A Peek Inside Her Agenda: Ama Romaine

General Counsel at Progress Residential


Jan. 1 2024, Published 7:00 a.m. ET

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Ama Romaine’s love for understanding people and interest in the way the world works from a legal perspective is one of the many driving forces to her successful career. She was led to the hospitality industry where she landed her first counsel role as Senior Counsel for Choice Hotels. This opportunity marked a new chapter in her career journey. Ama continued to grow as a counsel expert and served as the first General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer for G6 Hospitality, where she developed, implemented, and led the company’s first compliance program and successfully launched the company’s ESG platform. 

Most recently, Ama was appointed as General Counsel for Progress Residential, one of the largest providers of high-quality, single-family rental homes in the United States. From providing insights as a counselor to sharing resources on business direction and strategy, Ama is a key factor in solving complex problems and keeping solutions at Progress Residential resident-focused. 

We had the opportunity to connect with Ama as she shared with Her Agenda what the first few months in her new role have been like, career pivots, and finding purpose in your career. 

Her Agenda: I know you just got into your role as General Counsel at Progress Residential, so I’d love to hear how it’s going and what’s most exciting about your role based on what you experienced so far?

Ama Romaine: I am super excited first of all to be here at Progress. You know when you talk about living out your purpose, this role for me aligns nicely with my strong desire to be in spaces where I can be very impactful, especially at this stage in my career. Progress Residential is the largest property manager for single-family rental homes in the whole country. We manage about 100,000 homes in 30 of the fastest-growing metropolitan markets. As compared to renting and managing units within a building, we manage homes that are individually owned. What I love about what we do and who we are, and this might be the thing that really attracted me to the company and this industry is that I believe that providing single-family rental homes is an important part of the housing ecosystem. Not everyone can afford a down payment, save up for a down payment or even make enough money for a down payment to buy a home in a community of their choice. [People must have] the full range of options to make the right choices especially people with families because I think it’s important to access communities that have good schools and access to good resources and that’s what we’re doing. We automatically do good by definition of what we’re doing which is nice because you don’t have to look for your purpose, it’s [embedded in] what we’re doing. 

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Her Agenda: I know you mentioned your company managing single-family rental homes, but in the Black community, there’s a lot of discussion about owning homes. What are the benefits of renting a home as opposed to owning a home? 

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Ama Romaine: I love that you asked that question because I feel like the interview wouldn’t have been real if you didn’t. We play an important role in the housing ecosystem. So when you think about it, living in a home is really the goal. Everyone needs housing. What we know in this country is that everyone does not have access to secure and stable housing. If you want to increase access to secure and stable housing, you have to think about different ways to meet that goal. If you need to rent for a certain amount of time, that might give you the ability to save up for a down payment to live in the type of home and community you want to live in rather than forcing yourself into a situation that you may not be financially ready for which has other consequences. I think that the conversation has got to be how we make sure we provide people access to homes wherever they want to live. 

Her Agenda: As the General Counsel, and correct me if I’m wrong, but you provide advice that leads to solutions for your colleagues. How important is it to receive counsel and the importance of your role for the overall company as well?

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Ama Romaine: The reality is this, a General Counsel and legal team of a company is at its best when they’re focused on risk and reputation management. The thread between risk management, reputation management, and operations is that the three are inextricably light because what are lawsuits? Lawsuits are born out of failures in operations that go unaddressed over time. When I’m able to show my colleagues what they’re doing every day, protecting their brand, and driving the business outcomes that they want by following the legal rules and doing what’s right, that’s a win. Warren Buffet has this quote ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.’ That’s essentially my role – making sure that my colleagues buy into the idea that effective risk management is good for business as well as showing up and doing good for our communities is good for business. 

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Her Agenda: I read that you have extensive experience in risk management, what important lessons have you learned as the go-to person for risk management?

Ama Romaine: The truth is, legal is really an enabling function at its best. If we understand what the rules are you can move faster. So there’s this other proverb that I love that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ I believe this works in a business. The business unit should see itself as working in partnership with the legal team. If a company is siloed, that’s where you end up with a lot of risks. So if you don’t have me at the table then I can’t share my perspective on the action the company is considering taking. I’ve seen companies get sued so I might be able to tell you there are some things that you’re doing that you might want to think [about] differently. Lawsuits are expensive and they’re difficult to navigate. They also slow business down. So my goal is to make sure that we can operate our business optimally and that requires managing our risks effectively. 

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Her Agenda: Who is someone you seek counsel [from] when you experience challenges in your career? Do you usually go to someone?

Ama Romaine: I love that, I do! I have mentors who run the gamut. One of my mentors when I was a lawyer who’s still my mentor today – made the point that if everyone in your network looks like you, that’s not a network, that’s a circle of friends. I think that’s true for me and that’s true for a white man. It’s so important for us to build networks that are diverse because that’s what opens doors and that’s what gives you perspective. I have people in my network who are much older than me, they’re more seasoned professionals. So they’re able to give me advice when I’m making a career move when I’m navigating things and weighing pros and cons. The more people you have around you who can give you a perspective that’s not your own, all those inputs help you to be able to make the best decision that you can in the moment. 

