Intelligence, Ingenuity, and Insight — Meet Nine Leaders from Avenue Living
The financial industry is often dominated by men. It’s something we’re keenly aware of as we strive to keep our executive — and our organization as a whole — inclusive and diverse. We have been able to create something really special at Avenue Living, by bringing together a diverse group of women within all levels are our organization. We are proud to say that 40 per cent of our C-suite is female. Varying backgrounds and viewpoints breed innovation and drive better business.
This year, on International Women’s Day, we’re thrilled to celebrate the women whose intellect, ingenuity and insight help move us forward every day. They work in every area of the organization, from operations to accounting, and bring with them a diverse set of experiences and skills that make every one of our teams stronger and smarter.
General Counsel, Avenue Living
Shelley Allchurch has been with Avenue Living since the very beginning, when she acted as legal counsel for our founders.
She was our sole legal expert for several years, and as we’ve grown, she has built a team that matches our operational needs. Today, as General Counsel, she heads a group of 16 top-tier legal professionals, including specialists in real estate law, tenant disputes, risk management, and securities law.
“It’s been a phenomenal experience,” says Shelley. “Interesting, challenging, motivating and validating. I’ve had so much exposure to aspects of law and business that I would never have had in private practice.”
Shelley’s team manages almost all of Avenue Living’s legal requirements and continues to evolve as we do. Along the way, it has become more than a legal department — her group operates as partners, helping facilitate the goals of each of our business units. Their presence is key to our vertically integrated platform, helping accelerate time-to-market for new business ventures, who rely heavily on their expertise.
“I’m so proud of the team we’ve built,” says Shelley. “They’re truly dedicated to Avenue Living and so hard-working. We’ve all been challenged to expand our thinking — to view things with a legal lens but also with insight into what the business needs.”
Chief People Officer, Avenue Living
Andrea Bherer, Chief People Officer, joined Avenue Living in February 2020. Andrea’s approach to People and Culture has helped us navigate through the past roller-coaster of a year, and her philosophy around creating an inclusive experience for all Avenue Living employees will help guide us as we continue to grow.
Throughout her 20-year career, Andrea has focused on progressive HR practices and helped other large organizations create HR systems and processes that align teams with corporate goals through periods of extensive growth. “We like to talk about how we’re going to ‘elevate’ what we’re doing — elevate our processes, our support, and our employees experience” says Andrea. “It’s absolutely critical that People and Culture understands the business. Not just the people side, but how the organization operates, the risks, the targets and the revenue, so we can work as a true business partner.”
Over the next year, she and her team will continue to work with all areas of the organization to support the anticipated growth while providing a consistent experience for every Avenue Living staffer, in both Canada and the United States.
Our employees are the backbone of the company. Andrea knows it’s vital to understand people. “I make a point of meeting employees whenever I can,” she says. “Knowing where they fit, understanding them — which includes their successes and roadblocks,”. This connection to the employees helps us to create an environment where all employees feel valued and supported. “I am proud to be part of an organization that empowers me to look after our most valued resource, our employees.”
Chief Operating Officer, Avenue Living Communities
“No two days are the same, and that’s what makes Avenue Living an exciting place to work,” says Louise Elsey, Chief Operating Officer at Avenue Living Communities. “I’m surrounded by a team that always challenges the status quo. As a leader, I must create an environment where ideas can be shared, and our team has the resources to adapt.”
Louise assumed her role as COO in March 2020, the week after the world descended into the first lockdown.
“It was an interesting time to take on my role. Safeguarding our operations and preserving the customer experience — which includes residents, investors and employees — became crucial.” says Louise. “Thankfully, sound business practices and the strength of our team allowed us to quickly and efficiently adapt to the changing landscape.”
Louise brought with her extensive experience in the real estate industry in both Canada and England. Even without the challenge of COVID-19, she finds herself embracing Avenue Living’s ongoing push to do better.
