December 3, 2020

Q&A with Mike Altman, Cortland Chief Investment Officer

Q&A with Mike Altman, Cortland Chief Investment Officer

How Cortland became a powerhouse

Mike Altman
Mike Altman

Mike Altman is the Chief Investment Officer of Cortland, one of the largest multifamily companies in the United States. Through innovative thinking, drive, and a passion for providing a superior resident experience, Cortland has grown from a regional merchant builder with roughly 1,600 apartment units to an integrated investment, management, and development firm that owns and operates 60,000 units nationwide.

Q: How did you become interested in real estate and development?

A: I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and I remember riding in the back of my parents’ car as a kid. On the way home, we’d drive through subdivisions that were being built. I’d watch what had been empty land transform into these networks of streets. Then there’d be a flurry of activity, building these beautiful homes. I was amazed at the scale of the transformation, and I knew that changing physical space into something new was something I was passionate about. In college, I had an internship opportunity to join an environmental engineering firm. On my first day, I found out the company was actually a concrete subcontractor for the construction industry. I learned a lot of lessons that summer, starting with how to pour concrete in the hot Georgia sun! But what the job also allowed me to do was travel around Atlanta, observe different projects, and learn different neighborhoods. While I didn’t grow up in Atlanta, after that summer, I felt like the city was my own. I drove through the neighborhoods, watched projects come to life, met people in the industry, and poured footings for the parking garages of apartment communities Cortland owns today.

Q: Talk about how Cortland has evolved since you joined.

A: When I joined, the company had around 1,600 units. We were a small group, assembling complex projects where we saw we could create value. The downturn of 2008 was difficult, but we made it through – and we came out of the recession with a keen survival instinct. We paired this new instinct with our goal to provide resident-focused living experiences at any price point. In 2010 and 2011, we worked primarily with heavily distressed real estate projects. These were heavy, tough renovations, and we oversaw them directly. Over the years, Cortland evolved from a merchant builder operation to an integrated investment, development, and management firm. Through leveraging the efficiencies and synergies of a vertically integrated business model, we’ve been able to reduce costs while maintaining a focus on the resident experience. Furthermore, we’ve been able to build a growing portfolio that gives our residents the ability to move around the market and ease their commutes. I think that serving the customer first and letting the capital and investors follow is what has ultimately allowed us to grow so much. I also believe that our early years as a development firm – being scrappy and having a boots-on-the-ground mentality – is what has allowed us to become the company we are today.

Q: Talk about how you use innovation to improve the resident living experience.

A: Pushing the industry status quo and thinking outside the boundaries of what’s always been done has been a key tenet of our philosophy as a company. One innovation born out of that mentality that we’re particularly proud of is Cortland’s mobile training unit. The training unit is a 60-foot truck that travels the country to Cortland properties—from Dallas to Columbus to Tampa—and gives associates the opportunity to train on site rather than traveling to regional offices or our headquarters in Atlanta. It also provides teams with first-hand experience working with all the various systems that you’d find on site, such as pool pumps, fire panels, HVAC units, and plumbing stations. They train on all the same connections, fittings, and couplings that we have in our communities. The mobile training unit helps Cortland set a standard for property management, specifically with respect to our service and commitment to elevating the living experience for our residents.

Q: Do any deals in particular stand out?

A: Cortland at the Battery Atlanta is a great example of how our portfolio has evolved. When I first heard about The Battery project in Cobb County, I was really excited for Atlanta. I couldn’t wait to see a neighborhood, which had been primarily built up in the 1970s and 1980s, transform into a lifestyle destination and world-class baseball stadium. Three years later, I heard about the opportunity to acquire the apartment community at The Battery Atlanta. We were in the process of updating our brand, and I realized that if we wanted to showcase our resident experience, we needed to seize the opportunity to operate a flagship property in our hometown. Cortland at the Battery Atlanta allows us to demonstrate our differentiators to our neighbors and community and gives the 4.5 million fans going to the games every year an opportunity to experience the Cortland brand.

Q: What drives you in your career and life?

A: Commercial real estate has taken me all over the globe – for investment projects, raising capital, and networking. I’ve had the opportunity to learn different cities, see new ways land is used for housing, and gain insights into the various aspects of apartment living in other cultures. Constantly traveling and meeting new people has really kept my eyes open and given me a bigger perspective. More broadly, I’m driven by adventure, whether through my travels for work or at my family’s home in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, where we run a hobby farm and a brewery. Finally, I’m driven by the chance to optimize opportunity and learn more every day, from supporting my teammates to finding new ways to deliver an exceptional resident experience.

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