Some people catch the real estate bug early in life. Maybe their fathers or aunts or grandfathers were in the business. Or maybe they got a chance to work in construction or apartment management in college. For others, it's something they fall into after school or even further along in their career. Regardless, it's obvious that's there's no one path to success in the multifamily business.

For proof, take a look at this year's list of up and comers under age 40 in the apartment business. A couple of them began charting their path into real estate when they were in college. Others found their way into the multifamily business after starting out in other careers. Regardless of their path, all of these people have found success in the business–and they're just getting started.

Leadership Track

Grimes moves up Mid-America's ladder.

It seems like all of the big players in the apartment industry talk about their management trainee programs. Their goal: to recruit young talent and nurture them so they become leaders. Mid-America Apartment Communities in Memphis had this in mind when it started its management trainee program 12 years ago. Little did the designers of the program realize that the very first person through the program, Tom Grimes, would go on to achieve great success at the REIT.

Tom Grimes– Mid-America Apartment Communities
Steve Jones Tom Grimes– Mid-America Apartment Communities

In the early '90s, Grimes, now 37 and senior vice president and director of property management operations at Mid-America, was working for JM Tull Metals Co., a steel company in Tampa, Fla. It was a solid, steady job–maybe a little too steady. "It was a good company, but there wasn't a lot of room for advancement, which is the way some good, stable companies are," says Grimes.

Ready for more, Grimes wanted to grow his career with an up-and-coming firm, and he saw that with the Kates Co. in Memphis. The company was about to go public and become Mid-America. "I offered to mop, wash bottles, and whatever they needed me to do," he says. "In the multifamily world, that means picking up cigarette butts, punching apartments, and doing that sort of thing."

Mid-America hired Grimes as a management trainee, giving him the opportunity to learn the business by working at a Memphis apartment community. He worked his way up the REIT's tall ladder, managing a property in Chattanooga and then taking over several complexes in the area. In 1996, as the company expanded its presence in Florida, Grimes moved to Jacksonville to lead a group of nine properties, which soon grew to 22 communities through developments and acquisitions. Over the years, his job took him from property management to financial pursuits and back again.

These days, Grimes is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the company's 135 communities. Not only does he support all of Mid America's 39,140 units, but he also is part of the team that must communicate the company's accomplishments to the outside world, including investors and analysts.

It's a job Mid-America CEO Eric Bolton thinks Grimes is well equipped to handle. "Multifamily real estate requires a competent leader who is very dependent on the on-site people at the property," Bolton says. "It takes somebody who has an appreciation for the folks on site, an ability to relate to them, and has a service-oriented leadership style. Tom has that."

Grimes' reach extends beyond Mid-America. He's also active with the National Apartment Association, advising it on what its national lease program should look like. "He's been instrumental in helping us develop a lease product that covers a good portion of the country," says W. Michael Semko, counsel and director of the National Lease Program for the NAA. "It provides a template that people can take to the bank as to how the industry should be doing things. He's provided a lot of insight from an operations standpoint. He's giving us a lot of time, which is good for the industry."