Baltimore Sun’s 2021 Business and Civic Hall of Fame honorees: Thomas and Barbara Bozzuto
By The Baltimore Sun
Thomas Bozzuto and Barbara Mancinelli, born six months apart, grew up in hardworking Italian American families in Waterbury, Connecticut, but it’s not like they were childhood sweethearts. He was a public school kid who became captain of his high school football team. She went to Catholic school, a self-described music nerd who studied piano. They didn’t know each other until after both had gone off to separate colleges. They dated, but only briefly because Tom had been drafted into the Army for wartime service; he went to Vietnam in October 1969.
Six months into his tour, Tom talked a captain into granting leave to meet Barbara in Hawaii. No one familiar with this woman will be surprised at what happened next: On April 17, 1970, in Waikiki, she proposed.
“A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do,” Barbara says. “I opened my suitcase and showed him a little white dress for me and a blue suit for him. We were married that afternoon at the Fort DeRussy chapel wearing red leis and sporting $14 gold wedding bands.”
Over the course of the next five decades, Tom and Barbara Bozzuto moved to Maryland (with $370 cash), started a family and became leaders in Baltimore’s business community and philanthropic circles. Their 51-year marriage has provided the foundation for Tom’s successful development company and Barbara’s myriad civic and professional endeavors. He built apartment buildings; she promoted Baltimore. They both took on leadership roles in supporting institutions and charities. Barbara brought Olympic gymnastic trials to the downtown arena and tall ships to the harbor.
“They are just terrific people, they’ve done a tremendous amount here in Baltimore,” says developer Mark Joseph.
As the Bozzutos tell it, it was Tom’s desire to solve the problems of cities that brought the couple to Baltimore just three years after the destructive riots of 1968. With idealistic ambitions and a graduate degree in public administration, he looked for a job in government. He landed at the Baltimore office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “I worked there for two years,” he says, “and that was long enough to learn I was not cut out to work in government service. It rewards inaction, discourages risk taking. I couldn’t thrive in government.”
He set out to learn the economics of real estate, how to finance and build market-rate and affordable housing. He worked for the Rouse Co. for a couple of years, then joined the Oxford Development Co. That’s where he learned how to be a developer. The company built apartment buildings. Tom managed Oxford’s East Coast operations.
In 1988, he and two partners broke away and formed the Bozzuto Group. They built houses, condominiums and town houses, but the main focus was the multifamily market — apartments they built and then managed. The decision to take on property management was key to the Bozzuto Group’s growth. “You would not go into the prettiest hotel in the world if it was not being run really well,” Tom says. “We concentrated on building a property management organization that [could be] better than any other in the country.”
The Bozzuto Group now manages some 82,000 units, mostly on the East Coast. It expanded operations to the West Coast during the last year, with contracts in Los Angeles and Seattle. The company has 2,500 employees under the day-to-day leadership of the Bozzutos’ son, Toby. Tom remains chairman and can look back on a career that created more than 50,000 apartment units and homes.
“Tom leads with integrity and he’s both respected and admired by all who know him,” says Julie Smith, the Bozzuto Group’s chief administrative officer. “He’s also one of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met. He’s very kind. He has a great sense of humor and a great sense of fun.”
Ms. Smith, who has known Tom since the 1980s, calls him “extremely driven.” Mark Joseph finds him “thoughtful and fair.” Patricia Joseph, who serves with him on the board of the Baltimore Community Foundation, calls Tom diplomatic, unfailingly giving thanks or credit to others.
“And Barbara,” she says, “is incredibly charming, highly energetic, very smart and very funny, and she has done amazing things in the community.”
Barbara has been in the middle of Baltimore life since the early 1980s. She was part of the group of civic volunteers and public relations professionals who helped promote the city in the years after Harborplace opened and Baltimore became a destination for tourists and conventioneers. “There was so much going on,” she says. “It was very exciting to watch the buildup of appreciation for your city, and how people came together. It was an excitement that just rarely happens in a city.”
She’s helped raise millions of dollars for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, WYPR, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Peabody Institute, Stevenson University and St. Agnes Hospital.
“Barbara agreed to chair our capital campaign, the first real campaign ever for the organization,” says Bonnie Phipps, the hospital’s former CEO. “She was amazingly successful at opening doors for us. That campaign convinced me that, though Barbara is small in stature, she is a true force of nature. It’s hard to say no to her and Tom because they walk the walk.”
Barbara and Thomas Bozzuto
Age: 74 (both)
Hometown: Waterbury, Connecticut (both)
Current residence: Baltimore County
Education: Barbara: B.A., Marymount College. Tom: B.A., Hobart and William Smith Colleges; M.A. in public administration, Syracuse University
Career highlights: Barbara: Operation Sail, executive director; Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Promotion and the Arts; Bozzuto-Lowenstein Marketing Group; Pride of Baltimore, public relations director. Tom: co-founder and chairman, Bozzuto Group
Civic and charitable activities: Barbara: former chair, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra board of directors; BSO Endowment Trust; chairman, WYPR board of trustees; Enoch Pratt Free Library, board of directors; Stevenson University, board of trustees. Tom: Baltimore Community Foundation, chair; Greater Baltimore Committee; National Multifamily Housing Council, chair; Maryland Science Center board of trustees, chair; past chairman of the board of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, from which he received both a bachelor’s degree and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
Family: Married 51 years; two children; six grandchildren