When Opportunity Knocks, Laurie Baker Answers

Camden Property Trust’s Laurie Baker knows the importance of taking chances and leans into discomfort in her leadership growth

There’s been a common theme to the career of Laurie Baker: saying “yes” to opportunities. “I find that when they make me the most uncomfortable, I’ve learned to use that discomfort as an indicator of opportunity, and not something I should be afraid of or avoid,” Baker explains.

Laurie Baker Camden Property Trust
Laurie Baker, Camden Property TrustPhoto: Courtesy of Camden Property Trust

By saying yes, Baker has built twenty-plus years of expertise within the real estate industry, where she is currently executive vice president of operations at Camden Property Trust.

Nonprofit to REIT

After graduating from Sam Houston State University in 1986 with a degree in marketing, Baker moved to Washington, DC, for a job that she had started in Houston at the Texas Medical Center in biomedical research administration and would continue at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the largest nonprofit medical institution in the world.

“At the time, I was participating in the expansion that set the stage for extraordinary growth of this massive $5 billion-plus medical research organization,” Baker notes. “Had I not said yes to that opportunity, I would never have been able to gain some of my greatest learnings, as well as confidence. As a result of that, I ended up in a very short time having key leadership positions at a super young age.”

While at the job, she worked towards her master’s degree in finance and investment at night, with the plan of moving into Howard Hughes’ investment group.

But life got in the way of that plan. She had her first child and moved back to Houston to be close to her big Italian family. In 1994, Baker was presented with another interesting opportunity, this time accepting a role as director for a private multifamily group, Drever Partners.

This was about the time that multifamily REITs were going public, and the company was looking for someone to come in and help create efficiencies and economies of scale to help them prepare for the next strategic move.

“This opportunity met my preparation of education, all the technology things we were doing at Howard Hughes, and it was super interesting and exciting—plus it was my meal ticket home,” Baker explains. “That was my first entry into the real estate business.”

Following a merger with Walden Residential, a promotion to vice president and almost five years with the combined companies, Baker began what has so far been a two-decade-plus career at Camden, one of the largest and most respected publicly traded multifamily companies in the country.

 “I find that when [opportunities] make me the most uncomfortable, I’ve learned to use that discomfort as an indicator of opportunity, and not something I should be afraid of or avoid.”

Leading the Way at Camden

Baker came on board as vice president of property services. She was responsible for building complementary technology strategies, enhancing revenue, streamlining business processes and leveraging tech, which at the time was just not present in the multifamily industry.

“Camden was a pioneer, and I was very excited to be part of that movement within our business,” Baker says. “We initially rolled out online, credit scoring, a web-based property management system and revenue management and were one of the first to use online reviews.”

Under her leadership, Camden also rolled out an enterprise spend management system, and created a centralized purchasing function.

In 2004, Baker was asked to lead a large portion of Camden’s operations in Texas, and was initially hesitant, but went back to her philosophy of taking chances. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career,” she shares. “I spent three years running operations and really understanding the touchpoints of our business.”

Resident Relief During COVID-19

On April 2, Camden Property Trust established a $5 million Resident Relief Fund for Camden residents experiencing financial losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund provides up to $2,000 to meet residents’ financial needs, such as food, utilities, or medical expenses. The fund website went live five days later and within sixteen minutes, the website took in more than 2,500 applications.

“I am proud to work at a company that is doing extraordinary things to help our residents and employees during these challenging times,” Laurie Baker says. “It’s a bright spot in the lives of many.”

In May 2019, Baker was promoted to EVP of operations, which brought with it a big expansion of responsibilities. Today, she is responsible for the oversight and strategy of Camden’s portfolio operations and investment funds. She knows that had she not stepped into an operations leadership position, she would not have been suited for the role of running Camden’s 160 plus multifamily communities containing 56,000 apartment homes.

Comcast is proud to partner with both Baker and Camden Property Trust, says David Spence, senior director of national accounts at the global media and technology company. “Working together, we have driven operational excellence and resident satisfaction within their communities.”

Overall there are approximately 1,300 people in operations, and Baker leads a day-to-day team of 15 people in the corporate office. Her passion is investing in and inspiring others—being authentic and sincere—and notes her leadership style is all about driving transparency and results with everything coming from the heart.

Making a Difference

Championing women leaders is very important to Baker. In 2007, she joined the organization CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women), and quickly realized how valuable a network of women in real estate was. She became the president of the local chapter in 2014 and was named international president two years later.

Valet Living, a partner with Baker and Camden for the past ten years, shares Baker’s relentless commitment to advancing the careers of women both within the two organizations and across the multifamily housing industry. “Women are rising to key leadership positions within the industry, and Laurie Baker is a shining example,” says Shawn Handrahan, president and CEO of Valet Living. “We admire Laurie as an executive who always brings a unique and necessary perspective to the table and one who is a true servant leader.”

Baker is still very involved with helping bring technology to Camden and is focused on smart access, AI, and how to leverage and perfect virtual tours—even before the coronavirus pandemic occurred in early 2020.

“In the last two weeks, we have almost rewritten our entire playbook for our operations business because of what we’re having to adapt to with closing our offices for face-to-face traffic, while still trying to run our business—leasing apartments, taking care of our residents,” says Baker in the March 2020 interview. “The better we can get with using virtual tours and having these data-driven models will lead us into the future.”

“Had I not said yes to that opportunity, I would never have been able to gain some of my greatest learnings, as well as confidence.”

“The good news about our culture is the amazing spirit of collaboration and cooperation among our on-site, corporate, and regional teams—it is awe-inspiring,” she adds.

Looking ahead, Baker hopes to continue to learn and grow and keep making the most out of her opportunities.

“I want to make a difference each day in my interactions and continue to have the courage to confront issues to drive acceleration of the teams,” she says. “I expect to continue to create value for Camden in whatever role that is and to make sure we remain nimble and are making smart business decisions.

“Here’s what I know,” she continues. “As long as we have the courage to be vulnerable with one another, we can accomplish amazing things. I’ve learned it’s not about being perfect; it’s about the courage to be imperfect. Something magical happens in teams when we all embrace this.”

For more than twenty years, RealPage has partnered with leaders like Camden’s Laurie Baker to fine-tune property management and data analytics solutions that boost the performance of rental property assets. Today, RealPage works with rental property investment and management companies ranging from America’s largest to thousands of small and mid-sized firms.

CREW Network is the premier business network dedicated to transforming the commercial real estate (CRE) industry by advancing women globally. There are 12,000 CREW members in 77-plus markets representing all disciplines of CRE. Members find success through business networking, leadership development, industry research and career outreach. Learn more at crewnetwork.org.

Valet Living, the only nationally recognized full-service amenities provider to the multifamily industry, is thrilled to recognize the accomplishments of Laurie Baker, executive vice president at Camden Property Trust. Valet Living shares Laurie’s tremendous commitment to women’s empowerment and is pleased to further the careers of our female associates through Women Empowered, Valet Living’s internal empowerment platform created to set the standard for the advancement of women in the workplace. Women Empowered supports the professional growth of women at all levels of our organization, provides mentorship opportunities and celebrates our incredible female leaders. Learn more about Valet Living at ValetLiving.com.