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EXCLUSIVE: Kettler CEO Bob Kettler On Company's Executive Exodus

Kettler, one of the largest real estate companies in the Mid-Atlantic region, has announced the departure of two top executives in the span of one week, and three other senior executives have left the company in the previous 10 months. 

Kettler CEO Bob Kettler at a 2017 Bisnow event

Founder and CEO Bob Kettler, in an exclusive interview with Bisnow, said the departures have coincided with major operational changes that were necessary to continue the company's growth, and he said Kettler is well-positioned for the future.

But multiple former Kettler employees told Bisnow that the reorganization of the company also had a significant impact on its culture and led people to seek other opportunities. The 66-year-old developer and landlord acknowledged that company culture can shift over time, but he believes the changes he has made will ensure the company's success for years to come. 

The latest departure announcement was that of Usha Chaudhary, a former Washington Post executive who joined Kettler in 2016 as president and chief operating officer. Kettler last week announced Asheel Shah, president of the multifamily division and chief investment officer, was leaving after 11 years with the company. 

In July, Kettler Senior Vice President of Construction Brian Andrews left for Ditto Residential. Kettler in April lost Chief Risk Officer Leslie Furst to Blackfin, a real estate firm co-founded by former Kettler President Andy Buchanan, who left in 2016. Cindy Clare, who was Kettler's president of property management for 12 years, left the company in November to join Bell Partners. 

Those departures come as Kettler continues to rapidly grow its portfolio across the East Coast. The McLean, Virginia-based company has developed over 20,000 multifamily units and 5M SF of commercial space since Kettler founded it in 1977. Its property management division manages over 30,000 multifamily units for third-party owners in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

Kettler has increased the size of its investment portfolio by 50% over the last six years. As it has grown to that size, Kettler said some of its processes became unsustainable and it needed a significant organizational restructuring.

"We were highly inefficient. We were stale at HR, IT and a number of the other corporate administrative functions," Kettler said. "I wasn't going to get large and be inefficient, because that would kill us. So we needed to make changes that were necessary for a company of our size that wanted to grow its footprint." 

Usha Chaudhary

Kettler brought on Chaudhary to lead that operational restructuring. The CEO said Chaudhary has succeeded in achieving the organizational goals he set out for her, such as rebuilding the company's IT infrastructure and hiring new talent in each division. He does not plan to hire a new chief operating officer following the departure of Chaudhary, who will continue in a consulting role for six months. He said she has accomplished what he brought her on for and it will now be up to the heads of each department to continue to implement the operational changes Chaudhary put in motion. 

"The reality is that we've gotten through this phase," Kettler said. "In many respects, the work is done. We've been discussing this with Usha and that's what she does, she did it well, and it's mission accomplished and she's moving on."

Kettler said Shah's departure was completely unrelated to Chaudhary's and the timing was a coincidence. He said Shah is leaving to go to the capital allocation side of the commercial real estate industry, something he has wanted to do for a while. He added that the two remain on good terms and have already talked about pursuing future business partnerships. 

Shah and Chaudhary declined to comment for this story.

Multiple former Kettler employees told Bisnow that some people inside the company saw Chaudhary's hiring as a turning point that not only changed the real estate firm's organization, but changed its culture. They described a noticeable shift toward a more rigid corporate structure that left some to seek opportunities that allowed for more entrepreneurship. 

"When Bob brought in some of the people he brought in, it certainly changed the feel of the company,” one former Kettler employee said on the condition of anonymity. “I think there was an effort to make the company much more corporate and less entrepreneurial. It was a family-owned company and run very much like a family-owned company. There was a change toward a more corporate structure. That’s not good or bad, just different. When you’re used to one thing, it may have been a difficult shift.”

Kettler CEO Bob Kettler at the groundbreaking of The Boro in 2016

Kettler said he has always focused on the well-being of his employees and maintaining a positive culture. 

"When you bring in new people, cultures can shift or evolve," Kettler said. "Some people don't like change, but we make big changes and do so successfully. Some of these things are things that happen when you implement change." 

Along with the departures, Kettler has hired and promoted people to leadership roles over the last year. Last week, it hired Justin Glasgow as chief investment officer to replace Shah. Earlier this year, it hired Phil Redmond as chief information officer and Daryl Smith as chief marketing officer. In November, it promoted David Ohrlich to replace Clare as president of the company's property management division. Kettler said the company's leadership team is now filled out to his satisfaction and he does not plan to name any new executives in the near future.

Ultimately, Kettler said the changes he made were necessary to position the company for the future. He said he does not have any intention of retiring soon, but he has created a succession plan to ensure it is prepared. He could not share the details but said the succession plan involves Greg Parseghian, former CEO of Freddie Mac, who serves as Kettler's vice chairman and lead adviser. 

"We want to build a sustainable, multigenerational family company that can go to scale," Kettler said. 

The CEO has also been positioning the company to weather a potential economic downturn. He said it has reduced its debt, increased its cash flow and leaned into the multifamily market, which he said is less volatile than the office or retail sectors.  

"We like where we are are," Kettler said. "We think we're positioned as well as we can be positioned."