UGOC Spotlight: United Group Recognizes November Work Anniversaries

November 18, 2020
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United Group is proud to celebrate four ten-year work anniversaries during the month of November, recognizing Otis Babcock, Michael DiGiacomo, Michaela DiGiacomo and Celeste Burke for their many years of dedicated service to the company.

Otis Babcock was the first of the four newcomers. He’s worked in various positions at United Group’s Parkstead Properties located throughout New York’s North Country. Otis has done a tremendous job throughout the past decade maintaining the beauty and integrity of the communities he serves. When Otis isn’t working on various community-related projects, you can find him enjoying the outdoors – hunting and fishing. He also enjoys watching NASCAR and spending quality time with his wife, daughters and grandson.

Following Otis was Mike DiGiacomo, who began his career as the property manager at Schaffer Heights in Schenectady, NY. Mike transitioned into United Group’s student property portfolio, before taking on a regional manager role until most recently, he was promoted to vice president of the senior and student portfolios. Mike has not only built a distinguished career at United Group, but also has made an impact in the property manager industry as a whole - recently being named “CPM of the Year” at the Institute of Real Estate Management’s 2020 REME awards. When Mike isn’t on the road or overseeing the various properties in his portfolio, you can find Mike enjoying craft beer, watching a New York Yankees or New York Giants game, and more often than not, driving his wife crazy.

Two weeks after Mike joined United Group, Michaela DiGiacomo walked through United Group’s doors and never looked back. Michaela started her career splitting her time between the human resources department and the receptionist’s desk. She eventually moved to a fulltime role in human resources and was promoted to human resources manager. Year after year, Michaela achieves stated goals and raises the bar for herself and those who partner with her. Her ability to work with individuals of all levels within the organization sets the tone for others. She is often the “first touch” of the organization, from interview to on-boarding, and new employees quickly understand United Group’s culture and what the company stands for. Also, United Group will always be thankful for the efforts she commits to United University.

Last but certainly not least, Celeste Burke joined United Group on November 30, 2010. Celeste is a senior property accountant for United Group and earned her CPA in 2018 after nearly five-years of extensive studying and test taking. Her education background includes an Associate’s Degree in Fashion Buying and Merchandising, a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and a Master’s Degree in Accounting. When Celeste isn’t meticulously combing through her respective property’s financials, she’s spending time with her husband and seven-year-old son Reilly and their American Bulldog named Ryder.

United Group is so grateful for these four individual’s steadfast commitment and the hard work they’ve displayed to our company over the past decade. It’s people like Otis, Mike, Michaela and Celeste that make United Group such a wonderful place to work.

Learn more about their careers with United Group below!

Name: Otis Babcock

Office: Parkstead Properties

Role: Contractor Consultant

1.) What do you remember about your first day with UGOC?

I remember meeting with Shannon Redden and Stacey Spinner.

2.) Are you in the same role? What has changed about your role?

Over the years I’ve changed positions and have worn many hats! When I was first hired, I was a maintenance technician at Truscott Terrace, I transferred to Mountaineer Estates as a maintenance technician, from there I transferred to Friends Settlement as a maintenance technician but was promoted to maintenance supervisor soon thereafter. I was then transferred to my current position as a contractor consultant.

3.) Tell us what an average day at the office looks like:

I coordinate with Gene and he sends me to whichever community is in need of a helping hand. I turn apartments and handle lawn maintenance in the summer and winter.

4.) Tell us one of your favorite early memories from your office:

Being transferred to Friends Settlement and having the opportunity to work with Gene Gilbo. This transfer was a turning point for me. I was able to show my true work ethic and what I was capable of.

5.) What do you love most about United Group?

I enjoy working at the Parkstead Properties and being able to interact with all maintenance and office staff.

6.) What advice do you want to give yourself now, after working for United Group for the past 10 years?

Don’t sweat the small stuff, don’t stress. It will be there tomorrow!

 

Name: Michael DiGiacomo, CPM®

Office: United Group Corporate Office

Role: Vice President of Student & Senior Housing

1.) What do you remember about your first day with UGOC?

