Jeff Adler, who helped standardize national multifamily REIT AIMCO's massive national portfolio of nearly 189,000 apartment units, announced last week that he was stepping down to start a consulting company.

Some observers see the move as a blow to the Denver-based REIT. When Adler was promoted to head of conventional operations in 2004, AIMCO was suffering from sub-par property-level performance. Since Adler came onboard, the REIT "closed much of the performance gap between its portfolio and that of the broader market," according to a report from Green Street Advisors, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based investment research firm covering publicly traded real estate securities.

"Here's a guy that has largely been responsible for a good deal of that turnaround," says Haendel E. St. Juste, an analyst with the residential group at Green Street. "After he took over operations in '04, he led a renewed dedication to a more customer-oriented operations approach. Benefits of that have included higher margins and improved NOI growth."

Since Adler's departure, AIMCO has promoted Tim Beaudin to an expanded role as chief property operating officer. Tony D'Alto, AIMCO's executive vice president for property operations, will continue to handle the company's day-to-day operations.

Beaudin, formerly the company's chief development officer, has been instrumental in planning and executing AIMCO's strategy in the areas of redevelopment, property entitlements, and construction services; with the promotion, he will add responsibilities in conventional and affordable apartment property operations and information technology.

With Adler's departure, Beaudin plans a back-to-basics approach to property management in light of the deteriorating economy. "In this current environment, I'm really focused on blocking and tackling," Beaudin says.

Adler will continue to assist the REIT in areas such as market segmentation and branding as part of his new venture, The Sanctuary Group, an Englewood, Colo.-based management consulting and investment banking firm focused on private equity firms and multifamily owners and operators. The new firm, which counts Archstone alum Jack Kern among its principals, will focus on distressed property workouts, value-added redevelopments, investment and operations strategy formulation, acquisition underwriting, and operational performance enhancement.

Specifically, Adler thinks his firm can offer new ideas, maximize returns on development, improve the customer experience, and restructure facilities maintenance. "The service team and the cost structure associated with that really are neglected," Adler says. "We think we have some interesting services that will help create a new paradigm. We're working on restructuring the way the facilities are maintained. That is a significant optimization that has not happened."

St. Juste thinks the time is right to offer these kinds of cost-cutting and operational services. "If you were going to launch an operations consulting shop, this is probably an ideal time," he says. "I think it is a pretty good time to be going into that business, particularly on the private side, as we head further into what is becoming an increasingly challenging operating environment."