I Want to be a Developer When I Grow Up

By Heather Skyler, InBusiness
These top 12 developers all gathered together for the first time in history to participate in IB’s photo shoot for the October cover. Here are their individual stories.

The Alexander Company
Birthplace: Portage, Wisconsin
Education: MATC
Parents’ Professions: His father was an electrical engineer, and his mother was “busy watching after eight kids.”
First Job Ever: Mason Tender
First Development: Rehabilitating the “worst house in the neighborhood” (just off of Milwaukee St).
Biggest Project: Capitol West
Favorite Project: His family
Succession Plan: “To get to heaven.” {Sons Nick and Joe also work at the company.}

Randy Alexander has long been a colorful figure in the world of Madison development. Well known for practical jokes and a collection of cars that he likes to drive extremely fast, he didn’t disappoint when he arrived at the photo shoot in his gunmetal metallic Porsche Twin Turbo, spinning it around in the dirt to park it. He emerged from the driver’s seat in a kilt and took his place on the beam. Alexander learned his first essential real estate lesson after remodeling an old house just off of Milwaukee Street. “When I began the project, it was one of the most deteriorated houses on the block. When I was finished, it was the nicest. Soon thereafter I realized that because of the surrounding neighborhood, I wasn’t going to make any money on it. Right then and there, I learned my first lesson in real estate. Location is key.” What’s the major change Alexander has noticed during his time in the industry? “Developers have gotten a bad reputation.”


Westwind Associates
Birthplace: Madison, Wisconsin
Education: B.S. in Commercial Real Estate from Arizona State University
Parents’ Professions: “My father is the CEO of Kayser Automotive and my mother is CEO of the family.”
First Job Ever: At age ten, Baxter was hired to pick up cigarette butts around the entrances of his family’s dealership.
First Development: Acquisition and redevelopment of the former Gordon Flesch Company headquarters building.
Biggest Project: Arbor Gate
Favorite Project: Arbor Gate
Succession Plan: “Currently, as a single man, my succession plans consists of sweeping a wonderful women off her feet, making a beautiful family, and having babies so I have someone to succeed me. Still in the dreaming stage of that plan….

Sean Baxter grew up in the car business, but realized as a freshman in college, when there were no majors for car dealers, that he was drawn to real estate. “Development and Investment interested me the most because of the creativity it allows, and wonderful influence it can have on not only the economic environment, but also the social well-being of communities.”


The Blettner Group
Birthplace: Oak Park, Illinois
Education: BS Finance, University of Illinois, Champaign; MS Real Estate, UW-Madison – Grasskamp’s Program
Parents’ Professions: His father was a musician and his mother a “housewife.”
First Job Ever: Landscaper at age 14.
First Development: A 34-story highrise in Chicago
Biggest & Favorite Project: Raising his kids.

Bob Blettner was a mortgage banker arranging financing for developers when it occurred to him: “If I know how to raise the money, I should do the developing.” He bought his first investment property at age 26, was a general partner for a 34-story Chicago highrise at age 28, and another on LaSalle Street at age 29. During his 30s, Blettner focused on hospitality projects such as motels and resorts, and since then he’s developed office buildings and office parks with a few large industrial projects thrown into the mix.


The Gialamas Company
Birthplace: Chicago, IL
Education: Philosophy degree from Marquette University; 2008 Recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the College of Arts and Sciences
Parents’ Professions: His father was a hotel manager; his mother a “housewife.”
First Job Ever: Worked in a canning company
First Development: 30,000 square foot office building and “I didn’t lose any money on it.”
Biggest Project: One Erdman Place with the addition of LEED Gold Certification
Favorite Project: “The next one.”
Succession Plan: His sons Tom and Aris.

George Gialamas has long been an imposing figure on the local development scene. He began his career in sales and marketing at IBM in Chicago, and was there for 14 years when he decided a career change was in order. “I called my wife, had lunch and said, ‘I think we are going to start a new career for ourselves,’ and so we did,” recalled Gialamas. That was in 1975. Over three decades later, the Gialamas company, of which his wife Candy is VP, has done much to stimulate economic development in the state and shape the Madison landscape. In 2000, Gialamas was celebrated on “The Madison All-Century List,” a Salute to the Top 50 People Who Shaped Madison. During his time in the industry, he’s seen costs rise significantly, as well as an increase in regulations. On the other hand, communication has become easier. “Not having to be in the office 24/7 has shaped the industry considerably,” said Gialamas. “You can be more mobile with easy access to phone, internet, and email. It’s allowed me to answer questions and make decisions more quickly.”


