Washington Business Journal: Julie Smith, Women Who Mean Business 2015

September 11, 2015

As published in the Washington Business Journal.

Julie Smith’s career in multifamily management started with one, the Bayberry Apartments in Gaithersburg. All of 29 at the time, Smith was hired by Tom Bozzuto in 1989 — when the Greenbelt-based Bozzuto Group was only a year old — to launch his management operation.

“It was like a startup,” Smith, president of Bozzuto Management, says. “In startups, everybody does everything. I was hired as the person who did everything.”

Fast-forward 26 years, and Bozzuto Management has boomed. Revenue in 2014: $1.04 billion. Employees: 1,500. Units under management: More than 51,000 along the East Coast and as far west as Chicago.

“We never set out to build something like we have today,” Smith says. “This was 1989. It was during a recession. We were just trying to stay alive. We were just focused on getting through a year at a time.”

Apartment management is not only about putting bodies behind a desk or awaiting maintenance calls. It is about constant innovation — how tenants access services, pay their rent, put in service requests, communicate with management.

“There are so many moving parts in the business, it never gets boring,” Smith says. “We’ve been trained by Amazon to want everything in one click. Why should it be any different in housing? Technology is driving our business today. It’s driving commerce and communication.”

Smith may have been a jack-of-all-trades when she kicked off her career with Bozzuto, constantly calibrating the business plan and building relationships to grow the company from a management startup to an industry powerhouse, but her role has crystallized over time. While others manage the day-to-day operations, Smith looks to the future, “far out into the horizon.”

“I stay above the trees and keep us moving in the good strong positive direction, as it relates to expansion, to size and how we operate our business,” she says. “My job is to see what other people can’t see. My job is not to be in the trenches anymore, but to look at trends and what’s going to drive our business and what’s going to make our clients happy, and what’s going to make our tenants happy.”

Smith “has more hobbies than I have time.” She’s a traveler, a cook, a cyclist, an art fan. She is on the road often, for business and pleasure, but she’s “always on the lookout for something that somehow could enhance our business.” She might find inspiration in a boutique hotel, or a restaurant — innovative businesses whose programs might translate to apartment communities.

She is driven by the enjoyment of mentoring the millennial set that works for her, the “people who are just starting their careers, working through and climbing the ladder.” She is driven by her personal goal to diversify the real estate industry, so that the business “reflects the community it serves.” She practices what she preaches, “creating a gender-balanced and culturally balanced team, one hire at a time.”

Relationships are key to success, Smith said, whether it’s a happy client, a content employee or a satisfied tenant. Yes, Bozzuto Management topped $1 billion in revenue last year, perhaps for the first time. But the money, while worth celebrating, doesn’t bring her to work every day — the same commute she’s had for 26 years.

“That has not necessarily been how we viewed our business,” Smith says of the money. “That hasn’t necessarily been a major factor, hitting a certain revenue mark. What’s important? The success of individual properties. The quality of the staff and the performance of our teams, the reputations that the properties have. If we can grow and still be good, we’ll grow. But we’re not going to grow for the sake of quality or relationship. Growth was never something we set out to do.”

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Age: 55

Education: Bachelor’s in business administration, The State University of New York at Oswego

Residence: Cabin John

Family: Husband Richard; daughters Sarah, 20, and Eliza, 18