• Credit: Charles Steck

PAST After graduating from the University of Maryland at College Park, Chad Cooley felt professionally adrift. “Every day, I wondered what my next job was going to be,” recalls the senior vice president of Bethesda, Md.-based Bozzuto Management Co. “My wife, meanwhile, worked for Bozzuto and came home happy every day.”

So in 1997, Cooley signed on as a Bozzuto leasing agent and was quickly promoted. But as Cooley was training to become a full-fledged property manager, he stumbled on yet another opportunity: an opening on Bozzuto’s corporate IT staff. The job qualifications matched well with Cooley’s pedigree (he had taken tech classes after college), and he leapt at the challenge.

“Our company is all about opportunity,” says Bozzuto Group CEO Tom Bozzuto. “Chad exemplifies that [and] the rest of our company’s values.” That’s not just lip service from the boss: After Cooley helped build Bozzuto’s information systems division—eventually becoming the head of the IT department—he again reached for opportunity, becoming a right-hand man asset manager to the CEO. As asset manager, Cooley directly addressed refis and dispositions, assisted on acquisitions, and gained deep experience in development and construction.

PRESENT In 2008, Bozzuto Management president Julie Smith had an opening on her executive team and knew exactly what she wanted. “I wanted Chad Cooley,” she says. “I had to go to Tom Bozzuto and tell him that I wanted his asset manager.” Bozzuto left the decision to Cooley, now 34, who would only consider leaving asset management to rejoin the management side of the business.

Smith has since put Cooley to the test, presenting him with the most geographically diverse portion of the Bozzuto portfolio, which includes the greater Washington, D.C., metro, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Manhattan­—as well as the majority of the firm’s Class B and C properties. Still, even in a challenging economy, Cooley has maintained occupancies at 93 percent (not including lease-ups).

ON THE JOB Days after signing on to Smith’s team, Cooley received a call that the firm’s Riverwalk at Millennium property had a fire. Cooley changed his 15th wedding anniversary plans and drove to Pennsylvania. What he saw was devastating: Two of the property’s four buildings had burned to the ground, and all the residents had been evacuated.

Cooley spent the next 10 days living out of cars and motel rooms with other Bozzuto employees as they addressed the aftermath of the fire. The event galvanized Cooley’s can-do concept of Bozzuto culture: “It’s not just cutting a check; it’s [asking], ‘What do you need of me?’”

FUTURE Even as Cooley embarks on his latest role, he thinks back to lessons learned under Tom Bozzuto. “Tom has a passion for what he does. When you have that focus, the day is more enjoyable,” he says. “In my Bozzuto career, I’ve touched a lot of different facets of the business. It’s not a career path that one would have charted, but it’s one that has been perfect for me.”