Every company likes to think that it's different from its competitors, that its processes and management techniques, as well as its luxury properties, set the organization apart. But, the desire to be different at Gables Residential really flows from the top. Chairman and CEO Chris Wheeler is not a conformist – as indicated from the activities in which he participates in his personal life to the way he runs this multibillion dollar real estate investment trust (REIT).

This 45-year-old executive likes to be different. Unlike other CEOs, you won't find him drinking a cup of coffee or playing a round of golf; Wheeler is more likely seen in a Hawaiian shirt drinking diet Mountain Dew. And, in his free time, he'd rather be on the beach or flying one of his airplanes.

Chris Wheeler, Chairman and CEO Gables Residential
Chris Wheeler, Chairman and CEO Gables Residential

His aversion to following the norm is evident in the way he runs Gables. "One of the worst answers to the question of 'Why are we doing this?' is 'That's the way we've always done things,'" explains Marvin R. Banks Jr., senior vice president and CFO at Gables. "Wheeler believes that in order to continue to succeed, we have to continually challenge the way we do things."

It should be no surprise that the difference between Gables, which manages more than 44,000 units and owns more than 26,000 units, and its competitors comes from the core of Gables' business philosophy. Most multifamily REITs don't include development in their business strategy because it's costly and they've found that they're not very good at it. But at Gables, development is part of its history. It was originally formed in 1994 out of the Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Tennessee divisions of Trammell Crow Residential, which was known for building high-end apartment complexes. The Florida operation, which Wheeler ran, opted not to go public at that time. However, by 1997 the Florida group believed that it would be better served by going public, says Wheeler. In '98, Gables bought the group and Wheeler joined the firm.

According to Wheeler, the poster child for failure is a company that tries to develop all over the country without local knowledge of the market.

"Yes, development is risky if you try to do it long distance, without great local people," explains Wheeler. "We will not do development unless we have great local talent making all the decisions around the process."

"We are very conscious and thoughtful about development," agrees Dawn H. Severt, vice president and chief accounting officer at Gables. "We won't go into a market we are not familiar with."

That is why Gables' shareholders invest in the company, says Wheeler. "Gables is known as having a very competent development team and we manage risk through local competency," he says.

Gables also has a good leasing management arm and the ability to meet deadlines, says Mike A. Laverty, senior vice president at Fleet National Bank, which has provided construction financing for the company. "Gables has been able to bring deals in as proposed and projected. The reason I like to do deals with Gables is because the deals are well thought out, properly margined, well-executed transactions."