It can be intimidating to be tapped by a legend and charged with growing one of central Indiana's best-known companies.
But David Barrett, three weeks into his role as executive vice president of Gene B. Glick Co. and less than half the age of its still-working founder, says he isn't the least bit nervous.
The former corporate counsel for Emmis Communications Corp. says his experience at the media company and as an attorney at Ice Miller LLP has prepared him for the position.
"A good corporate lawyer would relish the opportunity of running a company," Barrett, 37, said.
And he's jumped right into his job of reviving expansion efforts for the 60-year-old apartment company that has intentionally avoided expansion since the late 1980s.
"Over the years, we've discussed getting back in business, but each time we found the same things about the market we didn't like," said Dean Donnelson, Glick's senior vice president of asset management.
"We probably sat on the sidelines too long," he added. "But we didn't have anyone whose full-time job was new business development. So David will allow us to focus on that now."
The Gene B. Glick Co., which employs about 600, has 80 apartment communities in 11 states, most of them focused on low- and moderate-income tenants.
The company halted expansion efforts in the late 1980s when the availability of tax credits for affordable housing developers dried up. It since has converted some of its properties to conventional market rates.
In recent years, the company was reluctant to acquire apartment communities because private-equity firms and real estate investment trusts had charged into the market and driven up prices, Donnelson said.
But Gene Glick, the 85-year-old founder and CEO, is ready to get back in the expansion game. So in April he approached Barrett, who is married to Glick's granddaughter Jackie.
"He made me an offer I couldn't refuse," Barrett said. He's eager to use his corporate law experience, which included real-estate-related transactions, to expand Glick's operations.
In addition to finding growth opportunities, Barrett has to win over self-proclaimed old-timers, some of whom have worked for Gene Glick since Barrett was in elementary school. A handful have been around since before he was born. They're immensely loyal to the company and its founder, who, in addition to leading the company, is a prominent philanthropist.
"David will challenge beliefs we've long held," Donnelson said. "We are often pessimistic on the overpriced market, but he might let us take a fresh view of transactions. An object at rest stays at rest. But everyone here wants to do it."
Everyone including Gene Glick.
"We are delighted to have David join our company," Glick said. "He brings a tremendous amount of business and leadership experience to our organization."
Founding a company
Barrett's arrival doesn't signal that Glick is stepping away from the business. He still comes to the office nearly every day, as he has since forming the company with his wife, Marilyn, after the end of World War II. He served as an instructor and scout for the U.S. Army in Europe during the war.
The Jewish serviceman also was a liberator of the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich, where he took photos to help prove the Holocaust atrocities. Glick later gave the photos to the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Commission, which used them in at least one documentary.
The self-made entrepreneur has built a company that's become synonymous with affordable housing. In the 1970s, it was the largest builder of subsidized properties in the country, and one of the biggest apartment builders overall, said George Tikijian, owner of the locally based apartment brokerage Tikijian Associates.
"It's considered the class act of the subsidized market, even today," Tikijian said of the Glick company.
Today, the company has more apartment units in Indianapolis than any competitor except Denver-based AIMCO. AIMCO also is the national leader, with 212,000 units. Glick's 17,000 units place it outside the nation's top 50 apartment owners.
Barrett's greatest challenge will be making expansion decisions for a company that has been built around its longtime leader, a hands-on manager, Tikijian said.
"But he's got lots of money. They certainly have the capital to grow and do whatever they want," Tikijian said. And with development initiatives in the hands of someone younger, there might be more inclination to take risks, he added.
Since joining the company, Barrett has been busy meeting with Glick executives and learning the industry. With a broad mandate to grow the business but little time on the job, Barrett hasn't yet developed anything beyond a general strategy.
"We're not looking to be sellers," he said. "If they wanted a quick buck, we'd be selling."
Sketchy ideas for growth involve reviving property construction, expanding into new markets outside Indiana, or acquiring existing properties. Student housing also is an intriguing market, Barrett said.
Cool under pressure
Barrett's not worried about his lack of apartment industry experience, and said he sees similarities between his old job and new one. He called both Glick and Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan visionaries leading businesses in regulated industries.
In his more than eight years at Emmis, Barrett said, he worked on deals and negotiated contracts that taught him to think like a businessperson, not just like a lawyer.
Previous employers agree.
At Emmis, Smulyan said, Barrett was considered the company's indecency czar because of his ability to adapt to changing industry standards.
"One minute you have one standard, the next minute you have Janet Jackson undressing at the Super Bowl that changes everything," he said.
Barrett's also unflappable, Smulyan said. Once the CEO decided to play a prank on Barrett, telling him the company planned to hire back a controversial disc jockey who had left Emmis for a station in New York, where he was promptly fired for a widely publicized on-air gaffe.
"David very calmly pointed out why we shouldn't do that and was doing that in his best lawyerly way," Smulyan said. "But we kept giving excuses as to why we would ignore that. Finally, he just said what he really thought but prefaced it with, 'With all due respect.'"
Ice Miller partner Michael Blickman recalled that Barrett showed similar skills when the two of them worked together to negotiate a long-term contract with a high-profile, on-air personality.
"This person's agent was almost a caricature of a big-city talent agent and actually reminded me of Ari Gold from HBO's 'Entourage,' only worse," Blickman recounted.
"Obscenities streamed through every conversation. The agent's decibel level reached the point of eardrum destruction. Rather than letting the agent's antics interfere with our goals, David simply ignored them and pressed on to focus on the real issues that we had to deal with. Ultimately, the contract was completed to everyone's satisfaction."
Glick executives said they already have witnessed Barrett's ability to handle potentially difficult situations.
"He's skillful in dealing with older people who are more experienced in this particular industry," said Glick's senior vice president of property management, Frank Basile, who has been with the company 33 years. "He listens before he speaks to find out what people have to say, but he's not bashful about weighing in with his decisions."
That trait likely comes from his lawyer days and learning he didn't enjoy litigation at all, Barrett said.
"That's a very adversarial way to solve problems," he said. "A lawyer is either a facilitator or an obstacle."