What I remember is less about my first day, and more so my first week. I was the property manager at Schaffer Heights and a gentleman walked in, in a long coat, a suit, and a dress hat. He poked his head into the office and said, “Hi I’m Walter, I’m looking for the manager”. I said, “Hi Walter, I’m Mike, I am the new manager, are you here for a tour?”. He promptly said yes, and I gave him a tour of the entire building and tried my best to sell him an apartment. I had only been there a week and was by myself, so I did my best to answer questions, but probably made some things up along the way. When we were finished, He shook my hand and said, “Great job, I’m Walter Uccellini………….” I was embarrassed, (in my defense, ten years ago, our website wasn’t what it is today and I knew who he was but wasn’t as familiar with his face as I would have been today). After apologizing I said it was great to meet him. He said I heard you moved here from Kentucky – and he asked me why I didn’t have an accent. I explained to him I was from upstate New York and remember being so impressed that he took a few minutes to listen. On his way out he told me the railing on Eastern Ave needed to be painted ASAP and he would be back to check. He left, I went and painted the railings and the rest is history.

2.) Are you in the same role? What has changed about your role?

I started out on the senior side managing Schaffer Heights as mentioned in the first question. I was moved from Schaffer Heights to Schuyler Commons as the property manager to assist with the lease up, then was the area manager for a brief time for College Suites City Station and Schuyler Commons before being moved to a regional manager role where I had oversite of the student portfolio, and a few senior assets as well. Most recently I was promoted to a vice president role where I oversee the student and senior divisions with the help and assistance of LOTS of people. I have a great team – and it’s been a great ride so far.

3.) Tell us what an average day at the office looks like:

There are no average days in property management. I think the beauty of working at United Group is you get to wear lots of hats. I get to work on new developments, new business, asset management, accounting, property and facility management and my favorite part is I get to work with great people. Anyone who works on my team will tell you I always say the best managers have the understanding that “we work where you live.” It’s a privilege to provide quality homes for people and work within those communities.

4.) Tell us one of your favorite early memories from your office:

Well, I told you the story about meeting Walter, which is a favorite of mine. Another is early on Michael called me to his office – I think I was just getting ready to take over Schuyler Commons. He wanted to go over the financials with me and discuss expectations, etc. We were in his old office, which is now part of RATH. It was early in the morning; I remember because I used to live about 55 miles from the home office. He was talking to me about all these things that we needed to work on to get the property going, and marketing dollars that were being spent – and I wasn’t 100% paying attention. He noticed and said, “are you listening!” I pointed to a GIANT (not kidding it was huge) spider and said something like “not really.” He went over and killed it and mumbled something about Graham needing to spray. I thought to myself, good thing my office isn’t in this building – I hate spiders. Ten years later, my office is in this building, and I still hate spiders, and I’m well known to call for help when they make their way to my office.

5.) What do you love most about United Group?

Easy question. United Family. Its who we are and hopefully what we will always be about. I jokingly say to new hires all the time, the best part about our company is you can walk up the stairs and ask the CEO a question, the worst part is he can walk down and ask you one! Seriously though from the top down my favorite part is that you are treated like family. Some of my best memories involve people I met at United Group.

6.) What advice do you want to give yourself now, after working for United Group for the past 10 years?

When in doubt, call Graham, he knows a guy.

 

Name: Michaela DiGiacomo, SHRM-CP

Office: United Group Corporate Office

Role: Human Resources Manager

1.) What do you remember about your first day with UGOC?

I think what stands out the most from my first day is being taken on a tour around the office by Joan and introduced to every single employee one by one. I remember thinking that it was such a nice effort to make the time to introduce me on a personal level like that, but also how incredibly welcoming each person was! It certainly made me feel at home right from the beginning and it’s one of the reasons why I am still here after ten years. 

2.) Are you in the same role? What has changed about your role?

