By Barbra Murray, Contributing Editor
John Allen, cofounder of Chicago-based national real estate company AMLI and a well-known name in the industry, died January 20, 2013.
Allen was a longtime player in real estate, but not just any player. “He was a very, very bright guy and when you worked with him, you would see he was uncanny in his ability to turn complex deals and complex structures into something you could understand,” Gregory T. Mutz, co-founder and CEO of Amli, told Commercial Property Executive. “His value was his ability to make real estate easy to understand.”
He was well-armed to navigate the commercial real estate waters. As a graduate of Indiana University Law School, he got his first professional taste of the business at Mayer Brown in Chicago, where he honed his skills in partnership, corporate, and real estate investment law. From there, he dove right into the industry when he partnered with Mutz to form AMLI Realty Co. in 1980. It was the start of a nearly quarter-century tenure that would see Allen and Mutz transform a business that began as a two-person operation into a national real estate concern–well, two national real estate concerns.
Having started out as a private real estate development, management and investment company, AMLI eventually took the form of AMLI Commercial Properties Trust, an office and industrial REIT that the partners sold in 2001, and AMLI Residential Properties Trust, a multi-family REIT that went public in 1994 before being taken private again in 2006. “He was critical when we went public; going public is never an easy thing,” Mutz aded. “John was just very good and people liked him, trusted him. He could do more with a handshake than many could do with an 80-page document.”
Today, AMLI Residential is a leading national developer, owner and manager of luxury apartment communicates, with a portfolio encompassing in excess of 20,000 residential units across 10 markets in the U.S.
Like any other multi-billion-dollar industry, commercial real estate is a hard business and it’s no surprise that such concepts as ethics sometimes get lost in the mix; but Allen managed to maintain a reputation as a standup guy while helping to steer AMLI to great success over the years.
“He was one of those guys who was able to use his very incredible intellect in a very good and decent and moral way,” said Mutz. “He put all those concepts ahead of making a buck; his passion was doing these the right way.”
Allen’s legacy is AMLI itself. “AMLI really reflects John’s passion, his vision, his life’s work,” Mutz said. “We have a lot of properties, we have a lot of excellent people, we’ve made our mark in many communities and we’ve got a terrific [company] culture. John was instrumental in that.”
While Allen was certainly a guiding force for AMLI, he would have been among the first to concede that AMLI’s climb up the ladder was a group effort. “It was a symphony,” Mutz added. “As the saying goes, it takes an orchestra to play a Beethoven or a Mozart classic. But John was a critical guy in what we call the ‘AMLI Famli’ and if you look at AMLI, you can see John.”
Allen retired from AMLI in 2004, after having served as president for more than two decades. He was 76 years old when he lost his battle with cancer this week. Gone, but not forgotten, his was a presence that will leave an indelible mark.
“It’s not that any one property or one development stands out. It’s not that John created this and ‘look at the buildings and the ponds and the swans and the architecture’ and all that,” Mutz concluded. “It was more that he was just able to bring people together and do so in a very good way and fix things and solve problems.”
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