Mandel Group Announces New Leadership

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Posted on December 3rd, 2021

Barry Mandel and Bob Monnat, longtime heads of major Milwaukee developer Mandel Group Inc., are making room for executives Ian Martin and Phillip Aiello to become the next generation of company leadership.

Martin is taking over Mandel’s title as president, and Aiello assumes Monnat’s mantle as chief operating officer. Those changes cement the second generation of top leaders for Mandel Group, one of Milwaukee’s largest and most well-regarded developers with more than $1 billion in holdings, including 5,600 housing units.

“I’ve told both of them and I don’t expect them to be me, nor do I want them to be me,” Mandel said. “I want them to be themselves because, quite frankly, I think they are much better than I ever could be. I really do believe that Mandel Group’s future will eclipse our past success.”

Mandel will remain involved in the firm as its CEO and chairman, newly created positions. Monnat becomes senior partner, as does chief investment officer Dave Pavela.

Aiello and Martin have been vice presidents of development in Mandel Group, overseeing several of the company’s projects. Martin has been with the firm five years, and Aiello for 18 years.

Aiello was a leader on the 36-story University Club Tower in downtown Milwaukee and the North End in downtown Milwaukee, for example. Martin was a key player on The West redevelopment on National Avenue in West Allis and the Velo Village apartments at Ballpark Commons in Franklin, for example.

“I may be paraphrasing a little bit, but Barry once said, ‘I’d rather have my reputation than more money,’ or something like that,” Martin said. “Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but that’s always been very good advice. Mandel Group will only go as far as our reputation carries us.”

Mandel Group’s strategy going forward will remain largely the same. The most significant new strategy is considering development outside of the state of Wisconsin. Mandel Group has acquired properties across five states, but its actual new construction work thus far has been in southeast Wisconsin. 

As opportunities arise outside of Wisconsin, Mandel Group will consider them, Martin said. It is pursuing a project in the Madison area now, which would expand the company’s geographic horizons.

“I do think where we see opportunities in markets outside of southeast Wisconsin, we will in reasonable fashion pursue those opportunities,” Martin said. “We have $500 million in our pipeline right now, all in southeast Wisconsin. That’s a fair bit of work on our plate that is all important work to do, so there’s no pressure for us to pull resources and attention away from that.”

Mandel’s current list of projects includes new apartments at Pabst Farms in Oconomowoc, building restoration and new housing construction at the School Sisters of Notre Dame’s 30-acre Elm Grove campus, and an estimated $150 million mixed-use redevelopment in Milwaukee’s Harbor District.

“Every development deal we do I would say has a high barrier of entry of some kind of another, and that’s always going to be the case,” Martin said.

On the operations side, Mandel Group a year ago adopted a new property management system that provides more data to help manage operations, Aiello said. That data includes tracking rent delinquency trends caused by Covid-19, or the resources Mandel is putting into leases with tenants from different geographic areas, for example. 

While Thursday’s announcement signals the future management of the company, Mandel and other executives also stressed efforts to maintain continuity. Jason Babcock, who has overseen purchases of new properties, is being promoted to senior vice president of acquisitions and dispositions. Angie Achenbach, hired in 2018, remains chief financial officer. Don Lindeman remains president of Mandel Group’s property management company, and Sherry Meyers Thompson remains controller. 

This new management arrangement is more than three years in the making, Mandel said. The firm analyzed strengths and weaknesses of the individuals and how they fit into the broader team, consulted with its advisory board, and hired an industrial psychologist specializing in human behavior in the workplace.

Mandel, who founded the real estate firm in 1991, said he doesn’t intend to take more time off from the company than he has recently.

“It’s never been work for me; it really just has been part of my life,” he said. “I intend my life will be pretty much similar to the way it’s been over the last two decades at least.”

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