The big break in commercial real estate for Mark Kenney, president and chief executive of Canada’s largest publicly traded apartment owner, came when he picked up a brick and smashed the window of his future employer.
The leader of Canadian Apartment Properties REIT, which owns 67,000 rental units in Canada and Europe, recalls with a laugh his first day in the multifamily industry decades ago with Greenwin Property Management.
“I was hired on a telephone interview. They hadn’t even met me,” said Kenney, who connected with a stranger on a Toronto street corner back in 1991 who told him to get on the subway and go downtown and head to three buildings on Wellesley Street.
The buildings were Kenney’s to run, but the guy who hired him didn’t have the keys for them.
“He tells me the previous manager stole the keys, and we fired her last week, so I should take a brick and throw it through the window. If the police spot you, you tell them to call me,” Kenney recalled.
The person from Greenwin told Kenney, if he made it inside, to find the phone number for a glass company on the desk to repair the window.
“That was my first day in rental. I guess that was my orientation,” Kenney said.
About 18 months earlier, Kenney had landed his first job in real estate in the condominium sector as an assistant property manager at Del Property Management, an arm of developer Tridel Group of Cos.
“I was absolutely fascinated with real estate growing up, probably because my parents didn’t have a lot of money, and I wondered what it would be like to have a pool,” said Kenney. “I would scour real estate magazines, and I would even go to open houses as a kid because I was fascinated with real estate.”
Kenney’s future mother-in-law was a sales representative with Tridel, a company known for many signature and luxury condominiums.
“I was completely enthused. I didn’t realize people lived in hotels,” said Kenney. “I’d never seen a condo with an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, a gym, facilities that I always thought hotels had.”
He eventually met Jim Ritchie, now president of the Tridel Group of Cos., and said he would do anything to work at the company and didn’t need to be paid.
“He laughed and said, ‘We can’t hire someone for free.’ I wanted to work at the company badly. He liked that so much he offered me a job” as an assistant property manager, said Kenney.
Kenney wanted to run a building, but he looked too young and was told to grow a beard. Frustrated, Kenney returned to Tridel’s Ritchie, who told him to get into the rental housing business.
“They don’t care what you look like, whether you are tall, big, whatever,” Ritchie told Kenney, who used that advice to start his career at Greenwin, where he became the youngest manager they had and the first one with a university degree.
“I had never worn a tie before that job. I’d never had a coffee. I started drinking 15 a day to look like a businessman. I was in my 20s. I started getting sick and didn’t know why [until] my mother-in-law, my original mentor, found out how much coffee I was drinking,” Kenney said.
Kenney moved to CAPREIT as vice president of the company’s external property manager in 1997. Once the REIT’s management was internalized in 1999, he moved over and became chief operating officer. He has served as CEO and president of the Toronto-based real estate investment trust since 2018.
What he learned from his early experiences was to be naturally curious.
“If you don’t have that, you won’t have passion; if you don’t have passion, you won’t make it to the top. Even with that, you need a bit of good luck,” Kenney said.
Everyone in commercial real estate had to start somewhere. First Job explores where careers began.