Bisnow Exclusive: Toby Bozzuto on Inheriting a Growing Multifamily Empire
Toby Bozzuto took over as CEO of his father’s company, The Bozzuto Group, in September. Tom Bozzuto, who founded the company with three friends almost 28 years ago, is still around as chairman. Around $1B in annual revenue changed control. So what’s changed? “Seemingly everything,” says Toby, who'll be a panelist at BMAC, Bisnow's annual multifamily conference at the Washington Convention Center, on Thursday.
“The CEO’s job is to set direction,” Toby told Bisnow from his office in Greenbelt recently. “It’s up to the team to execute, and my team is spectacular.” The first thing he did as CEO was to promote Julie Smith to be his chief administrative officer, essentially making her his “right-hand woman.” He then promoted Stephanie Williams to the head of Bozzuto’s management company, the biggest of the four companies under the group’s purview at 54,000 units.
Toby made waves after he was named CEO by declaring he wanted to focus on promoting women into leadership positions. He put his money where his mouth is as soon as he took over, which he knew was important. But those weren’t token promotions. And they weren’t made with PR in mind.
“I did it because they’re the two best employees for those jobs,” he says. “I have two daughters and one son. I want to live in a world where my daughters have as much an assumption that they will one day run the company as my son.”
The CEO of one of the region’s biggest commercial real estate companies was relaxed and candid during an hour-plus long conversation. He expanded on his point about gender equality in the workplace. “It’s also great for our employees here to see there’s no glass ceiling based on an arbitrary, ridiculous measure like gender or race.”
Toby is 41 and is closer in age to most of his employees than his father, which will help him and his team achieve one of his main goals for 2016: remain one of the best places to work in the DC area. Bozzuto was on Washington Business Journal's annual list every year from 2009-2014, but was snubbed for whatever reason this year. Toby is set on making it back in 2016.
Other than that, Toby’s goals are simple: expand on the company and culture his father built. And he’s not doing it alone. He spoke time and again about how crucial his team under him is: about 350 employees in the Greenbelt HQ and 2,075 total. “I feel grateful and humbled and I have the best team in the business,” he says. “I hope they feel a sense of energy and we can all leverage the dignity with which my father ran the company.”
Toby will be on the design trends panel at BMAC, Bisnow’s annual conference on the multifamily industry. He sees the landscape of multifamily in DC right now—some buildings come equipped with basketball courts, multiple pet spas and private dog parks and even an English bulldog amenity—and sees an alternative direction.
For Bozzuto that could mean original art in the lobby instead of posters or prints. It means inviting local artisans into the building to give residents a sense of micro- and macro-community. But his buildings still have amenities: in Bozzuto’s Anthem House apartments in Baltimore (rendered above), there will be a glass-enclosed yoga studio on the roof.
Throughout our conversation, one theme emerged: using Apple as inspiration. Toby doesn’t just want Bozzuto to be the best real estate company during his tenure on top, he says, “but the best company.” One way to do that is not focusing on developing for Millennials or Baby Boomers, the two demographics driving apartment demand like a freight train.
“The good businesses don’t focus on one market,” Toby says. “Apple and Uber have made products that appeal to everyone. Bozzuto is in the business of creating extraordinary experiences for our customers, regardless of who they are.”