Greg Mutz Looks Back
The best things begin with two guys in a room. The Disney brothers created Alice’s Wonderland. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak made computers. Greg Mutz and John Allen built a 34-year-old firm that’s become the national paragon of luxury multifamily. We chatted with Greg, AMLI’s CEO, about how it all began.
After graduating with a dual major in premed and history from DePauw University and then serving in the Infantry in Vietnam, Greg got his law degree at the University of Michigan. He then joined Mayer Brown in Chicago, but didn’t take to law. A stint doing investment banking in New York led him to real estate’s siren song. In 1980, the stars aligned (and not just because Funkytown was released). With some capital and a partner in crime, Mayer Brown alum John Allen, AMLI was born. “We were just two guys in an office trying to make something happen,” Greg says. They initially focused on opportunistic land deals, with their first buy a land site in Atlanta that turned into an apartment development.
Thousands of acres later in 1994, the firm split into AMLI Commercial Properties Group (an office/industrial private REIT, sold off in ‘01) and AMLI Residential (a REIT on the NYSE that went private again in ‘06). A few of Greg’s favorite projects over the years: 1,180 units on 250 acres at Grogan’s Bluff in Atlanta; a trio of successful local business parks (Windham Lakes, Amhurst Lake, Spring Lake); and recently completed AMLI River North (with Albert Friedman at the groundbreaking, above). AMLI always avoided debt as much as possible (Warren Buffet’s influence), and Greg is proud to say AMLI never lost a property or filed for bankruptcy. Every lender was paid every dollar plus interest that the company ever borrowed.
Greg calls his partnership with John (above right), who passed away last year, a dream. “John was the brains and I was the song and dance man,” he jokes. And there was another hand guiding the firm’s business dealings and company culture: Greg’s dad, his mentor and biggest investor at AMLI. Some fatherly advice that stuck: no one person can whistle a symphony; be tough on issues, never on people; and measure twice and cut but once (or you’ll have one ill-fitting suit). Multifamily has changed dramatically, Greg notes. Today the most successful players are branded, institutional capital and very professionally managed. The bar has been raised in terms of technology and talent, he adds.
Here's Greg and John from the good old days. AMLI’s $2B-plus development pipeline (Chicago, Seattle, LA, Denver, Dallas, Austin, Houston, Atlanta, Southeast Florida) is 80% urban TOD. Chicago projects include AMLI Lofts in the South Loop, nearly finished AMLI Evanston, and AMLI Deerfield kicking off later this year. Greg expects the multifamily boom to continue for at least another few years, though stumbling blocks include the future of Fannie and Freddie, local governments’ budget issues, and potential oversupply.
Unit size will continue to shrink as people move to dense urban areas, making amenity packages (AMLI River North rooftop, above, AMLI's pet perks here) and LEED a priority. Looking ahead, Greg says AMLI will expand in the markets it’s in, with a focus on reducing its projects’ carbon footprints. The best part of his job? The variability, Greg says. When you’re providing space to people, you wear many hats (part sociologist, geologist, engineer, and marketing maven, to name a few). Greg and his team bring a passion for competing at the highest level to AMLI. And the father of nine and grandfather of six does the same outside of the office. An avid triathlete, he enjoys relaxing and training at his place in Lake Geneva.
(Greg will also be a panelist at Bisnow's 5th Annual Chicago Multifamily Summit on April 8.)