On Jan. 1, Tamara Fischer will make history: She’ll become the first woman to head one of the self-storage industry’s publicly traded REITs.

One prominent female executive in self-storage says the rise of a woman to the top post at a major self-storage REIT is long overdue. And another prominent female executive envisions more Tamara Fischers in the self-storage sector.

Climbing the ladder

On May 23, Greenwood Village, CO-based National Storage Affiliates Trust said Fischer would take over as CEO of the self-storage REIT at the beginning of 2020 and assume a seat on the board. Fischer will remain president but will relinquish her duties as chief financial officer. In cutting back on his day-to-day work, co-founder Arlen Nordhagen will step down as chairman and CEO and assume the role of executive chairman.

Brandon Togashi, currently senior vice president and chief accounting officer, will succeed Fisher as CFO and be elevated to executive vice president.

Fischer will oversee a portfolio comprising more than 700 self-storage facilities in 35 states and Puerto Rico and totaling about 45 million rentable square feet. She joined National Storage in 2013. Two years later, the REIT launched its IPO.

Fischer couldn’t be reached for comment. But in a news release, Fischer said she was honored to take the helm of National Storage Affiliates.

“We are off to a great start in 2019,” she said, “and I look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with our team as we execute our aggressive growth strategy with the objective of continuing to deliver outsized returns on behalf of our shareholders.”

Background in business

Fischer comes to the REIT’s top leadership post with an impressive resume.

From 2004 to 2008, Fischer was executive vice president and chief financial officer of Vintage Wine Trust Inc., a wine-focused REIT. As a consultant, Fischer helped guide the REIT’s liquidation, which was announced in 2008.

For 10 years, from 1993 to 2003, Fischer was executive vice president and chief financial officer of Chateau Communities Inc., a manufactured home REIT. Hometown America LLC bought Chateau in 2003.

Breaking through the glass ceiling

According to self-storage industry veteran Anne Ballard, president of marketing, training and developmental services at Atlanta, GA-based Universal Storage Group, Fischer’s ascendance to the top job at National Storage Affiliates has been a long time coming in an industry that historically has been dominated by male leaders.

Ballard said that at her company, women make up half of store employees, and they hold a two-to-one advantage over men in the headquarters workforce and support staff. Yet Ballard is the lone woman in the company’s ownership; the five other owners are men. Universal Storage Group offers self-storage management, training, consulting and development services.

“One sees so many women in front-desk and middle-management jobs, but as the pyramid grows smaller, fewer and fewer women are representing ownership or are top executives,” Ballard said. “I don’t think self-storage is any different from any other sector of real estate in this regard, but I am seeing a few more women owners at conferences and in my workshops.”

Still, Alyssa Quill, CEO and managing partner of York, PA-based self-storage management and consulting company Storage Asset Management Inc., noted that only about 15 percent of the attendees at a recent self-storage industry event in Texas were women, and just seven percent of the speakers were women.

“Personally,” Ballard said, “I believe in order to effect change in storage ownership and leadership, we need to see a shift in perceptions among not only women themselves, but from all sides of the ownership and organizational equation.”

“Changes are happening”

Quill said she thinks that fact that women don’t hold many executive posts in self-storage has more to do with the struggle of maintaining a work-life balance and isn’t necessarily associated with “bias or prejudice.”

“Changes are happening, though,” said Quill, a board member of the Self Storage Association.

For example, the Self Storage Association recently formed the Women’s Council, which promotes opportunities for education, mentorship, networking and community service.

“There have been several female entrepreneurs and leaders in storage over the years who helped pave the way. They have been involved in local and national self-storage associations, and have been mentors for so many,” Quill said. “If we can support each other — help push each other to take risks and be confident in our abilities — I think we’ll see more and more females in leadership roles in storage.”

Ballard, too, thinks that’ll happen, thanks in part to women today being equipped with the same levels of information, mentoring and coaching that men have been armed with for decades.

“Women, for the most part of my generation, were not ever given access to that pool of resources,” Ballard said. “The current generations have much more confidence in their skills and in asking — even demanding — the same resources that were previously denied them.”

John Egan