World-Traveler Sells Globally – From Her Backyard

by Paul Frankenberg on February 15, 2013

Lea Reeves

Lea Reeves

University of Georgia, Terry College of Business
BBA, Real Estate
Graduated June 2009

How did you pick the college you attended?
That’s a funny question. My parents both went to Auburn so I grew up going to and watching Auburn football games.  My whole life I have been an Auburn fan.  I know the fight song.  I was convinced that I was going to Auburn and I loved it when I visited the campus.  I liked Georgia too.  However, I received Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship.  I had to make a decision and I knew I wanted to pursue business and thought I wanted to pursue real estate.  The University of Georgia has an excellent real estate program that consistently ranks nationally, either number one or two.

What or who influenced your decision?
So when I made my decision, I went down to my parent’s room and I said, “I’m going to Georgia”.  It was very much a financial decision but it ended up being a great decision for me.  Plus, the scholarships, and my parents, provided me with opportunities and freedom in my study.  I was able to spend a semester studying abroad in Italy.

What did you go to college to study?
I went to study real estate and I wanted to get into real estate development.  My Dad owns a commercial laundry company and they wanted to diversify horizontally into the restaurant, oyster and development segments.  They did several spin-offs from the primary business.  When they moved into the real estate business my Uncle took charge of that business and took me under his wing.  I was just in high school but he took the time to show me the ropes.  They completed two residential developments.  I was able to go to Town Hall meetings and really see the entire business. I was pretty certain that I wanted to pursue development.  I went to Georgia and took as many finance classes as I could.  I loved finance and wanted to incorporate it into my after college job.  I was planning to take my experience and degree and get into a development role.

I graduated in 2009 and nobody was putting new money into development.  I had to do something and went into consulting.  There was a company that recruited heavily from Auburn and Georgia.  I consulted mostly to housing projects to teach them how to market their developments and get them leased out.  I traveled quite a bit to these apartment complexes and there was always something wrong.  Actually, there was only one property I went to where nothing was wrong and that was in Washington DC.  This apartment complex had to maintain at least 95% occupancy over a certain period so we managed to the numbers and helped them stay at about 97%.  However, I was there to only coach the leasing staff.  I was there to teach them how to market.  It was really fun but I didn’t see it as a long term career.  I could see burnout becoming real after only a year and a half.

What activities did you engage in and what internships and / or jobs did you have while in college?
I interned with a company named Cbeyond the summer after my sophomore year.  I was a Phi Mu and I was the Recording Secretary for a year.  I lived in the house for a year and a half. I stayed longer to help the next President as our sorority and our chapter was going through a lot of transition.  I also worked on a fundraiser for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta where we sponsored a 24-hour dance marathon.  We were the largest college contributor, which was very cool.  I also created an event where we spent time with children from another Georgia organization, HERO, which stands Hearts Everywhere Reaching Out for Children.  The organization does a lot to support children with HIV / AIDS.

Before I went to college I had spent several summers in Russia where I volunteered and taught vacation bible school in orphanages in the western part of Russia.  I really loved that and would like to start doing that again.

Paul asked, “Who told you to do all of this stuff?”
I would say my dad is my biggest fan.  If I could be anybody in the whole world, it would be my dad.  He’s very level headed and he does a great job working with his brothers to build the company his dad started.  He is very active and he’s done well.  I have seen that action is important and I found a lot of things that have interested me.  No matter what I have considered, I have called my dad for advice.  As for the Russian trips, I someone came to talk to my 9th grade class and I just felt like I needed to go.  I just knew that was what I needed to do and I knew I’d be able to help.  So, nobody has really told me ‘what to do’ but my dad has definitely been my biggest role model.

Tell me about your most useful resources to you in launching out of college: CMC, Internships, Family & Personal Contacts, Alumni, etc.
I think it was during January of my sophomore year when my dad said that I could move home and work in the laundry business or I could go find another job.  I didn’t want to go work in the laundry business.  That’s when I started to intern and really consider my career.  My parents live in Savannah and I wanted to live in a larger city.  When I started to think about jobs, I started by looking in New York and Chicago.  I actually didn’t consider Atlanta because I thought I wanted to get further away for while.