Mortenson Investment Group
Birthplace: Madison, Wisconsin
Education: B.A. in History from UW- Madison; JD from the Wake Forest School of Law. He’s also licensed to practice law, as an insurance intermediary (agent) and real estate agent in Wisconsin.
Parents’ Professions: His father was a bank president and his mother was a teacher.
First Job Ever: “I took three jobs the first summer I could legitimately get a job at age 14: Public pool lifeguard & swim teacher, grocery store bag boy, and bailing hay for friends who did family dairy farming.”
First Development: The Inacom building on the central beltline
Biggest Project: Arbor Gate.
Favorite Project: The FCI Building in Middleton, 2551 Parmenter Street. “It is a fun, neat building with a happy staff working there and an appreciative neighborhood and city.”

After a few years of private law practice in Sauk County, Hutter went to work for his father-in-law, Loren Mortenson first at Inacom Information Systems, and then at a newly-formed company called Mortenson Investment Group. “I was the third employee at MIG in 1997. We naively expected that MIG would merely own and manage a few commercial real estate parcels; but by 2000 we grew the company to having investments in over a million square feet of various types of real estate.” It also had acquired significant ownership stakes in over a half dozen companies, and MIG took over the oversight and administration of a quickly-growing private, family charity (the Mortenson Family Foundation, or MFF). “The MFF was formed due to Loren’s tremendous generosity and desire to give back to the Greater Madison Area.”


Livesey Company
Birthplace: Madison, Wisconsin
Education: Livesey earned his undergraduate degree in economics from Elmira College in New York and his Master’s from the UW-Madison Grasskamp School of Real Estate.
Parents’ Professions: His father is a developer and founded Livesey Company; his mother stayed home and watched the four kids.
First Job Ever: At age 13, he started working for Livesey Painting, which his grandfather had started but no longer owned at the time of John’s employment with the company. He worked as a painter all through grad school.
First Development: A 250,000 square foot shopping center in Appleton called Marketplace  which Livesey still owns.
Biggest Project: The UW Medical Foundation administration building.
Favorite Project: The Ruth Chris Steak House. “Even though it’s small, it was the most fun because I did everything. It was really designed from scratch because they don’t have a prototype.”
Succession Plan: “There is one between me and my father [John P.], and I’m kind of in the beginning stages of thinking about that, but my kids are awfully young (15, 13 and ten-year old twins) so that’s a long way away.”

When John Livesey graduated from the UW Grasskamp School, he had no intention of going to work at the family business. “I don’t know what I thought,” recalled Livesey, who then laughed. “I probably didn’t think much of anything. I just knew I was going to go work for someone else and no intention of coming here.” While job searching after college, he soon realized that the “dream job” in his profession was to get hired by a developer that could offer a lot of responsibility right away. “I had the chance at everyone’s dream job, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.” Twenty-two years later, Livesey is still happy with his choice. During those years, he’s seen a lot of changes in the industry. “Land prices have gone up so much, and rents really have not moved accordingly.” Government controls have also increased. “The entitlement process is crazy compared to what it used to be. I think that process often leads to better projects, so difficulties with the government are hard and frustrating, but they do force you to do a better project. They also make it cost more!”


McAllen Properties
Crandon, Wisconsin
Education: High School diploma from Sheboygan
Parents’ Professions: His father was a truck driver and his mom was home with the seven kids.
First Job Ever: Paperboy, then he worked part-time at a gas station.
First Development: A 9,000 square foot building on Stoughton Road that sold lawn equipment.
Biggest Project: McAllen Tech Center
Favorite Project: All of my multi-tenant warehouse buildings. “I guess because they’re sort of my niche.”
Succession Plan: McAllen got his plan in order in 1999. “I have three daughters involved in the business and they’re now the majority owners in any of my new projects.”

Mac McAllen started his work life as a salesman at Sears Roebucks in Sheboygan. In 1961, he took a sales job in Pennsylvania with Hobart Food Equipment. In 1964, he returned to Wisconsin to purchase a Hobart agency here in Madison (which he is actually selling back to the corporation at the end of this month). He got into real estate development in 1980, when he bought a couple of four-unit apartment buildings. After that, he bought a small shopping center, then developed his first building  the one on Stoughton Road. McAllen now has properties in Milwaukee, Racine, Janesville, Eau Claire, Sheboygan, Illinois and North and South Dakota.


