Charles Steck

PAST According to badger alum and Campus Apartments executive vice president and COO Miles Orth, 39, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has excellent real estate programs. He just didn’t major in any of them. Instead, the industry exec obtained a liberal arts degree. And since he self-financed his entire education, Orth also applied in his junior year to be a resident assistant at an off-campus dormitory for Allen & O’Hara, the predecessor of Memphis, Tenn.-based Educational Realty Trust.

When Orth graduated, he considered law school but was preempted by Allen & O’Hara, which asked him to take a management position overseeing properties in Santa Barbara, Calif. “I was a young kid managing people twice my age,” Orth recalls of his corporate initiation. “It was a fantastic experience. I learned the truth about college housing; it is an operating business.”

PRESENT The mantra seems to be working. In the past year, NOI at the Philadelphia-based firm has increased 8 percent under Orth’s watch. And its third-party management business has increased 75 percent after Orth led an initiative to target growth in existing markets. Orth selflessly credits all of this back to the firm’s integrated executive team and property-level management.

Customers have noticed. “The teamwork sets Miles apart,” says Ed Datz, executive director of real estate for the University of Pennsylvania.

Still, while Orth values his spirited team, he knows personnel costs are a huge line item in the operations business. “Effective companies look carefully at achieving a balance between preserving a well-motivated, well-compensated staff while remaining as lean as possible.”

These aren’t short-term recession defense strategies, either. “I’d like to look back in 25 years and see that Campus blossomed,” Orth says.

ON THE JOB Assisting the company are the students themselves. Virtually every day, Orth heads back to school and talks to students at the property level about their housing wants and needs. Today’s students are über concerned about going green. Yet, universally, they love technology—especially bandwidth and energy.

“Go to any college, and you see large-screen TVs, computers—I even see air conditioners at full blast with the windows open,” Orth says.

To find a balance between flower power and plug-in power, Campus has instituted conservation caps, limiting students to a monthly bank of free kilowatts and charging them for overages. “Multifamily can learn a lot from student housing,” Orth says. “These are the renters of tomorrow, and you can bring them on board with energy conservation and green initiatives while still offering high-tech amenities.”

FUTURE “Students are incredibly creative and innovative,” Orth continues. Going forward, Campus and other student housing providers are forced to match the innovation streak from multiple perspectives. “From the seriousness of energy efficiency to the speed and power of technology, the new must-haves are way beyond a great kitchen sink,” Orth says.