In January 1998, Gregory T. Mutz posed for the cover of Multifamily Executive holding a globe in his hand. And at the time, the world might have indeed been in the enthusiastic Mutz's hands. Mutz, then the CEO of AMLI Residential in Chicago, had just been named Builder of the Year and was building a company poised to dominate seven Midwestern markets.
Things soon changed for both the company and the executive, whose success at AMLI attracted attention from outside the apartment industry. That year, Mutz was lured away from the company he founded in 1980 to run UICI, a Dallas-based insurance carrier that was one of AMLI's biggest shareholders. The firm had gotten in trouble by expanding into student loans and credit cards, and it hired Mutz to help.
Taking the job didn't require him to cut his ties to AMLI. Mutz continued as chairman while partners Philip N. Tague and Allan Sweet ran AMLI's daily operations. "What we envisioned in 1994 [when AMLI went public] did not change when Greg left the first time and when he came back," Sweet says.
But other things did change. Roughly two years after Mutz's departure, the tech bubble burst, beginning a recession that hurt many of AMLI's core Midwestern markets. In response, AMLI dramatically reduced its building activity. After building 2,120 units in 1998, it dropped to around 400 in 2004.
Meanwhile, Mutz had his own challenges at his new job, which wasn't as much about building a company as it was about paring one down. "It was a process of essentially closing different lines of businesses," Mutz says.
"We were selling subsidiaries, selling investments, and selling the student loan business, credit card business and high risk reinsurance business."
In 2004, Tague and Sweet approached Mutz about returning to AMLI. In words that closely echo Mutz's own, "We believed that a team of Greg, Allan, and Phil was stronger than a team of Phil and [me]," Sweet says. So did Mutz, who missed being more active in the company. "Part of being a CEO is being an internal cheerleader and definer of culture. I didn't do that as chairman. I stopped visiting properties. I was really more detached from the team. I was close to the top three or four people, but that was it," Mutz says. "I like the people. I like the industry. I like participating on the AMLI team because I think we're doing a good job."
The three execs aren't the only ones who recognize and appreciate their collaboration. "They worked together for so many years and had a high level of respect for each other," says Anthony R. Manno Jr., managing director and CIO with Security Capital Research and Management, a longtime AMLI investor. "You don't see a lot of ego in that company."
But AMLI veterans and newcomers alike see changes with the former CEO's return, from a rejuvenated portfolio to a revitalized development program.
The company is also concentrating on technology, pushing itself to be an industry leader. "We're investing in renting over the 'Net, expense control, revenue management, and a variety of different components," says Mutz, who is fascinated by ever-changing technology. "It's exciting to be on the cutting edge in a transformation period. ... I believe that over the next two or three years you will see difference between those who have effectively used technology and invested in it and those that haven't."