Julie Hughes-Jenkins isn’t one to job hop. She prefers stability in her career. She’s currently in her 15th year at Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT), a publicly traded real estate investment trust based in Columbia, Maryland, that owns, manages, leases, and develops Class A office and data center properties. Prior to joining COPT, she spent nearly 20 years at an engineering firm.
“My background is in engineering and design, and I didn’t get involved in the real estate industry until 2004 when I started here,” explains Hughes-Jenkins, COPT’s vice president of design and interior construction. “I have a strong technical side married to my creative interests and a passion for seeing people succeed. I love getting into details of things and the technicality of items, but I also have a creative side.”
Hughes-Jenkin’s first garnered engineering experience in college, working for a small company that built high-tech data centers. She worked her way through different positions in the company, culminating with a role as project manager. “I found myself being a good communicator between the customer and our engineers, so we could capture the customers’ requirements and put the technical details to it,” she recalls. “I enjoyed and excelled at the people side of the equation.”
It was in that job that Hughes-Jenkins was introduced to a secured government customer in a building owned by COPT. She found herself impressed with the company’s people and culture. “I became friends with the lead of the interior design and construction department at the time, and had a discussion about a possible career change,” she explains, adding that when “the perfect position” was recommended to her by a COPT contact, she grabbed the opportunity.
Today, Hughes-Jenkins is responsible for the overall leadership of design and construction services supporting tenant and building interiors, as well as supporting design services for development and redevelopment. Her team includes seven project managers comprised of a director of construction and a project manager shared with its Huntsville, Alabama, regional office, as well as a combination of five interior designers and architects and two top-notch support team members. Hughes-Jenkins and her team had over 200 active projects this past year from the budget design phase all the way to post-construction, representing approximately $1.4 billion and touching six million square feet of space.
Throughout her career, Hughes-Jenkins has proven to be an effective leader who capitalizes on the strengths of her truly talented team of construction project managers, designers, architects, and BIM specialists by providing autonomy, growing mastery and aligning purpose for value creation.
“Arris Design is extremely proud of our work with Julie and the entire COPT team,” attests Jeff Taylor, principal of Arris Design. “Julie provides great leadership, and as an extension of her organization, she empowers her partners to be creative and innovative. Her dedication to her work and colleagues is unparalleled and a model to follow.”
“I like to give people autonomy in what they do, but I also like to push and challenge them,” Hughes-Jenkins elaborates. “I strive to stretch people to perform beyond what they think they can do. I want people who are self-driven and motivated to learn and grow.”
She also is big on a collaborative approach, which is part of the culture at COPT, something that came in handy as everyone worked through the pandemic. “At points like this, the culture we have in place, the tools we have in place, and our habits of collaborating have helped keep us successful and connected during these times,” Hughes-Jenkins notes. That has been apparent in the work COPT has done in the past year.
On a recent project at 6950 Columbia Gateway Drive, COPT took advantage of a long-time tenant moving out of a 1980s era building by completely redeveloping it into a modern workplace. COPT upgraded the façade to enhance the building’s curb appeal and transformed the lobby into an open concept, modern, amenity-filled common area that includes conference and meeting spaces, a welcoming lounge-café area, shuffleboard and ping-pong game tables, and a fitness center complete with a spin and yoga studio featuring virtual classes.
“That building leased up before we were even done with construction,” Hughes-Jenkins shares. “Companies are looking for spaces that can attract and retain employees asking themselves what else they can offer to their employees, having great amenity and social spaces in the building overall from a tenant’s perspective, is in demand.”
Currently, Hughes-Jenkins is working on an internally focused project: the implementation of a project management/capital planning software solution, with the goal being able to provide a higher level of visibility to all projects, gaining efficiency and giving consistency to how COPT manages projects across the country.
“Seeing the volume of overall projects and work we do is pretty significant. About four to five years ago I looked across the company and saw we didn’t have a tool that you could go into and look at all the projects across the company,” she explains. “Each project management group had its own way of reporting project status, schedules, and risks and we didn’t have dashboards with live data to look across the entire company.”
Earlier in her time with COPT, Hughes-Jenkins worked with COPT’s IT applications team to build an internal data base that tracked all interior projects, and she saw the benefit of being able to look at metrics and trends across time periods and markets to help manage the work more effectively. So, she knew something could help provide the visibility for which she was looking.
Calling on her love for the details behind each project, Hughes-Jenkins’s research led her to the Kahua software solution. COPT is implementing the first phase of the tool this year, namely the capital planning model. The second phase of implementation will be the project management module that will provide financial accountability, risk assessment, scheduling, management of contracts, and a design review platform and workflow.
“This tool will improve efficiency, provide high level visibility to work in progress through customized dashboards and help to ensure consistency of project management operations across the company’s various operational sectors and geographic regions,” she explains.
With all of these accomplishments in her portfolio, Hughes-Jenkins has already begun to think about retirement, with her date set in March 2023. But before she goes, she intends to ensure that COPT will be in good hands.
“I’ve led my team with a passion for their personal and professional growth, the provision of great customer service, and a sense of humility. And [eventually there is a need] to pass on your knowledge and passions to others so you can continue expanding your own horizons,” says Hughes-Jenkins, adding that she’s learned to stay humble, set the bar high, and always lay out a plan with at least two good choices. “I see great things in store for COPT’s rising-star leaders.”