Investing in property and people

Investing in property and people

By University Communications
October 4, 2013

Benefactor speaks of keys to success during first campus visit

Lalia Rach interviewed Dean Weidner.

Photo: Lalia Rach interviewed Dean Weidner.

More than 35 years ago Dean Weidner left his job as an executive in the airline industry to expand his growing property management business in the Northwest.

He was worried, however, when he made the change that he’d miss the exciting opportunities the airlines gave him to travel to exotic places.

Weidner had a surprise waiting for him. As his Kirkland, Wash.,-based Weidner Apartment Homes quickly began to grow, he found a much greater reward and deeper satisfaction than he imagined in his new field.

He soon began to see the big picture. “We’re creating people’s homes on a day-to-day basis and in a way that gives them flexibility and security,” he said, adding that his second career is “much more rewarding.”

Weidner Apartment Homes did something else for people as it grew: provided jobs. The company has more than 1,100 employees who help manage its 37,000, and growing, apartment units.

Investment in human capital is why Weidner visited University of Wisconsin-Stout Wednesday, Sept. 25. It was his first visit to campus, coming about 10 months after he donated $1 million to establish the Weidner Center for Residential Property Management to help the university expand its undergraduate program and provide scholarships.

Human capital is “why I’m here. Recruitment of employees is very important to us. People are the most important ingredient in our business,” he said, stressing the value of customer service in the industry.

UW-Stout is one of three universities in the U.S. where he has made major donations for property management programs, the others being Ball State in Indiana and the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Weidner toured campus, met professors and administrative leaders and was guest of honor at a reception and question-and-answer event Wednesday night. He also spent more than an hour answering questions from students in a Principles of Property Management class taught by Doug Kennedy.

Some of those students could wind up working for Weidner in the company’s Manager In Training program; other UW-Stout alumni already work for him. His business adds up to 4,000 apartment units and 150 to 200 new employees a year, he said. 

Although the company’s properties are out West and in Canada, he said it is expanding into the Twin Cities market.

Company representatives Marie Virgilio and Monica Williams, who were with Dean Weidner, told students they would return Oct. 9 for the UW-Stout Career Conference. They plan to hire summer interns and full-time employees in five western states. Positions include free housing.

Weidner explained to students why property management not only is a personally rewarding field but has a bright future. Demographics show strong growth in the 30-and-younger age group for the next six to seven years. The Great Recession helped fuel demand for apartments because some people realized home ownership was not right for them. Also, the 60-plus generation is finding that modern apartment living can give them more freedom and more amenities than owning a home, he said.

Weidner said he’s more bullish now about the industry than at any time in his career, which dates to his first apartment building in Seattle in 1977. When a student asked Weidner if he ever regretted buying a property, he said, “My only regret is that I didn’t buy more.”

Along with hiring good people, Weidner said some of the keys to his success have been knowing the market where he buys, visiting each complex or property he’s considering buying and having existing buildings inspected before he makes an offer. His company also builds about 500 units each year.

“You can’t buy real estate sitting in an office,” he said.

He buys approximately $400 million worth of property a year and reviews 20 to 30 deals a week with his acquisition team.

His three keys to success in property management are: buy right, add value and manage effectively.

Kennedy said he was impressed with Weidner’s straightforward and detailed answers to students’ questions. “Students gained tremendous insight into how he goes about growing his company,” Kennedy said.

Although he’d never been to campus, Weidner does have a connection to Menomonie and UW-Stout. His first cousin, Larry Weidner, lives in Menomonie and is a UW-Stout alumnus.

Read more about UW-Stout’s real estate property management program, one of only a handful in the U.S..