The Mullins Group
Madison, Wisconsin
Education: B.S. in Economics from UW-Madison. Started law school but left before finishing.
Parents’ Professions: Both parents founded The Mullins Group.
First Job Ever: Mowing lawns and cleaning hallways in his parents’ apartment buildings for 40 to 50 hours a week at the age of 12.
First Development: Adaptive reuse of a commercial retail building. “We gutted it and changed it to a state-of-the-art day care. After completion, my brother and I were doing the janitorial work every night for the first three weeks until we hired janitors  really hard work.”
Biggest Project: 100 Wisconsin Ave., mixed use residential.
Favorite Project: “Honestly, they’re all pretty fun, but they all typically have their moments of horror, such as when you get delayed or held up at a review level. You can leave a meeting thinking this is terrible and then you work your way through it.”
Succession Plan: “My brothers and sisters and I are the successors and we even have a third generation working for us now to some degree [a nephew and niece in their mid-20s]. My parents started the business in 1952 and our goal is to keep it in the family.”

Brad Mullins was a second year law student when he decided he didn’t want to be an attorney. “I quit, then told my parents I was going to Chicago to line up some interviews. They asked what I was doing Monday and I said nothing, so I agreed to go in and help out at the business. After one week there, I knew I wanted to be part of the business, and I became my father’s assistant.” That was in 1986. Mullins thinks the biggest change in the industry has been the time it takes for government approval of projects, particularly in the city of Madison. [A common theme.] “Twenty-two years ago, it took about two or three months for approvals to go through. Now we plan on it taking a year or longer.”


Park Towne Development Corp.
Madison, Wisconsin
Education: B.B.A. in real estate and risk and insurance from UW-Madison as well as an M.S. in real estate.
Parents’ Professions: His father was first a salesman for SubZero, then became a developer; his mother was the Secretarial Pool Manager at CUNA Mutual.
First Job Ever: Lawn mowing, snow shoveling. First job with official paycheck  Ellis True Value by the Village Bar. “Jobs were very difficult to get as a teenager back then; I had to interview at half a dozen places before I was offered a position.”
First Development: Snyder Estates (12 residential lots)
Biggest Project: Conservancy Place in DeForest, which is 650 acres.
Favorite Project: “Jared Jewelers for development. Overall, 1400 Lake Shore Drive financing in Chicago.”
Succession Plan: “None at the moment. We have transitioned day-to-day operations to my brothers and myself from our dad, and the oldest in the third generation is still in high school.”

Jim Ring was a management major at the UW when a commercial real estate class taught by Professor Grasskamp changed his life. “It was by far the most interesting class I’d had up to that point,” recalls Ring. After graduating, he became a loan officer for LaSalle National Bank in Chicago, but in 1994, when his father split with his partner, he returned to Madison to join the family business. Ring echoes other developers who say increased government regulations are the biggest change in the industry over the years.  “Development used to address the demands of the marketplace  while today you are forced to create a textbook version of how people should live, work and shop that often ignores market realities.”


Executive Management Inc. (EMI)
Madison, Wisconsin
Education: Degree in journalism from UW-Madison.
Parents’ Professions: Her mother was a secretary and her step-father was in the Navy for 20 years.
First Job Ever: A waitress at Rennebohm Drug Store. “That’s where I got my work ethic.”
First Development: Worked with Munz on the Wood Creek Village condos in Middleton. “Condos were not a very known product then and people were very leery of them,” recalls Springman. “They didn’t know what they were, and you had to explain them to people in order to sell them.”
Biggest Project: University Square
Favorite Project: University Square

In the 1970s, Sue Springman was head of Downtown Madison Inc. (DMI) where she worked with a 30-member board of directors. “Many of the people on that board were developers downtown and that’s when I became intrigued by urban development, in particular. I remember thinking, “Boy, I’d really like to work in that field someday.'” Springman later worked with real estate development in Mayor Skornicka’s office, helping with the process for approvals in the planning department. “I was sort of the economic development person. I learned the inside of how it worked at city hall. Usually you learn it on the outside [when you’re in development], but being inside gave me an even better insight, I think.” When she left the mayor’s office in 1982, she was asked to join local developer Richard Munz where she learned everything about development on the job. After 14 years with Munz, Springman was drawn back to the political arena when Governor Tommy Thompson appointed her Administrator for the Division of Buildings and Police Services. “I had 500 employees and it was a great learning experience. We built the Department of Revenue building while I was there.” When Thompson left, Springman had the option of staying on, but she jumped at her next opportunity. Greg Rice asked her to help build University Square.