As for working, one of my best attributes is that I’m a hard worker.  I have been working since I was 14.  In my dad’s laundry business, I have worn an apron, I have worked in human resources in my dad’s company and I have worked as an assistant.  I have always worked and I have a good work ethic.

I think my internships and interviewers recognized my hard work and the employers were willing to test me and see if I was for real.  I would hate for someone to think I was lazy so I have always worked hard.  It applies to my non-work interests too.  I’m trying to play golf now and I am not that good.  I am working hard to get better but I get frustrated when I realize that I can’t just pick up the club and be a good golfer.  However, I will keep trying and I won’t quit.  Personally, I think I’m easy to talk to and I’m open and honest.

Tell me how you landed your first job out of college?
Prior to my current role, I had been an intern, I worked on the weekends to paint rental properties and I consulted to residential apartments to teach marketing.  I had a few jobs out of college that were fine but I didn’t feel like I was starting a career.  I decided to move to Atlanta because I thought I could put down roots and really start my career.  I had a friend in Atlanta and it seemed like a good place.  One of my friend’s had interned with Cbeyond after her freshman year and she was going to move to California.  She suggested I pursue the role with Cbeyond.  My dad had told me I had to make money and I didn’t want to move back to Savannah so I was motivated.  The company is a communications company and my role involved lots of time in front of the computer, which didn’t fit my personality very well.  However, it was an up and coming company and now it’s one of the largest communications companies for small businesses in the US.  Its’ really grown and done well.

Why did you leave and where do you work now?
I wanted to do more and use my degree.  I had a chance to meet Mary Pat, through one of my college friends, and she offered me my current role with CSI Leasing.  I didn’t really understand what CSI Leasing did but I liked Mary Pat and she was willing to hire me and teach me the business.  I thought those two things alone were phenomenal! The role has turned out to be a great fit with me.  It’s great too that we are now pursuing a deal with Cbeyond, which is a company I interned with while I was in college.

In your current role, what are you responsible for?
I am an Associate Account Executive for CSI Leasing and my role is in new business development in AL, GA and VA.  I meet with IT vendors, manufacturers and customers.  I love it.  I meet with CFOs and CIOs on a weekly basis and I am learning so much.  Our business is providing IT equipment, such as laptops, computers and hardware, to large employers.  We then manage the inflow and outflow of IT equipment.  This means we work with IT equipment manufacturers, employers and others in the used IT equipment market.

My manager is terrific as she is not a micromanager.  We are measured and we are accountable for our performance so the numbers speak to my performance.  If my numbers aren’t up and if she can’t tell that I am working then I assume I would see a lot more of my manager.  I have brought in five new accounts so far and I’m responsible for bringing in a certain revenue target too.  Business has gone well and I’m hopeful that I will earn a promotion to an Account Executive.

Go back to your sophomore, junior or senior year of college.  Does your current role fit with the professional passions you identified in college?
I would say that I really started to think about this in my junior year, which is when I started my major’s classes.  Prior to starting my major’s classes, like finance, I was just taking the general course load and having fun.  I was not yet in the career frame of mind.

My role today is completely different from what I ever thought I would be doing.  I went to college and I don’t think that I had a real picture of what it meant to have a job.  I was along for the ride it seems.  It’s hard to know what you want to do and how to pursue it.  Plus, my early twenties have been tough years.  When you are in your early twenties you are trying to find yourself in the world and you’re trying to figure out what you’re good at and what you’re supposed to be doing.  What am I on earth for?

In my junior year of college I would have told you that I would be working for CB Richard Ellis.  That was my dream job at the time.  I wanted to work for a big real estate firm and in fact I didn’t want to be in Atlanta.  I thought that it was a cop out to stay in Atlanta, because it was so close to Georgia.  So I worked after college, left the company and moved to Atlanta to start an internship.  I was living off of my savings.  This is when it got really hard as I thought back to my junior year and thought that this is not at all the way I thought I would feel or how I thought I would be contributing to society.

