A Day in the Life of Brook Zink
by Kara Cook
This blog is a forum to curate expert commentary, opinion and thought leadership resources. In the past we’ve talked about and profiled topics including real estate cyber insurance issues, RESPA compliance best practices, tax implications and ramifications for our industry, and communication issues that can impact a closing. Today, we’re talking with Brook Zink, our director of operations and, as we say in her online bio, it’s hard to nail down exactly everything Brook handles day in and day out for our firm. But we’re going to try to define here just how vital her support is to the success of Cook & James.
KC: In your online bio (and with tongue somewhat in cheek), we call you the ‘miracle worker of all things, keeper of sanity and bringer of solutions.’ But that really is what you do day in and day out, Brook. You keep us all together.
BZ: Yes, I guess I do. I mean, it’s never boring working here at Cook & James. Each day is certainly an adventure and no two days are alike!
KC: Never a dull moment for sure! Since Heather and I are very hands-on partners running the firm, we obviously know what you do but we also know there are many more details you handle behind the scenes to get us from Point A to Point B. Can we just review some of those today? Because I think it’s really important for our clients, colleagues and collaborators to know the extent of the extraordinarily capable way you support us all. First, can you tell us what’s the most challenging task you face?
BZ: I think the one thing that I didn’t – at first – feel prepared for was the technical challenge. I am responsible for the firm’s computers and manage the community internal intranet and knowledge base. Coming into the job, I had zero IT experience and at first, when we were smaller, that was a much more manageable task. I could ‘google around’ and fiddle with an issue on my own until I got it worked out. Now six years later, I’ve amassed a pretty large working knowledge of Windows, iOS and the various work platforms we use including LastPass, Pavaso, PHP, Remote Desktops and our own proprietary software. And that’s no small task with all the mandatory controls, safeguards and back stops necessary to run a secure and successful closing transaction firm like ours. I coordinate all technology with employees and IT professionals to diagnose and repair staff computers. I mean, I don’t hesitate to avail myself of outside consultants when necessary, but I’m basically the first and last stop on the train to coordinate anything IT-related.
KC: Can I just tell you how incredibly thankful I am that everybody comes to you with IT questions? While I do love all of our technology, I am certainly not the one to help when there is a problem. My advice usually is to turn it off and back on (whatever the device) which, I must say, works more often than you think. I don’t think I thanked you quite enough for mastering our IT, so thank you, thank you, and thank you again!
BZ: Ha! You are quite welcome. While have mastered it for the most part, it is definitely an ongoing challenge, especially as we continue to grow. And to that point, can move away from the IT talk and speak a bit about how I help with our growth? I manage staff and act as liaison between department leads. Part of that day-to-day management is overseeing staff calendars, including work from home requests, PTO and the million other personal details that come along with human capital. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally worth it for the firm to be flexible, but we can’t lose track of the core business and keeping the lights on. That’s my job, but it does sometimes seem like a Rubik’s Cube to fit all the schedules together and manage the moving parts.
KC: See? We are not lying when we call you the keeper of sanity! And, on top of keeping track of all of that, you handle onboarding new employees too. Let’s chat a bit about that.
BZ: Right. Not only onboarding new employees and contractors, but I manage posting job opportunities in the first place and handle the initial round of interviews. Keeping up with hiring is a full-time job itself so, if you can say ‘paperwork,’ you can say ‘Brook’s job.’ I’ve got it down to such a science that, thanks to being blessed with some pretty good organizational skills, I can practically do hiring procedures in my sleep.
KC: You have an especially keen eye towards adhering to our company culture in your hiring role and we certainly appreciate that. How have you gotten so good at ensuring that new employees are a true culture fit?
BZ: I suppose it’s because I’ve worked so closely with you two for so long. I totally get that, before we proceed with any candidate, that person absolutely must be a fit with the C&J culture that you’ve created. That is our number one priority because if there’s not a natural fit, it’s like ramming a square peg into a round hole. I know everyone at Cook & James would rather work a little harder, than struggle with someone who’s an unnatural fit.
KC: I also think that, because you are acutely aware of the Cook & James culture, you seem to handle being the staff mentor so easily too.
BZ: I’m not sure what I’d call my management style, but I tend to have really good relationships with my staff. I’ve also always been a good trainer, perhaps because I find it really fulfilling to share knowledge and mentor people. This trickles down to client communication, which I also manage and really enjoy. But wearing all the different hats definitely makes for a moving target each and every day.
KC: I think it is obvious that your job includes interfacing with a lot of people, a lot of the time. How about all the back end support – all the tasks you do behind the scenes that don’t involve interacting with people and achieving consensus?
BZ: Well, there is that. A lot of that. Specifically, department audits and oversight to make sure the firm adheres to all strictly and legally-enforced policies and procedures. Of course, this is all with direction from our attorneys, but I do a ton of weeding through old files and documentation to make sure we are hitting the ball out of the park each and every time – and that we don’t reinvent the wheel. Under direction from you, as partners, and our other attorneys, I make sure our documents are in compliance with state laws. And, of course, we close not only in Georgia, but in Connecticut, New York and South Carolina too so that just multiplies the many documents I prepare for partners and attorneys.
KC: And can I just say how very much Heather and I appreciate your fastidious attention to detail on that preparation? Having you on the front line really makes our job much more smooth.
BZ: Thanks. I really do enjoy the challenge and, as I’ve said, I always wanted variety in my job. And, boy, did I ever get it!
KC: Is there anything that you especially enjoy or something about which you’re especially proud?
BZ: Actually, yes. I was really proud to be on the team preparing the huge ALTA BP compliance audit and testing project. Every other year, Cook & James voluntarily participates in this intense undertaking to prove we embrace the best practices of ALTA (the American Land Title Association). By passing the audit, we demonstrate to lenders and clients that our firm is one which could stand up to the scrutiny of a CFPB audit. I participated for the first time recently and it felt exhilarating to see this multi-month, multi-faceted, complicated project through to completion. Shipping that project out the door after being so closely tied to a process that required so many steps, organization, and moving parts was exhausting and a bit like sending your kid off to Kindergarten. But how amazingly rewarding when we received word that we’d passed. That was definitely cause for celebration of a job well done. I enjoyed that.
KC: It certainly takes a special person with amazing organizational skills to enjoy compliance audits. Again, we are so very appreciative that we have you to take charge. Thank you for all the many and varied hats you wear so well daily to keep Cook & James on track and a great place to work!
BZ: Thanks. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Director of Operations Brook Zink has been with Cook & James since 2013 and works with the partners, Kara Cook and Heather James, to make sure everyone and everything is compliant and technologically sound. She’s a graduate of Washington State University with a BA in Social Sciences and a minor in Women’s Studies. Fun fact: she’s an avid health nut and had a desk built over her treadmill so she can run and work at the same time.