“Our technology, communication and dedicated employees allowed us to face challenges head on, protecting our investors. We have been able to not only maintain our operations but grow. If this is what we can achieve in a pandemic, I can’t wait to see the path ahead of us unfold.”
Vice President, People and Culture, Avenue Living
“My overall HR philosophy is centered around creating a culture of inclusiveness and belonging, where everyone feels comfortable and welcome,” says Barya Kabalan, Vice President, People and Culture. She works to build connections with people at all levels of the organization, finding people-focused solutions and developing the teams to execute them.
“Ultimately, my goal is to be the HR ambassador to everyone at Avenue Living, helping to bring employees and teams together to leverage their strengths, so we can create positive change within our personal and professional lives.”
Barya brings with her to Avenue Living a collaborative, tactical approach and over 20 years of experience in human resources that includes employee relations, conflict management, compensation and benefits, and legal compliance. She embraces change and growth and has made it part of her mission to encourage everyone at the organization to do the same.
Barya also draws inspiration from her life outside work. “My kids inspire me every day! I’m raising two young girls that I want to grow up to be strong, confident, independent, kind, successful women someday,” she says. And she wants everyone at Avenue Living to feel as inspired by their lives outside work as they do at work. “Work-life balance is important and means something different for everyone. I spend time laughing and playing, but I also talk about work and why I love working. I’m slowly paving the way for my kids to be successful by having a healthy mindset about life and work.”
Marketing Strategy Director, Avenue Living
For Aleena Lalani, being a good leader is less about having all the answers and more about empowering her team to find the answers themselves. “Good leadership is kind of a paradox,” she says. “You have to be rigid, yet flexible. You have to ensure your team is accountable to and keeps an eye on tangible outcomes, such as KPIs and stakeholder objectives, but at the same time you have to be mindful of outside work pressures and use emotional intelligence to be empathetic to your team.”
Aleena joined Avenue Living as Marketing Strategy Director just over a year ago, bringing her background in strategic planning, her MBA education, and professional connections to help us realize our vision of creating a full-service in-house team of talented individuals who provide creative and strategic services.
“My experiences have really shaped who I am,” says Aleena, who has lived in several different countries before settling in Calgary. “The last few years have really been transformative, and I keep learning from my coworkers every day.”
The environment at Avenue Living is fast-paced, but Aleena finds inspiration in rising to challenges. “No two days are the same,” she says, “and it’s my duty to set the stage and allow our team to shine.” Aleena’s team manages strategy, branding and communications for all Avenue Living ventures, telling a range of brand stories to investors, residents, among other stakeholders.
With so many bases to cover, Aleena appreciates the open and collaborative environment that flourishes throughout her team. “Everyone on our team has a voice, and we expect them to use it. Diversity in thought and perspective is what makes us stronger as a team. It’s nice to be able to bounce ideas off each other. We encourage healthy debates, so that we can find stronger and more impactful solutions — together,” she says. “We all cover each other’s blind spots.”
Vice President of Operations, Avenue Living Communities
“My real passion is bringing people and teams together to do their best work,” says Kelly Mahajan, VP of Operations at Avenue Living Communities.
And right now, the “best job” is helping her team foster a sense of community in every Avenue Living property. “Our vision is to create an aspirational experience for our residents. It’s finding that ‘wow’ in everything we say and do that’s going to make living with us a memorable experience.”
Kelly’s 30-year career has focused on property management at every level, and in various senior leadership roles. And now, fostering a continuous service standard in Avenue Living’s low-density, multi-family properties, she oversees the strategy and execution of a multi-faceted resident experience plan. Her diverse expertise and passion for driving innovation have informed her approach to inspiring teams and cultivating an exceptional service experience.
Kelly feels that what people expect from a property owner and operator has not changed dramatically as a result of the COVID-19. “People want to know what we’re doing that’s different and yet particular to each resident’s needs,” says Kelly. “Now more than ever, human connection is so crucial. It’s important to feel that sense of community where you live, to know you’re respected and cared about.”
