From housekeeper to the C-suite: A multifamily success story

When Joy Anzalone started working as a housekeeper in January of 1982 at a hotel in Willoughby, Ohio, she was at a low point in life. Mourning the recent death of her mother, newly married and broke, she took the job that paid $3.35 an hour at the Lakeland Inn, where her husband Tony started as a maintenance man a few months earlier.

Burton Carol Management LLC COO Joy Anzalone and CEO and President Rob Risman, who have worked together for 27 years, launched the company Jan. 1, 2010.

The hotel that was managed by Consolidated Management, Inc., (CMI) asked Tony to move in to provide security on the weekends and the couple was happy to leave the apartment where they were behind on the rent.

Today Anzalone is chief operating officer of Burton Carol Management, LLC, successor company to CMI, and works in tandem with CEO and President Rob G. Risman, son of CMI founder William B. Risman, whom she first met while picking up trash in a muddy gully.

The Lakeland Inn, located adjacent to an interstate highway, had frontage that was the responsibility of the Ohio Department of Transportation, which hadn’t cleaned it in months. Filled with glass, cans, food wrappers and other debris, it was a curb appeal nightmare, Anzalone recalled.

“The general manager asked for a volunteer to climb down in the gully with gloves and a garbage bag to clean it up. It looked like six hours of work, so I volunteered. I was getting 12 hours of work a week, due to a slow period, so cleaning the gully would be a good day’s work,” said Anzalone, who had earned a journalism degree at Kent State University, but put everything on hold to help at home when her mother became ill.

She was down in the ditch, when a big black Cadillac pulled up and the driver, whom she recognized as hotel owner William Risman, got out of the car and climbed down into the gully to thank her for cleaning up his property.

“When he shook my hand and thanked me for cleaning the gully, you would have thought someone gave me a thousand dollars. I smiled from the inside out,” she said.

Not only did he make her feel like a million dollars, but it cost him only $5 to clean the gully, because it took her just an hour and a half to do the job, buoyed by the happy energy she was feeling.

“I thought to myself that this was the smartest man in the world and if ever given the opportunity to make someone feel that special, I would remember to do that,” she said. It was a promise she was to fulfill over and over during the coming decades.

He became her mentor as she worked her way up in the business. She was promoted to her first managerial position as head housekeeper at the Lakeland Inn in 1983 and was also handling sales and marketing because anyone who had the gumption and wherewithal to take on new responsibilities was encouraged to do so.

“If there was something that needed to be done, I’d say, ‘I can do that,’ and Bill would always let me,” she said, explaining her rapid advancement in the company.

Anzalone was promoted to general manager of The Royal Inn, a failing hotel in Independence, Ohio, in 1984 and became general manager of the Lakeland Inn in 1985. During this time Tony was promoted to an apartment property manager with the company. In 1987, Anzalone became head of the hotel division, adding one hotel in Toledo and two in Detroit to her responsibilities.

In 1988, CMI began building hotels outside of Ohio and the hotel division that included five hotels when she took it over grew to more than a dozen over the course of the next two or three years, during which time Rob Risman joined his father in the business, taking over as Anzalone’s direct supervisor in 1989.

In 1990, the job of director of management of Ohio apartment properties was added to Anzalone’s role as director of hotels and, for the next five years, Risman and Anzalone worked together to turn CMI into an industry standard-setter in its apartment markets in Florida, Michigan and Ohio, where company owned and managed more than 14,000 apartment units.

They also began working on a plan to create a successor company in anticipation of the inevitable breakup of the 50-year-old CMI, for which the two sides of the Risman family had different visions of the future.

“Rob’s uncle’s side of the family didn’t have a next-generation in the business and eventually they wanted to cash out. William Risman’s side of the family had Rob,” said Anzalone, adding that he was the only next-generation Risman taking an active role in the business.

He became president of the company in 1995 and Anzalone assumed the role of chief operating officer in charge of day-to-day operations across its three markets, including apartments, hotels and commercial properties, and the duo continued to set the stage for the inevitable company split.

“The families eventually decided to jointly sell more than half of the properties, including all of the hotels, so one side could buy out the other and the apartment properties that remained would become the foundation for Burton Carol Management, LLC.

“We ended CMI Inc. at the end of 2009 and began Burton Carol Management, LLC on January 1, 2010. We were smaller, but poised for growth,” Anzalone recalled. “There wasn’t even a question in Rob’s or my mind, that if we were going to do this, we’d be doing it together,” she said of the partnership. “Together we are unstoppable.”

When they launched Burton Carol Management, LLC in 2010, the company owned and managed 17 properties. They have added one or two properties a year to the portfolio that today includes around 6,000 units in 26 multifamily communities, a strip center and three office buildings, one in each state in which the company’s division headquarters are located.

This year the company that is named in honor of Risman’s father, William Burton Risman, who is 91 years old and serves as chairman emeritus, and his mother, Marion Carol Risman, bought a 390-unit property in Trinity, Florida, and is currently under contract on another in Cleveland, Ohio that will close in November.

“We acquire properties using our own funds and without partners, which makes winning deals challenging in today’s buying climate where everyone is using other people’s money with a short-term hold strategy. We buy for the future as Rob has two small children and we see this as building their future along with the futures of our dedicated associates. Our reputation with brokers is that we do our homework, never re-trade a deal, keep our word 100 percent of the time, and close as promised,” Anzalone said.

“Our plans for the future are that we don’t have to be the biggest. We just want everything to be quality, from our people to our properties to our reputation.”

One of the most rewarding aspects of her long tenure with the company is working with the Burton Carol team, many of whom came up through the ranks just like she did and have been employed by the firm for many years.

John Petryshin, vice president and director of property operations in Ohio, joined CMI in 1985 as an HVAC technician and has said that he could not have grown to his current position without Anzalone’s mentoring and continued input and guidance.

Joseph W. Kincaid, VP and director of property operations in Michigan since 1991, began his career with CMI in 1986 as a groundskeeper and moved up in the company to a position in maintenance, followed by leasing and regional management.

Marcia Hayward, VP and director of property operations in Florida, joined the firm in 1984 as a desk clerk at the Lakeland Inn and worked with Anzalone in Cleveland until moving to Florida in 1993 to take over the company’s apartment division there.

Anzalone’s husband Tony has moved up through the years from the maintenance man job he started some 35 years ago to property management for the apartment division and then to quality assurance. He also is the field IT support person for Burton Carol’s assets, assisting the corporate IT person.

“We are all like family here,” she said of the company culture, adding that working side-by-side with Risman for the past 27 years has been tremendously rewarding.

“Rob Risman is a gift from God and like a brother to me in every way,” she said, citing their opposite strengths as a key element of their long and successful partnership. He chooses to be a behind-the-scenes kind of leader, while Anzalone, who often is asked to do motivational speaking both locally and nationally, is happy to put a public face on the company.

“I am a firm believer that you do not have to graduate summa cum laude to get ahead. Anyone with the right attitude and smarts can move up in the right organization. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone,” she said.