our teams are essential employees and have been on overdrive since the start. The fatigue is real. And, there’s a lot of noise out there — things outside our control — that can be a distraction. One way we’ve been able to address this is through WPM’s ownership culture, aligning associates’ interests with those of our clients and of the company, strengthening our variable bonus program, and reinforcing ownership thinking.

On a personal level, I have found it challenging not to be in person with our teams. My leadership style is one of engagement, where I’m working side by side with our associates. Many of the impromptu conversations that happen when we’re together suddenly disappeared. Engaging with our people requires more mindfulness. You have to make time to connect and find ways to spark conversations that lead to new ideas. One successful, new initiative launched during the pandemic was a monthly forum for all staff to come together virtually, share good news and celebrate our wins.

In the churn of the current job market, what are you doing to attract new talent and retain the talent you have?

At WPM, we have a built-in bias toward fostering growth and promoting from within. Our internal development programs give associates the chance to come to WPM, work hard and gain the training, experience and opportunities to advance their careers. Developing people and succession planning are core to our long-term strategy. We’ve had leasing agents grow into property managers, service technicians advance to project managers, and caregivers excel to become community resident services directors. Even I started my career as an intern with WPM and more than 16 years later am now president. Career opportunity and financial recognition through our variable bonus program, combined with a culture of learning and being of service to others continue to serve us well in attracting and retaining the best talent.


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