Vice President, Business Development and Investor Relations, Asset Management
As the face of Avenue Living based in Toronto, Emily Newman has a unique challenge: getting investors excited about investing in the Prairies.
“When you say ‘Western Canada’, a lot of investors focus on the media headlines that highlight the obstacles facing the oil and gas sector,” says Emily, Vice President of Business Development. “So, I focus on education — not everything in the prairies is correlated to oil and gas prices. The opportunities in multi-residential, farmland and self-storage really highlight the significance of investing in ‘everyday,’ overlooked, hard assets.”
An Albertan born and raised, Emily moved east in 2017. Her career has included roles in oil and gas equity research and a position with Hazelview Investments serving and prospecting investment advisors and family offices. But professional networks manifest in funny ways, and Emily’s led her to join Calgary-based Avenue Living Asset Management from her new home in Toronto.
“I always tell people that 2020 was not our first rodeo — Avenue Living managed through the credit crisis of 2008 and the commodity crisis of 2015. The past year has been a time to showcase our strengths. If I have learned anything, it’s that Albertans are a resilient, entrepreneurial group.”
Vice President, U.S. Asset Management
Legwork is not always glamorous, but Bettina Oslanski, Vice President, U.S. Acquisitions, believes it’s vital in order to ensure success.
“I truly believe that prudent deal sourcing makes all the difference in finding opportunities to generate better returns,” says Bettina from Houston, who has been instrumental in establishing the Avenue Living U.S. Real Estate Fund. “It took time to build a network of professionals and create relationships that will help us meet our goals and source deals with great potential. A lot of time and consideration went into determining which markets we want to enter.”
Bettina, who holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree with a focus on finance, has been part of the Avenue Living team since 2019, stationed in Houston. Her current role brings together a decade of real estate experience with her education and her deep understanding of the Avenue Living philosophy. “I’m excited to be part of translating Avenue Living’s strategy into the U.S. market,” she says.
She facilitates required due diligence visits and ensures we can execute our asset level strategy by working closely with our third-party property management partners and the Avenue Living team. Working with these third-party property management firms across the U.S. removes some of the risk of investing in new markets.
“We’ve chosen the best in class within the markets we plan to operate in, and they bring local insight, expertise, and connections to every deal. Having a member of the Avenue Living team visit these markets, too, is a vital part of our due diligence in order to ensure alignment,” adds Bettina.
“We’re nimble and structured in a way that allows us to successfully navigate the faceted and complex market the COVID-19 pandemic has created,” says Bettina. “I’m optimistic about the current environment and the opportunity that lies within.”
Chief Accounting Officer, Avenue Living
“Data on its own does not have substantial value,” says Marina Post, CA, Chief Accounting Officer at Avenue Living. “Breaking down, analyzing, and interpreting data is required to make it valuable.”
Data and extracting value from it have become the linchpin of Avenue Living’s investment strategy, but it goes beyond that; it informs the way every area of the company operates. Marina’s team does more than collect and collate numbers — they help transform those numbers into meaningful information. “We’ve transformed from a traditional supplier of historical financial results to a strategically-aligned business partner that looks to the future.”
Marina joined Avenue Living in 2018, after roles as VP, Finance at FirstEnergy Capital Corp. and Chief Finance Officer at Ross Smith Asset Management. Throughout her career, she has realized she thrives in environments with an entrepreneurial spirit.
“We have matured through the efforts of every Avenue employee, all in the face of unprecedented growth in size and scale of assets and offerings,” she says. She finds it exciting to see cross-functional teams drive initiatives that help Avenue Living meet the needs of our varied stakeholders. “Every day brings innovation, improvements, and greater sophistication to how we go to work.”
This commentary and the information contained herein are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute an offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy, any securities or related financial instruments. This article may contain forward-looking statements. Readers should refer to information contained on our website at www.avenuelivingam.com for additional information regarding forward-looking statements and certain risks associated with them.