ROY STILLMAN is founder and president of New York City-based Stillman Development Corp., a real estate firm that has developed, renovated, and sold about $600 million in luxury apartments, commercial space, and hotels since 2000, including the Trump International Hotel & Tower Fort Lauderdale, set for delivery next year. "When you work with great people, you get great results," Stillman says.
"The people I have the most respect for are the people picking up garbage and pushing wheelbarrows," he adds. "They earn it more than guys like me. They don't get a lot for their effort. They come home at night; their bodies are tired; and the next day, they do it again."
Stillman can relate: His first job in his family's real estate company was picking up garbage. Eventually, he worked every job on a high-rise development project from laborer to crane operator to foreman. The experience gives Stillman a pathos that he says is vital to leadership. "There is an important aspect there. It is not you against me; it is just us," he says. "I take that seriously in my concept of team building."
Philadelphia-based Campus Apartments CEO David Adelman couldn't agree more. At age 13, Adelman took his bar mitzvah money and did a student housing deal with Campus founder Alan Horowitz. He officially joined the company after college and worked construction, did data entry, accounting, leasing, and property management.
"I've done everything in the company, and it provides a special appreciation for the team I have," Adelman says. "I understand how an employee wants to be treated."
Granted, not every exec works their way up from the trenches, and many VPs have greater experience in their job function?human resources, for one?than multifamily real estate, per se. Stillman and Adelman believe that's overcome by rolling up one's sleeves for a little cross-training.
"Get comfortable with being out of the office," says Adelman, who visits employees without their supervisor present to get insight into challenges and hear innovative ideas that have yet to boil to the surface. "All leadership efforts begin there," he adds. "With a humble acceptance that no matter how smart you think you are, you'll never be smart enough to do it all by yourself."