Ask George S. Quay how he won the 2003 Multifamily Executive Executive of the Year award and he is quick to correct you. Quay will say he didn't win the award. It was the leasing agents and maintenance technicians at Village Green Cos. that won the award. And the people in human resources and accounting at the company's headquarters in Farmington Hills, Mich., won it, as well. "I always say I am kind of like a conductor in an orchestra where my role is to create an environment where talent can thrive," Quay explains. "I don't rent the apartment. I don't clean the hallways. I don't service our residents day in and day out. I just put an organizational structure together that allows people who do the work at Village Green to succeed."

But it was Quay who lead Village Green, which owns or manages 27,000 units in eight Midwestern states, through some tumultuous change during the past three years. When Quay took over as the company's president and COO in 2000, after almost two years away from the company, the portfolio faced a big challenge. The recession was beginning. For the company to remain competitive, Quay had to make some tough choices.

George S. Quay, President and COO, Village Green Cos.
George S. Quay, President and COO, Village Green Cos.

He started by trimming organizational fat in some departments. Then he revamped the recruiting, hiring, training, and evaluating of employees; centralized the company's buying process; and reorganized the corporate office. Three years later, these changes, even though their full impact hasn't been felt, can be considered a financial success – net income is up 58 percent and revenue 24 percent.

Homecoming Coming back to Village Green was not easy for Quay. It's where he started his multifamily career in 1989 after serving as an assistant general manager for a Hyatt hotel. Serving in a variety of managerial capacities, Quay rose to general manager of Village Suites, the company's corporate housing arm.

He grew the once-shaky enterprise nearly 800 percent in nine years. Then, in 1998, Global Business Resources Inc., an extended stay provider in Cincinnati, acquired Village Suites. As part of the agreement, Quay moved with the company to Scottsdale, Ariz.

A year and a half later, though, Quay left Global Business. He raised capital to launch Leading Apartments, a company that matches employees of Fortune 2000 companies with luxury furnished and unfurnished apartments throughout the world.

Village Green happened to be an investor in this venture, so Quay often met with Jonathan Holtzman, the company's chairman and CEO, to go over Leading Apartments' financial progress. In July 2000, Holtzman had another agenda item on his mind at their meeting. Holtzman wanted Quay to replace the recently departed president and COO Terry Schwartz, the 1996 Multifamily Executive Executive of the Year.

Initially, Quay said no, for a variety of reasons. After growing up in Pittsburgh and living in Detroit, he enjoyed his life in sunny Arizona, and he didn't want to uproot his family. Also, he had a good relationship with Holtzman, which he didn't want to jeopardize.

But perhaps most important, he didn't want to run the Village Green that he knew – a company where executives merely carried out Holtzman's orders. Quay wanted to be a partner. "I did not want to walk into an environment where I did not have the opportunity to have some leadership direction opportunities," he explains. A few conversations later, Holtzman agreed on the partnership, allowing Quay to drive change through the organization, with a focus on customer service.

Quay says they are still hammering out the details on making him a partner in the company, but he already has ownership in the properties the company has bought or developed since his return.