A Technology Foundation
Fred Tuomi was born in Minnesota, and went on to attend high school and college in Georgia, receiving a B.A. in Business Information Systems and a Masters in Business Administration from Georgia State University. While working for the Computer Sciences Corporation doing consulting, Fred connected with John Lie-Nelsen of Consolidated Capital and Johnstown Properties. This opportunity led to Fred creating the very first automated, apartment management system.
“The idea was, let’s use these things called computers that make everything more efficient and increase productivity… Let’s put it where we have most of our people. To really get the benefits of productivity enhancement, you have to make as many employees as possible productive, not just a few back at the home office.”
When the Tax Reform Act of 1986 killed the real estate limited partnership business, Fred connected with John Williams and John Glover of Post Properties, and then eventually was invited to join Equity Residential by Doug Crocker.
Fred and his family moved from Atlanta to Chicago, where he became President of Property Management at Equity Residential.
“We were trying to build two things. One was a uniform platform that was highly efficient… Second thing was to build a company culture.”
Fred shares how Sam Zell, Founder, and Chairman of Equity Residential (see our interview with Zell in Season One of Leading Voices), influenced and shaped its culture. Under Zell’s vision for acquiring irreplaceable assets, the company’s goal evolved from a gross asset accumulation model to a highly refined portfolio and operational platform. Technology also played a critical role throughout the business, including in revenue management, allowing them to study the relationship of supply and demand in a way that hadn’t been possible before.
Entering and Exiting Retirement
It wasn’t long after Tuomi retired to spend more time with his grandkids and family, that he was approached by Tom Barrack and Justin Chang of Colony Capital. They wanted his advice on translating his apartment management strategy to the single-family rental business. While many doubted that a long-term ownership and management platform for the single-family market was possible, Fred was able to bring his experience from rolling up assets in the multifamily business and over time saw the business coming together with efficiencies and metrics comparable to the apartment industry. Each asset was bought with an eye on the long-term growth of stabilized income streams which meant that with the various mergers of the Waypoint, Starwood, Colony and Blackstone Invitation Homes portfolios, the footprint didn’t just get wider, it got more deep and dense, improving efficiency. Technology in the hands of the consumer and the front line employee also made these efficiencies possible.
“We are now running 2,200+ homes from one centralized property management team similar to an apartment property office. In terms of headcount to assets, we are much more efficient than the apartment business. But we have to employ a lot more technology to bridge that gap.”
The Future of the Market
Fred sees Millennials entering the housing market society’s increased longevity as signposts for long-term market growth, and emphasizes the importance of developers stimulating the housing supply if we don’t want pricing to increase.