Before coming onboard at Charter School Capital, Mary Dillon spent many years in commercial and industrial real estate in her home country of Ireland and the United States. Mary combines her academic background in accounting and business management and her many years in real estate in her current Portfolio Asset Manager position at CSC.
Growing up, Mary wanted to be a teacher. In Ireland, a high grade in advanced Gaelic is a strict requirement for educators. Mary was fluent in German, French, and English but wasn’t drawn to Gaelic. Her Gaelic became a barrier to becoming a teacher.
In college, Mary chose to pursue Accounting and Finance, eventually earning both a Bachelor of Commerce degree and a master’s degree in Finance.
After graduating, she decided she did not want to be an Accountant. Instead, she chose to work in real estate. She got a job with one of the biggest real estate companies in Dublin. And for the last twenty years, her career continued to focus on commercial and industrial real estate.
In Mary’s view, it was the right choice. She loved how relationship-driven her work was and how it allowed her to use her analytical skills to help clients. For over a decade, Mary worked in real estate brokering, acquisitions, dispositions. During the recession in 2009, she transitioned to the Asset Management side, where her accounting background allowed her to shine.
In 2009, Mary’s family faced a significant life change. Her husband had to relocate to the United States for work, and the whole family made the move.
Mary got a real estate license in the U.S., which was not easy. She had to learn new procedures and approaches, along with memorizing new laws. However, Mary found herself working with institutional clients who owned property worldwide, such as CBRE. And in this context, she brought a welcomed global perspective to her work.
In 2016, Mary found herself at another crossroads. She was working long hours with two kids in school and a husband whose work demanded a lot of travel. Mary was ready for a change.
A recruiter brought her an opportunity at Charter School Capital, and she thought, “I don’t know anything about charter schools! But you know what, I’ve moved my whole family across the ocean when I didn’t know one person in America. I learned to drive on the other side of the road and all the ins and outs of real estate in America. I can learn this.”
Two months later, she started working at Charter School Capital, and four years on, she still finds joy and fulfillment in her work.
“What I love about Charter School Capital is that your ideas are all welcomed, that your ideas are heard. That you can suggest a new way of doing things and it will be received. I’ve been in big companies where this is the one way to do it, the one way it’s always been. I love that you can suggest better ways, more efficient ways to do things, and your voice is heard.”
Mary echoes many other employees in talking about the things that make CSC so unique. The diverse viewpoints and personalities in the company, the way everyone rolls up their sleeves to get things done. The way work is recognized.
“One of the key things I value the most is that there is a mission behind everything we do. I’m not clocking in to make rich people more affluent, and I’m clocking in to make schools more successful. Ultimately, we help create good learning environments for over 1.5 million students.”
As a portfolio asset manager, Mary oversees the company’s facilities – the real estate. She manages the tenant relationships, and it’s her job to ensure the tenants are happy, rents are paid, and that the buildings are well maintained.
It’s part of Mary’s job to have honest, candid conversations with the school leaders. If a school is struggling with enrollment, that means the school may get in trouble down the line. Before they get behind on their rent, it’s up to Mary to get them the help they may need to correct course and improve the situation.
As schools coped with the pandemic in the past few months, Mary has found relationships have gotten stronger. She formed close bonds with her clients as human beings. While on the one hand, the COVID-19 crisis has kept us all isolated (Mary used to visit schools a lot – she hasn’t seen schools physically in eighteen months). On the other hand, she talks on Zoom with her clients all the time. As schools experienced hardships, many have reached out to Mary, asking, “What do we do now?” It has been rewarding to be able to help.
In working with educators, Mary finds that most are amazing idealists, have a compassionate side, and know so much about education. In terms of business knowledge, there’s a range.
Some school leaders bring business acumen, and some are less knowledgeable about the consequences of a burst pipe or about deadlines to pay taxes. And in almost every case, they tend to be intensely focused on their educational goals and the day-to-day of school management, and it’s harder to get them to focus on logistical aspects of their school building. And this is an area where Mary feels the partnership with Charter School Capital leads to success. By keeping our focus on the school’s financial sustainability, we help safeguard their mission.
“In our organization, we have experts in school management, we have finance experts, and we have strong expertise in real estate. I have a strong background in asset management, and I understand this unique niche. I’m also a mom with two teenagers in school. I can tell you that we, as a company, take the time to understand the schools. And we put schools first.”