Focus Feature: Kendall Lettinga

18 June 2020

Our Focus Feature series continues with a spotlight on Focus' Senior Vice President of Marketing and Administration, Kendall Lettinga. Kendall has been with the company for over 15 years and oversees multiple departments. From Human Resources and IT to Marketing and Sales, Kendall applies a breadth of knowledge and experience to move Focus towards our ultimate goal to build value - build value for our partners, build value for our clients and build value for our employees.

You lead the Marketing and Administration department which includes all of Focus’ marketing, human resources, administrative and IT needs, what is your role like and how do you effectively manage so many different areas?

My role has constantly evolved over the 15 years that I’ve been with the company and morphed into a role that is geared towards the experience and skills I’ve developed along the way. That’s part of what makes working for a small company like Focus so great - each of our team members have the opportunity to shine in their areas of strength and sometimes that turns out to be a position that isn’t really found at any other company! Over my career I’ve done everything from Marketing Assistant, Executive Assistant to the CEO, Project Coordinator, HR Manager and Receptionist. I’m able to bring all that past experience into the surprises that we face each day and mentor my direct reports who work in those functions now. Because of the widespread responsibilities, I find each day to be fresh and full of surprises, which create a variety I really thrive in. But, my favorite part is working together with the four team members in my department and collaborating on our vision for these 3 critical functions at the firm.

Part of your role includes managing all of Focus’ for-sale product marketing, which currently includes a condominium and single-family home product located in Lake Forest, how has the for-sale residential real estate market changed in recent years? What effect do you think Covid-19 might have on this sector?

I started at Focus in 2005 and saw the hey day of for-sale housing as well as the great recession of 2008. It’s been really great to see the recovery in recent years for the for-sale sector. The growth has been slow, but steady. I think some of the explosion of condominiumminium development in the core loop neighborhoods is slowing in the last year or so, and probably appropriately so. Today’s buyers are much more discerning and demand high-end design and quality, which is one of the reasons we are so proud of our Kelmscott Park development. Everything from the Mariani-designed landscaped grounds to the detailed brick work and subtle façade detailing by Booth Hansen architects, contributes to one of the highest caliper for-sale developments we’ve ever built.

Covid-19 is certainly having an impact as we’ve had to close our sales center and conduct virtual tours and consultations at Kelmscott Park. However, we are also doing touchless in-person showings for qualified buyers. What’s interesting is that internet searches are through the roof. We are seeing those buyers that need to move are still moving forward with their purchase. For those that can wait, I believe that the Covid-19 will create pent up demand and once buyers feel the situation has stabilized we will see a surge in sales.

You’ve been with Focus for over 15 years, from your perspective what has led to Focus’ lasting success and how has the company changed over the years?

At the core of our success is our vertically integrated team of development and construction professionals. The integration allows for a unique alignment of interests and ease of coordination that I think enhances and improves the final result – a space for people to experience a better life. In addition, despite growth over the years, we remain a relatively small firm, which allows for a unique people-focused culture that can be nimble and reactive within a field that rapidly shifts and changes. As a result, during the last recession we were at the forefront of identifying and repositioning distressed properties acquiring 1717 Ridge and Circa 922 during the downturn, eventually selling those assets for a record-setting price. The company has changed over the years by becoming more singularly focused in our mission and our goals. Prior to the great recession of 2008, we had in-house sales, selections, and a property management company, but as we grew out of that economic downturn, we refocused our business on our true strengths - development and construction. We began to understand the value of our integrated approach and how our construction team was essentially being trained as owner advocates and in offering our general contracting services to our developer clients, we bring that unique perspective to the marketplace.

Which Focus project was your favorite and why?

My favorite project is probably Courthouse Square in Wheaton. Started in 2005, just after I joined the company, the vision for the development was impressive. A full restoration of two beautiful historic buildings and development of 3 condominium buildings led by Focus and 50 townhomes led by our partner Airhart. Cue 2008 and despite 50% pre-sales in the second condominium building and construction of the foundation completed, Focus had to stop work and release our buyers from their contracts due to the contracting market. Focus worked with our lender to maintain control of the asset and began the challenging work of repositioning the development. For 6 years we worked on various plans and eventually designed and received approval to build 149 apartments, which were completed in 2016, 11 years after we originally began work on the project. What I love about this project is that it speaks to the core values of our company – we delivered a design that enhances the community, and integrates with the existing historic buildings and the charm of downtown Wheaton. I was so proud to be a part of the beginning of this development and even prouder to see our firm see it through to a succesSFul end.

The CRE industry has been notoriously slow in its uptake of some new technologies. As the head of IT, you’ve had to usher Focus into a new digital era. Most recently, you had to migrate an office and field-based staff to a purely remote, work-from-home setup as rapidly as Covid-19 took hold of the world. What was that like and what other digital transitions do you foresee for the real estate industry?

Having entered the industry fifteen years ago, I remember transitioning our firm from binders and file cabinets to purely electronic records. The construction industry tends to have a reputation for being behind the times in technology, but innovation and technology has long been at the crux of Focus’ philosophy. We are constantly evaluating the technology available to our industry and how we can best utilize it to serve our clients and customers. As a result our transition to remote-working was pretty seamless.

There are huge strides being made in our industry in terms of technology, for example draw processing software that allow for electronic payment to subs in lieu of picking up paper checks, project management software that organize RFIs and submittals to ensure product lead times are managed and expedite problem solving on a job site. All of this is contribute to projects being run with greater efficiency. We have even been evaluating robotic automation software to handle some the more repetitive tasks freeing our team up for more analytical tasks. The technology is continue to expand and I foresee the construction industry embracing it with gusto as we all start to benefit from the efficiencies it can create.

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