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Team Member Spotlight: Vanessa Zambrana

Get to Know Our Employees

At Cardinal we believe we have the most well-trained, experienced professionals that care about the communities they serve. In this post, we feature one of our team members who have been doing a phenomenal job exemplifying Cardinal team spirit.

Today, get to know Vanessa Zambrana, on-site General Manager of Cardinal Forest.

Tell us about your role and your primary responsibilities.

I am the on-site General Manager of Cardinal Forest Condominium Unit Owners Association – a very large 100-acre, garden-style and townhome-style condominium community comprised of 68 residential buildings/1050 units in Springfield, Virginia. I currently lead a staff of 10 dedicated on-site employees and together with the Board of Directors and the Management team, we essentially operate a successful $5 million community association business.

How did you first learn about Cardinal and how did that impact your desire to want to work here?

I came to Cardinal Management Group through professional references of my previous employer when I worked in the land development industry in the early 2000’s. At the time, the land development movement in Loudoun County was being scrutinized and challenged heavily by the local farmers and land owners. This meant that future development of the land to build planned communities was stalled and eventually put on hold through years of public hearings and other legal processes. In 2006, my previous employer made the tough decision to lay off many of the employees in an effort to save the company and keep operations going with minimum “bare bones” - meantime all of the challenging land development and legal issues were being worked out with the executives and so forth. Within less than a week of being given my “pink slip”, I received a phone call from Thomas Mazzei of Cardinal Management Group. I did not know at the time that Mr. Mazzei was one of the owning partners and CEO of the company! I interviewed with him and was told that two of his executive managers, Terry McGuire and Jonathan Sucher, thought very highly of me in working on several Cardinal managed developer communities and thought I might be a good fit in their business of community association management. I was shocked that I was even noticed by Terry and Jonathan as I was just a quiet 24-year-old community development coordinator, practically a “nobody” in the grand scheme of land development. Even though I was laid off, I was still able to witness those communities developed and occupied on the other side of it all through Cardinal! And “that was all she wrote”! For the last 16 years I have been employed by Cardinal Management Group!

Cardinal is a family-oriented company. How does working here allow you to balance your career and family life?

Cardinal Management Group has been a blessing in my life. I know that I have to get the job done and do it well, but I am blessed that I am still able to have a regular schedule, go home to my family every night and have quality time on the weekends. Some parts of any job are hard to “turn off”, like emotions and stress that come with any career but that is a more of a life skill that I have been developing over the years! By turning my job into a career so many years ago, I was able to grow my family from being a single young woman to a married mom of two pre-teenage daughters. My daughters have practically grown up as Cardinal babies since I have worked for “Uncle Tom” all of these years!

What do you find most challenging about your role/position?

As the General Manager, I am ultimately responsible for everything that takes place, whether it’s planned (or not) – this is an enormous responsibility yet such an amazing opportunity.  Stress, like with any career, is also inevitable. By trying to closely managing my day-to-day, I work to maintain the steep stress highs and lows at a more manageable level.

How has Cardinal helped you with your career development and name three career lessons you’ve learned thus far?

At the time I came to Cardinal Management Group, I had an Associates Degree in Fine Art and Photography and no plans of obtaining higher education in any industry. When I learned that Cardinal participated in continuing education programs for its employees, I took advantage of the opportunity to grow and advance in my new career by taking all industry courses and seminars available to me. Within the first 12 months of employment, I earned the CMCA® (Certified Manager of Community Associations) designation; within 2.5 years I earned the AMS® (Association Management Specialist) designation; and in 2015 I earned the coveted PCAM® (Professional Community Association Manager) designation by participating in and completing a case study. Even today, I continue to further advance my knowledge in the industry by participating in courses, seminars, conferences and I aspire to be a LSM® (Large Scale Manager) some day!

Three career lessons I have learned thus far

  1. Do not argue with customers. If you come across as a challenge to your customer, you will rarely ever change their mind and the situation will escalate. Instead, stay calm; listen to them; lower your voice and respond with empathy.
  1. Manage the relationship with the customer. Maintaining a good relationships with your customers means that you are more likely to understand them, resolve their problems and create a mutual understanding with them.
  1. Community association management is a customer service based industry. More often than not, it is a thankless job that we do for thousands of people every day. As humans, I can say that this is a hard aspect for anyone to grasp. But I have learned and I know in my heart that my team and our management company makes a difference in people’s lives and that is what keeps me coming back every day!

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you like to see cast as you and why?

If Hollywood made a movie about me, I would want Rebel Wilson to be cast as my character. I love her comedic yet sarcastic tone and life is always a fair balance of both for me! She is also a strong empowered female working in a male dominated industry, just like I am. I certainly would not mind my character performing with her lovely Australian accent either!

Name one fun or unlikely thing people may not know about Cardinal but should

As the story has been recounted over the years, Cardinal Management Group was born right here in the “forest” when Thomas Mazzei and his brother, Don, were the team of on-site managers working for the newly transitioned Cardinal Forest Condominium UOA when at the time was a recently converted apartment rental community, formerly known as Pennsbury of Washington Co. I have heard Thomas often say that it is no coincidence that his company and life’s work is named after where it all started!

Do you have any tips for someone that may be looking to get into the community management industry?

If someone may be looking to get into the community management industry, a few tips I would offer are:

  • Keep yourself and your tasks organized – the 5 “P”s - Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
  • Do not be afraid of change and learn to openly accept it – it happens daily and sometimes even more frequently!
  • Community management is a fast paced environment so pivot and stay on your toes!
  • Community management is a career based industry – be willing to learn and you will grow!