Toby Bozzuto seemed headed for a career in the music industry.
The son of Thomas S. Bozzuto, a founding partner of developer The Bozzuto Group, Toby Bozzuto interned for Blues Traveler in college, working in the band's management office in Carnegie Hall. Then for two summers he worked for Sony Music Entertainment's college music division, handling grass-roots marketing in upstate New York from his dorm room.
"My fraternity brothers loved the boxes and boxes of CDs I got every day," Bozzuto said.
But he ended up pursuing architecture. He went to work more than a decade ago for Greenbelt-based Bozzuto, a builder, manager and developer of apartments, condos, townhouses and mixed-use projects.
For the past six years, he ran the development division, overseeing construction of 3,000 apartment units. In April, he became the company's president.
In his new role, he handles day-to-day operations while his father, the company's chairman and CEO, oversees company strategy and investments. The company works in Maryland and six other states and has built 35,000 residences. It reached its 25th anniversary this year.
When did you know you wanted to work for the company co-founded by your father, and what led you to that choice?
As you can imagine, during my entire childhood, my father worked very hard growing his business. When I was 16, I worked on a construction site for a summer, but otherwise we didn't spend any time talking about me going into the business. My father was always incredibly kind and interested in allowing me to pursue things that were of interest to me. In particular, I was a musician in a high school and college band and even ended up minoring in music. During college, I interned in the music industry and even ended up being hired by Sony Records to work out of my dorm room as an employee my senior year. My father allowed me the time and space to find my way. Ultimately, I fell in love with architecture and design, and approached my father when I was 23 about working for him. He was floored, I think. My father and his partner recommended to me that I couldn't work in the business until I worked for someone else and then completed a master's degree in real estate.
I therefore began work as a financial analyst at Columbia National Real Estate Finance in D.C. for several years and then went to [New York University] for [a] master's ... in real estate development. While there, I landed a paid internship at J.P. Morgan during the day and worked there and went to school at night. This was a total immersion in real estate. I ultimately joined the company in 2001 at 28 and took an entry-level development job. For me personally, entering the company with some experience gave me the confidence and a modicum of ability. Perhaps most importantly, I wanted to wipe out any sense of entitlement.
You said you felt you had to earn a leadership role in the company. How do you feel you were able to do that?
Having to earn a leadership role in the company was not my choice; it was a fact. Two months into being at the company, my father and I (along with his partner and [the partner's] son, who is also in the business) went to Harvard for an executive education course on family business. There were many families there who, despite being incredibly successful, had been torn apart by problems and arguments. Conversely, there were several families there that were extremely successful as a business and, most importantly, as a family. My father and I learned from them and continue to apply the lessons today.
In short, humility and hard work trump arrogance and entitlement any day of the week.
Throughout my time at Bozzuto, I feel I have begun to earn that through the introduction of incredible design to our projects. In addition, under my previous role running our development company, I was — with the help of an amazing organization — able to start over 3,000 units. I take tremendous pride in leading our efforts in formulating a $150 million equity fund with [U.S. Commerce Secretary nominee] Penny Pritzker that helped fuel our growth.
Most importantly, I hope I have earned my leadership role by listening to the incredible people around me and treating my entire team and co-workers with respect.
Since being named president of The Bozzuto Group in April, how has life changed for you? What's the most unexpected part of your new role?
Since taking on my new role, I am ultimately responsible for a company of nearly 1,300 people, as opposed to my development shop of 11. I feel a massive responsibility to help make our company the very best place to work and to provide our employees with endless opportunities. I also feel an incredible weight to carry on the legacy and integrity that my father and his partners have built over the past 25 years.
What has surprised me most is how incredibly deep our bench is in terms of our employees' creativity and strength. Whether it is marketing, human resources, management, accounting, construction, development or home building, the endless talent of our team is quite astounding. They all share the commonality and ethos of kindness, hard work and integrity.
Who do you consider your mentor, and what's the best advice you've received from a mentor or anyone else?
I consider my parents as my ultimate mentors. They have taught me from an early age that "to whom much is given, much is expected." Candidly, it is my dream to one day start a foundation, should we ever be so fortunate, that can give back to the community. What greater joy must there be than to spend a whole career working, developing wonderful projects and creating opportunities to then one day turn around and give back as much as possible to the community that made it all possible?
My father came from a first-generation Italian-American family that had almost nothing financially. I researched the Ellis Island archives and found the first Bozzuto that came to the United States from Italy in the late 1800s. On his person was exactly $5. Keeping the knowledge of where you came from close to heart is an excellent reminder of the gratitude we should have every single day for the opportunities we have.
With summer vacation upon us, where is your favorite spot to get away, and what do you like to do when you're traveling?
My parents have a lovely home in St. Michaels. That is a wonderful place to unwind. My father has called it "his peace." If for nothing else, it is nice to see him relaxing, gardening and fishing with all of the worries of our business set aside, however briefly. My peace is there, too, and it is also somewhere in Italy. I will keep going back until I can find the precise location. If I had to guess, it is somewhere on a cliff in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast at approximately midnight, when the annual opera festival begins. I'll get back to you on that.