He graduated from college during one of the most tumultuous years in American history: 1968. That year, war raged in Vietnam, Sirhan Sirhan shot Bobby Kennedy, and rioters destroyed blocks and blocks of American cities.
It left some numb and cynical. Others found themselves spurred into action. Tom Bozzuto belonged to the second group. "I decided I was going to save the cities, and I went to the Maxwell School [at Syracuse University] to get a degree in urban studies," says Bozzuto, now president and CEO of The Bozzuto Group in Greenbelt, Md. "There were lots of riots in the spring of 1968. I wanted to get a degree and do something for the cities."
So he did just that, earning a Ford Foundation scholarship for a planned trip to Calcutta, when the Army intervened. "I had to go to the draft board to get an exemption to go to Calcutta," Bozzuto says. "I had long hair and a beard. They said, 'Son, if you want to go to Asia, we'll send you.' I was drafted to go to Vietnam in three weeks."
But that trip to Southeast Asia did not mean the end of Bozzuto's own American dream; it was just the beginning. Two years later, he came home, and after stints at HUD, The Rouse Co., and Oxford Development Corp., he started his own company–The Bozzuto Group–in 1988.
When the idealists of the '60s become business leaders, they often forget their roots. While Tom Bozzuto built a healthy, large firm that manages 14,000 apartments and owns 60 percent of those (with more than 4,000 in the pipeline), at heart, the young leader who wanted to go to Calcutta in 1968 still runs the company.
Not convinced? Look more closely. The ideals of the '60s run through The Bozzuto Group in many ways, from taking care of the less fortunate by building affordable housing to encouraging everyone to "come together," whether they live in apartments, townhomes, or single-family houses, in a new neighborhood or an aging one. Bozzuto's community-building isn't limited to his new developments, either. He's worked hard to create connections and close ties throughout his company and among his multifamily colleagues.
"I don't know of anyone who has done more for our industry recently than [Bozzuto] has," says Steve Patterson, CEO of ZOM Development in Orlando, Fla. "He's been able to maintain a balance in his life, which to me is quite respectable. I really admire how he runs his business."
Tom Baum, now president of Bozzuto Development Co., joined The Bozzuto Group because of Tom Bozzuto's reputation for leadership and idealism. But Baum was still surprised by the reassuring way his boss took charge on Sept. 11, 2001, a day when much of Washington panicked after American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.
"I don't know what happened in other companies, but Tom brought everyone together here," Baum says. "He was there with us the whole time as a calming influence. He was there for his people. Instead of getting in his car and worrying about his own family, he was concerned about everyone in the company and making sure everyone was OK."