Michael Alter's Winning Teams
Michael Alter says he’s not a good storyteller, but his passions, his business, and his legacy all speak volumes. He’s built on his dad’s real estate vision, brought the WNBA to Chicago, narrowed the achievement gap through City Year, and that’s just the beginning. (Think about all that next time you wanna sleep in.)
Michael’s father William (on the right with his kids, Michael’s next to him) started The Alter Group in 1955, and Michael found his way there after Harvard and UChicago law school. After a couple of years working, he was attracted to the idea of a family business, building and growing something that belonged to him and his siblings. Shadowing his dad, a real estate pioneer, for a year or two was an enlightening introduction to the industry (like grad school with a bit less homework), allowing Michael to eventually find his niche within the firm, he says. Top takeaway from his dad: reputation, relationships, and financial prudence are everything.
Six years later Michael became president, and he gives his late dad a lot of credit for giving him so much responsibility early on. While the two didn’t always see eye to eye, challenging times at work rarely spilled over into their personal relationship, Michael says. He cites two transformational periods at the firm as highlights of his tenure. The first, Alter’s game-changing early ‘90s purchase of its loans from troubled First Chicago (averting their sale to GE Capital), and the second, the firm’s current evolution now that Michael realizes he may be the last Alter at the altar (pun intended).
His objective is to create some liquidity and diversification for his family, which means the company will be looking to sell off assets (like 20 W Kinzie, Google’s soon-to-be former HQ) over the next few years. Development will remain the firm’s core business (though office opportunities are slim), and Michael (snapped winning NAIOP's National Developer of the Year award) plans to combine third-party capital with family money (a first) on future projects. He’s enjoying the process of soliciting capital (the line is long), but wants to make sure Alter finds a long-term partner that shares its values. The company will stay focused on Chicago, Phoenix, and South Florida for its 3M SF office portfolio, while medical office development is more client-focused.
Michael went to law school with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, which is part of how he came to own the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. Michael went to the NBA All-Star Game about 10 years ago at Adam’s invitation, and was blown away by the powerful and inspirational WNBA players he met. When Adam asked, he quickly agreed to start an expansion team in Chicago. Michael admits he was naïve about the biases out there related to women’s sports, and glaring lack of media attention or corporate support, but the Sky have been winning fans over one game at a time, and he’s optimistic after last year’s first-time entrance to the playoffs (with all-star Elena Delle Donne, above).
When Michael’s not at the closing table, in the stands, or riding his bike to work), he’s working hard to expand AmeriCorps’ City Year education program (founded by his college roommate) in Chicago. His travel of late has mainly been to visit his kids. His oldest is teaching in Amman, Jordan (the family is snapped above at the Roman ruins of Jerash, just outside of Amman), his middle son is a part-time student and part-time musician in Eugene, Ore., and his youngest daughter just finished City Year in Boston and is headed to the University of Puget Sound this fall. One thing we know for sure, this new empty nester will not lack extra curricular activities.