Colin Lenton

If you’ve ever watched National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) president Doug Bibby at a podium—whether he was welcoming thousands to the NMHC Annual Meeting, addressing affordable rental housing at a policy forum, or predicting another banner year for the industry on a real estate site—you can see he’s a natural. You would have no idea that in college, this poised, confident man representing the industry with graceful diplomacy was terrified of public speaking—so much so that he passed out on the floor while delivering a presentation during a speech class. When he woke up, humiliated, with his classmates standing over him, he vowed not to let fear take him. He learned how to give speeches and got an A in the class.

“It was pretty embarrassing,” Bibby says, “but it was a really, really fundamentally constructive moment. You pick yourself up and don’t let anything beat you.”

That determination has served Bibby well. Never quite sure what he wanted to be when he grew up (he toyed with being a minister when he was 13, which makes his friends laugh today), he’s had a diverse career with storied companies and institutions. He spent 12 years with worldwide communications firm J. Walter Thompson and became the youngest vice president in its history before he moved to Fannie Mae, where he was a senior officer for 16 years.

Bibby joined Fannie Mae in 1983 during one of its most troubled periods, when it was hemorrhaging as much as $1 million a day. “Fannie Mae was losing a tremendous amount of money as it attempted to transition from a federal agency that was being run like a private company, by bureaucrats,” says Bibby, who was part of a team brought in to turn around the government-sponsored, publicly traded company, which was the nation’s third-largest corporation at the time. The team’s success is recorded in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great.

Bibby spent his first three years working intimately with Fannie Mae CEO David Maxwell, whom Collins called a visionary. “I don’t know where we should take this company,” Maxwell is quoted as saying when he took over, “but I do know that if I start with the right people, ask them the right questions, and engage them in vigorous debate, we will find a way to make this company great.”

Bibby was one of those “right people,” and he had the time of his life on the team that helped Maxwell turn Fannie Mae into what he calls “a juggernaut.” Bibby was also the executive director and treasurer of the Fannie Mae Foundation, which spent over $1 billion to increase the supply of affordable homes nationwide and improve quality of life in D.C. before it closed in 2007.

After 16 years with Fannie Mae, Bibby found himself burned out and unhappy with where the company was going. He left and tried his hand at a few entrepreneurial ventures and an IPO that didn’t materialize. He didn’t want to return to a shareholder-owned company, and he was too young to retire. He pulled the plug on a pending offer to be the COO of Georgetown University, believing his capitalist nature would be crushed within academia. But, he says, “God was smiling” on him. Within days of walking away from that gig, a recruiter approached him about becoming the new leader of the NMHC.

“It’s been the capstone of my career,” says Bibby, who came on board in 2001, “the most exhilarating, exciting time I’ve had in my career—and fulfilling, I might add. Just a wonderful experience.”

Doug Bibby gives a speech at the 2018 NMHC OPTECH Conference and Exposition.
Courtesy NMHC Doug Bibby gives a speech at the 2018 NMHC OPTECH Conference and Exposition.
Doug Bibby and NMHC chairwoman Sue Ansel at the 2019 NMHC Annual Meeting.
Courtesy NMHC Doug Bibby and NMHC chairwoman Sue Ansel at the 2019 NMHC Annual Meeting.

Leading the Multifamily Industry

“Doug Bibby is the heart and soul of our industry,” says Moran & Co. president Mary Ann King, who served on the NMHC Leadership Team with Bibby for 10 years and chaired the organization in 2007–08. “He presided over NMHC during the second-biggest recession and the longest expansionary cycle in our nation’s history. His skill set and the team he built has helped our industry seize the opportunities and mitigate the risks of these turbulent times.”

CBRE executive managing director Peter Donovan, who served as NMHC chair in 2010, says the leadership team was concerned about who could possibly replace outgoing president Jonathan Kempner when he left in 2001 to become president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association. They needn’t have worried. “Doug came in like, wow,” Donovan says. “He’s got the insight, he’s always looking for the next trend, and he’s truly an advocate for the industry and believes in what we do.”

The multifamily industry, made up of entrepreneurs and accomplished businesspeople, can be tricky to navigate, Donovan says, yet Bibby handles it with aplomb. “He’s a consummate politician—in the best way,” he says.

Gables Residential CEO Sue Ansel notes Bibby’s respect for diversity as one of his strengths. “He’s played a huge role in NMHC’s efforts to have the multifamily industry recognize the business imperative for a diverse, inclusive workforce in all of our organizations and helped create the structure and leadership to have the conversations and bring in the resources that really move the industry ahead,” she says. “We’re a much more diverse industry organization as a result of his efforts.”

By all accounts, Bibby was born to be NMHC president. He’s reputed for his incredible memory; he not only remembers everyone’s name but can pick up a conversation he was having a year ago as if it were yesterday. As Marcus & Millichap president and CEO Hessam Nadji tells it, Bibby is always gracious and able to connect with people, whether they’re CEOs or interns.

“I’ve seen Doug have to navigate some tough situations, and his ability to find common ground and do everything possible to satisfy multiple interests is unbelievable,” says Nadji, who worked with Bibby to create the NMHC Research Foundation and Apartments Strategy Conference. “He will make the final, difficult decision, but whoever comes out on the losing side still walks away feeling dignified and heard.”

Bozzuto Group chairman Tom Bozzuto, whose vacation home is near Bibby’s on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, says Bibby “finds each individual genuinely interesting, and he makes them feel that way.”

Bibby credits his mother—his greatest influence—for his people skills. She instilled in him that all people deserve to be treated with respect. She was an active volunteer in the small Texas town where he grew up, teaching him the importance of giving back. Bibby has served on more than a dozen nonprofit boards since he arrived in D.C., including Martha’s Table, which provides children access to quality education, food, and family supports; House of Ruth, which provides programs for women and families who have endured abusive relationships; and the Survivors Fund, which raised over $30 million to help families affected by the Sept. 11 tragedy at the Pentagon.

“Caring” is how Bibby describes himself and the word his friends and colleagues most often use when they talk about him. “He’s a man all of us would choose as a friend and make the godfather of our children,” King says. “He’s an unusual human being, a person who respects and genuinely cares about other people. You trust him.”

Ansel agrees, noting that it’s “fun to travel in his circles because there’s always a crush of humanity that wants to say hello, shake his hand, and bask in the light that surrounds him.”

Doug Bibby with Steve Martin and Martin Short at the 2018 NMHC Annual Meeting.
Courtesy NMHC Doug Bibby with Steve Martin and Martin Short at the 2018 NMHC Annual Meeting.

Big Shoes to Follow

In 2021, Bibby will celebrate 20 years of service to the multifamily industry—and he will move on. He’ll officially retire in June of that year, and he’s thinking through what to do next. “I’m not going to get on my horse and ride off into the sunset. I will be active,” he says. “But 20 years at this helm is going to be, in my mind, a good long time. I need to get out of the way and let the next generation of leadership take control.”

Bibby has built a staff of 43 that he says is “second to none,” with a mix of age and experience. He’s proud of what they’ve accomplished in moving multifamily housing from a realm of last resort to one of the safest real estate investments around. He built NMHC membership from about 900 to 1,400 firms, schooled the media about the importance of the apartment industry, and beefed up the NMHC PAC to earn a seat at the table—recognized, respected, and often invited to testify on Capitol Hill.

Bibby will leave the industry better than he found it, and his contributions are certainly not lost on those tasked with finding his replacement. “You never want to say anyone is irreplaceable,” King says, “but Doug Bibby is as close to irreplaceable as you can find.”