I was in Atlanta and I was working for this guy and helping him with his rental houses on the weekends.  He would pay me $10/hour to paint the living room of a house he owned.  I thought it would be great because I needed money.  It was not a great job.  I had a degree from a great school and I was painting someone else’s rental properties.  So when I met Mary Pat, I didn’t even know that companies could lease IT equipment.  When she talked with me, I had no idea why she was talking with me and I didn’t understand what she did.  They offered me the job, I accepted and now I enjoy my work and the people I work with.

This role with CSI is 180 degrees from what I thought I would be doing.  Yet as I say that, I think I always had dreamed of working with CFOs, CIOs and other executives and traveling.  So this is in line with what I wanted to do.  I just didn’t know something like this was even out there.  I didn’t know I could meet with the people I get to meet with and I didn’t know this career path existed.  I didn’t know options that were out there.  I didn’t know what job titles existed and I didn’t do a good job researching options.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you provide to a current college student?
I loved my freshman year.  I had such a good time and I met so many people.  I would tell freshman to use that year to take core classes, meet people and have fun in college.  Meet as many people as you can in your freshman year.  At Georgia you start taking your major classes in your junior year.  To juniors and seniors, take advantage of your career center.  I didn’t.  I would say to go to all of the job fairs, talk with career counselors and talk through things that interest you.  Ask lots of questions.  Think about what you would like to be doing and ask about positions available in your area of interest.  Ask about the industries that exist.  I had blinders only to real estate and thought I had to have a real estate degree.  I have found that with everyone I know in real estate, very few have real estate degrees.  People have English degrees, Anthropology degrees and other degrees. However, I graduated when the economy was in a tough spot and people with non-professional degrees have had a tough time.  I would tell students what my dad told me, which was to earn a professional degree.  So many people who graduated with me wish they had pursued a professional degree.  Nobody told my friends this in college and they wish someone had.  Maybe your book can help students hear and learn that point.  There wasn’t a book around when I graduated that told students what I know wish someone had told me.  I wish I had your book when I was in college.

Your entire life you work in school and know that there is a next step.  You go to high school and expect to go to college.  You go to college and expect to start a career.  But once you graduate and get out into the real world, nobody tells you what to do and I didn’t know of a resource to guide my pursuits.  While my parents have been fantastic, they didn’t really understand what I was going through.  They have always had jobs in the family business so they had something to fall back on.

So, I would tell students to really investigate what you want to do and go after a wide range of industries because you can, for example, do sales in any industry.  A sales role is one thing I didn’t expect to be good at.  However, I think one reason Mary Pat offered me the job was because I had sales experience.  I would also tell students to network, network, network.  Let people know who you are and what you want to do.  Your name will spread like wildfire if people see you working and trying hard.

Paul asked, “Do you feel like there is a resource out there to teach you how to network? How did you know what to say to people when you went to an event or met another professional?”
It’s hard to network when you’re a young professional.  I’m a member of the Technology Association of Georgia and I believe college students can be members.  They have events all of the time.  I just started attending the events and I began to meet people and get to know more and more people.  However, I still go up and meet new people because I feel better about networking.

Networking was and still is awkward but be yourself and just know you’re there for small talk.  Just do the small talk and prepare yourself to act naturally, even in an awkward setting.  I don’t think you need to talk about jobs and needing a job.  Just let your personality shine through.  I think many professionals will interview and hire young professionals based heavily on their personality alone because they know they can shape into what they want them to be.  College graduates can be molded into a lot of roles.

I needed to break the awkwardness so I use my name as an ice breaker in networking settings.  My name is Lea and is pronounced “Lee” but looks like “Leah”.  So when I meet someone new, they typically think my name is pronounced “Leah”. I tell people that my first name is actually Katrina but go by “Lee”.  It’s a natural and easy way to break the ice and have a conversation.

Interview conducted Dec. 2012
Lea’s comments were audio recorded, compiled and condensed by:

Paul Frankenberg
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