T. Wall Properties
Suburb of Chicago
Education: B.A. in economics and M.S. in real estate appraisal and investment analysis from UW-Madison.
Parents’ Professions: His father owns Demco, a library supply company, and his mother raised 11 kids. “I was the tenth. It was a highly competitive environment,” laughed Wall.
First Job Ever: Paperboy when he was 11/
First Development: A 48-unit apartment building which he purchased and renovated, on the east side by the old K-Mart.
“This was during the height of the Savings and Loan crisis. The property was foreclosed on and I bought it with a 100% loan. It’s kind of ironic, since we’re back here again,” he said, referring to the current crisis on Wall Street.
Biggest Project: City Center West
Favorite Project: City Center West. “My favorite is always the latest one. My next favorite will be Tribeca. I always work to improve them.”
Succession Plan: “I’m too young for that yet.”

Terrence Wall wasn’t sure if he wanted to major in technology, finance or real estate. The decision was made when he met Professor Grasskamp at UW-Madison. “He really got me excited about real estate, because it’s very tangible, and it’s creative. When you’re done, you have something you can see and feel and walk in. It’s not just guys pushing numbers around on paper. I like to create tangible real value.” Twenty-six years later, Wall’s portfolio now has properties with 2.5 million square feet in both Wisconsin and Arizona, making him the largest office developer in Dane County and one of the largest in Wisconsin. Aside from presiding over T.Wall Properties, Terrence Wall is involved in numerous charities and is also a frequent guest lecturer at UW-Milwaukee and the UW-Madison School of Business where he and Senior Lecturer Rod Matthews created a new, environmentally friendly intersession course on reclaiming adverse land uses. Over the years, Wall said the industry has changed dramatically in some ways, but also stayed the same. “It’s highly regulated now compared to what it was when I started,” he said, but some of that was necessary, such as environmental regulations. “But in many ways, it hasn’t changed. I started in a downturn (1989) and now we’ve circled right back around to another downturn. People haven’t remembered that the fundamentals still apply. I think some of the guys in New York forgot about the fundamentals.” Wall has also become quite popular for his controversial and outspoken views in his monthly In Business magazine column, “Up Against the Wall.”


Welton Enterprises
Madison, Wisconsin
Education: A bachelor’s degree in urban land economics from the UW-Madison School of Business, then a Master’s from the Grasskamp Real Estate Program in 1983.
Parents’ Professions: His father was with Wick Building Systems for 27 years, and president during the final stage of his career; his mother stayed home  “So she had the hard job.”
First Job Ever: Paperboy first, then he worked for the Department of Revenue in high school, checking tax returns in the Spring.
First Development: High Point Office Park.
Favorite Project: “The one I’m working on now is Silicon Prairie, a 126-acre site on the west side of Madison. I think in this business, for me anyway, it’s not about the money but about the project. So if I’m working on something and it’s keeping me busy and I’m looking forward to it every day, it’s my favorite. I’m always looking to the future.”

After service in the U.S. Army and earning his degrees, Kurt Welton was offered a job with a Denver developer. “My dad, who was retired from Wick then, said ‘Wait a minute, I want you to come and work for me.'” Unbeknownst to Welton, his father had bought an interest in EMI, as well as a couple of properties that made up 300 to 400 acres of land.  “He wanted me to come and develop it. I was always part of his plan, I guess, but he didn’t tell me!” Welton turned down the Denver job and stayed to work with his father, and the rest is family and city history. Of changes in the industry, Welton talked about the new push for “green” building and sustainability, and said that’s a factor that’s always been important to him. “I was green before green was a verb,” he quipped. “Since the early nineties, I’ve been doing things with groundwater and storm water that no one else was doing, and now it’s law.  “Grasskamp taught us that we make our real estate, but also that our real estate makes us. As developers, we have a huge responsibility to do the right thing.”


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