14 years after he invested $2,000 of bar mitzvah money into Campus Apartments, he became the company's CEO. Here's how he went on to build it into one of the country's biggest student housing firms.

  • David Adelman got his first taste of student housing investments when he was just 11 years old, after losing a basketball game to Campus Apartments founder and family friend, his "uncle" Alan Horwitz.
  • The game had a bet riding on it, and as the loser, David had to start working for his future mentor, and two years later he invested $2,000 of his bar mitzvah money in the company.
  • David came to Alan at age 27 with a plan to take the company national. Alan liked the idea, but said David had to do it as CEO.
  • Now that it's 14 years later, David has grown Campus Apartments into one of the biggest off-campus student housing firms in the country, active in 17 states.
  • In an interview with Business Insider, Adelman broke down how he did it. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

In 1983, David Adelman, then 11 years old, was playing a game of basketball with his family friend, his "uncle" Alan Horwitz. They made a bet that if David lost, he would help out at the off-campus student housing  company Alan had founded, Campus Apartments.

"Most adults let an 11-year-old kid win, but my 'Uncle Al' thought it was very important to learn responsibility and I wound up losing," Adelman told Business Insider. Losing meant he had to work to earn back his basketball, football, and baseball glove.

"I had to go to Campus Apartments every Saturday to stack lumber and sweep sawdust to earn my stuff back," he said. Shortly after he began doing this busy work there, Adelman said he became fascinated with property management.

He was so fascinated that, two years later, he invested his $2,000 bar mitzvah money into a company building.

Adelman went on to graduate from Ohio State in 1994, and immediately went to work for Campus Apartments as a property manager. 

At that point in time, Campus Apartments was serving just University of Pennsylvania students, and Adelman wanted to make it a national business. So in the late '90s, he approached his uncle with the idea.

"I said to Alan, 'I think this could be a national business, I want to figure out how to scale it.'"

The response: "Look, to be honest with you, I'm kind of content with what we've done, if that is your aspiration, you should be in charge then."

That conversation was in 1997, when Adelman was still just 27 years old, and Horwitz stepped down and became chairman as Adelman became CEO.

The vision of expansion

"We are really good at three things," Adelman explained.

The first, he said, is buying existing property in a university market, second is buying land near universities and developing new properties, and third is "helping universities solve their problems" in the form of public-private partnerships.

For example, he cited a $125 million project that houses 1,400 students for Howard University, completed a few years ago. This kind of partnership kicked off back in the late '90s, shortly after Adelman became CEO.

In 1999, the company landed its first partnership redeveloping one of the University of Pennsylvania's buildings, providing the university with the expertise and capital needed to renovate it. By the next year, he explained, the company had taken over the property management of all the university's off-campus apartments. 

"That was the real branding event for us."

In the early 2000s, Adelman expanded Campus Apartments to three states: New Jersey, Ohio, and North Carolina. By 2020, with the help of institutional capital, he's grown that number to 17.

"It dawned on me pretty early on that universities shouldn't be in businesses outside of education," Adelman told Business Insider. "The best example I give people is, when I went to college and I went to the dinning hall, the people who were serving lunch or dinner, weren't university employees, it was an outsourced food provider."

And even during these unprecedented times, Adelman plans to keep growing. He told Business Insider that they closed on a property in March, right before everything started shutting down, and they are expecting to close another one at the end of October.

"It [the student housing sector] has been steady at a minimum, and I think it will be resilient long-term," he said. 

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