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Her Agenda: Can you share a time when you took a risk in your career and how it impacted you? Did you pivot or did it open new opportunities? I’d love to hear how you navigated that.

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Ama Romaine: I was in hospitality for 10 years. I was starting to think about what I wanted to do next because I was getting bored if I’m being transparent with you. I decided I wanted to be in a more senior position than I was in or I wanted to be a General Counsel. It’s so funny when you put that out there in the environment, in the atmosphere then the opportunity comes. My daughter talks about manifesting, so I manifested. The opportunity to become a GC was presented. It was for a job outside of my industry so outside of hospitality. It was totally out of my comfort zone, but it was a General Counsel role and I took the plunge. Oh, I forgot to mention that it paid less money. There were a lot of people who thought I was crazy. In retrospect, it was probably the single best sidestep/backstep I could have made from a career perspective because when the opportunity to be a General Counsel at G6 came up, if I was not in the GC chair I don’t think I would have gotten that opportunity. Sometimes you actually have to get the experience to get the experience or to get the opportunity. The lesson is you take the risk, which creates opportunity, understand it may or may not work out, and then you redirect.  

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Her Agenda: What do you love about hospitality and working in it?

Ama Romaine: What I love about hospitality and what I love about this company, in both areas I sort of fell back into real estate even though when I started my career there weren’t a lot of Black women in real estate so I didn’t think I could be a real estate lawyer. I started with hotels when I went into the hospitality industry, hotels were owned by real estate companies. I love hospitality because it allows me as a counselor to think about what we need to do as a business to optimize our performance and when we think about optimizing our performance it is people-centered. In our case, it’s being resident-centered, in hospitality, it’s where we learn about taking care of people and thinking about what people need and delivering their needs. That’s when we shine and that’s when we do what we do best.

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Her Agenda: According to Harvard, “More Women Occupy General Counsel Roles” based on your experience, what skills or qualities do women have that allow us to succeed in this role?

Ama Romaine: That is a really interesting question. I don’t know if it’s skills that women have or if it’s part of the C-suite that has opened up to women more and so, therefore, there are just more women who have the experience and can occupy more of these roles. I feel like there are a few roles in the C-suite that tend to be more filled by women such as Human Resources, Legal, and Communications, and I don’t think there’s anything about women that makes us less qualified to be CEOs or CFOs or CDOs or any of the other seats. It’s just about how many of us are in the pipeline to get into the role. That is so much about having leaders who will open the door. So you build your network and you have leaders who open the door who can create opportunities for more women to be in these roles and the more of us who are in these roles and excel in their experience we demonstrate we can do it well and it will eventually be more of us. 

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Her Agenda: What do you believe your purpose is as a Black woman who is an executive for a large scale property management company? 

Ama Romaine: I really felt this was a role and a company where I would have the opportunity to not just show up and do a job, but where the job that I did could be very impactful in the communities that we serve. And that’s just by definition of what we’re doing because we are expanding access to housing. After all, we are giving people choices to have homes in communities they want to live in. That allows me to be able to ensure that because it’s renting and not owning, it allows me to prioritize residents having the right experiences. It allows me to ensure that we are contributing to the communities which we operate in. Our team members and I have a leadership role. It’s really important to see representation. I know people say, you can’t [be what you can’t see].  I can’t accept that because there aren’t enough of us in these roles to accept that. Then we’ll never be it or it’ll just take a lot longer. So we have to have agency, and we have to say even if we can’t see it we have to imagine that we can be it and we have to take the steps to get there. 

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Her Agenda: What advice would you have for another woman who is in the General Counsel role or a Black woman who is an executive? What advice would you have based on your experiences throughout your career?

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Ama Romaine: You have to believe in yourself, and in the GC chair – the thing that we have to do is give people advice they don’t want to hear or that they’re not ready to hear. So what I’ve learned is that it’s important to plant seeds. I may not always get someone to do exactly what I want them to do because I’m not sitting over the business unit. I don’t have the decision-making authority but I can influence people. It’s thinking about how you use your skills as a counselor to advocate, to convince and sometimes you do have to let it go. Plant seeds and know that you can come back to it. Over time, the arch of the universe bends towards justice. If you can get people to really believe that you are aligned with them and in the boat with them on advancing their business outcome, you stand a much greater chance of getting them to hear you. So I think it’s about planting seeds, being patient, and believing you’ll get the outcome that you want to get.

[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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By: Asha Bey

Asha is passionate about writing pieces that add value to one’s life and inspire like-minded women to move in their purpose. Aside from writing, she finds fulfillment in reading self-help books, practicing yoga, keeping up on fashion trends, attending social events and exploring new activities with family and friends.

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