I started at United Group as the Office Coordinator and I would spend the morning in Human Resources, assisting the Department with recruitment efforts and our training program. This was really my very first exposure to the field of human resources. In the afternoon, I moved downstairs to the front desk and managed the Corporate Office Operations. After two years in this role, I was promoted into a full-time human resources coordinator position, and then shortly after was moved into the human resources manager role – something that I was extremely proud of, being so new to the field, and to the company in general. Since working as the human resources manager, a LOT has changed! I remember starting with United Group and our company size was about 175 employees – between myself and Joan, we managed all human resources functions with really just the two of us, so I was involved with and exposed to everything very quickly and it was a great learning experience for me. Fast forward to today - it’s amazing to see how much we’ve grown as a company, reaching almost 300 employees nationwide, and now needing a department of four to support all of our people and the moving parts of the business.

3.) Tell us what an average day at the office looks like:

An average day at the office would be waving to Graham on my way in the door, heading upstairs to the human resources department, and saying good morning to the team. Our department is a close/small group, so I feel like we always start and end the day catching up with each other or laughing about something. With scheduling adjustments over the last few months limiting the team interaction in the office, I think we’ve come to really appreciate that dynamic we have. After that, there’s always emails waiting to be answered, or meetings to go to (and lasting way longer then they should J), but one of the things that I love about our company is how different and interesting each day can be - just when you think that you’ve seen or heard it all, something comes up to challenge you. An average day for me at United Group always ends with feeling like I’ve made an impact on something or someone.

 4.) Tell us one of your favorite early memories from your office:

My very favorite early memory at the office was being brand new – only about two or three weeks into the job – and being called to come upstairs to the executive board room by Walter Uccellini. He stepped outside of the conference room, closed the door behind him, then asked me if I would go pick him up some soup and half a sandwich from Alexis Diner (me: phew – I’m not in trouble, simple request, I can totally do that!). I told him that of course I would, watched him take out his wallet, pull out some cash, and handed me. . .a $100 dollar bill (me: FULL PANIC MODE). I don’t think that I’ve ever been so nervous about making sure I received the right change back from a purchase (I may have even put it in an envelope to be sure it was all there). It’s funny the things that stand out when you think back to the beginning, but I always love that moment – being so new, so young, and so scared of the little things! And don’t worry, both the lunch and the correct change were delivered to him successfully J.

5.) What do you love most about United Group?

Our people. I have met some of the most amazing people over the last ten years, all over the country, some of which have become lifelong friends even after their time at United Group. We have an incredibly caring team of employees who lend support to each other during tough times and laugh together through some truly crazy moments, both at work and in life. We have some of the most generous, some of the toughest, some of the smartest, some of the funniest – it’s quite a team!

6.) What advice do you want to give yourself now, after working for United Group for the past 10 years?

I think the advice I would give myself now is actually the same advice I was given by Joan ten years ago on my very first performance review which was, “Get loud, lady!”  That has always stuck with me. So, just to always speak up and to contribute.       

 

Name: Celeste Burke, CPA

Office: United Group Corporate Office

Role: Senior Property Accountant

 1.) What do you remember about your first day with UGOC?

I had just moved back from living in California. I was starting my first entry level position after getting my bachelor’s degree. I was nervous but the Patty’s (Patty A and Patty M) were great about making me feel welcome and showing me around the office.

2.) Are you in the same role? What has changed about your role?

I am not in the same role. I started as an assistant to AP and worked my way up to senior property accountant. I was in serval different roles through the years and I am thankful I got to gain the knowledge from each role to allow for a better understanding of the operating system(s) and business requirements.

3.) Tell us what an average day at the office looks like:

I start with a list of things that need to be completed. I start working on the list and get pulled in different directions for most of the day and then try to remember where I left off when I started the day.

4.) Tell us one of your favorite early memories from your office:

One of the best memories I have is when my name was pulled to win suite tickets to see Michael Bublé. Walter walked them down to my cube to present them to me and I screamed like a schoolgirl, jumped with joy and asked if I could hug him, which he let me! Then he smiled and laughed. This concert was also the beginning of a great friendship with someone I am still close with today, Nicole Kelly.

5.) What do you love most about United Group?

The Uccellini laugh. You can hear it throughout the building, and it will always make you smile and laugh.

6.) What advice do you want to give yourself now, after working for United Group for the past 10 years?

Always have a notebook with a pen and ask for a deadline on projects.

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