Building His Kingdom: Oklahoma Apartment Magnate Mike Case Keeps His Eye on the Cube

By Davis, KirLee | THE JOURNAL RECORD, March 29, 2013 | Go to article overview

Building His Kingdom: Oklahoma Apartment Magnate Mike Case Keeps His Eye on the Cube


Davis, KirLee, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Mention the name Mike Case to an Oklahoma executive and his or her mind often turns to the large, perfectly balanced red cube in front of each Case and Associates apartment complex.

Some 25,000 multifamily units scattered across Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas help ingrain that image in commercial real estate minds, aided by identical cubes gracing some 1.6 million square feet of office, retail and industrial space.

"He's like the god of apartments in Tulsa," said First Commercial Real Estate Services Executive Vice President Melanie Richardson. "Because he's always had such a large portion of our market, he's been able to dictate rents in the market. He always weathers a little better than everybody else."

Grubb and Ellis Levy/Beffort Senior Associate Gary Krisman pinned that success on Case's honesty, framed by hands-on experience in all facets of commercial property operations.

"He is probably one of the best there is as far as the entire spectrum of management, from the training of on-site people to just services for the tenant," said Mike Buhl, founder of the Norman- based multifamily brokerage Commercial Realty Resources Co.

"From that point develops the ability to expand portfolios, to acquire and build," said Buhl. "When you manage properties effectively, it just really enables you to grow your business."

With another 5,000 apartment units in various construction stages, the 30-year-old Tulsa firm could soon crack the nation's 50 largest multifamily operator lists - meeting a personal goal of new President Scott Case, Mike's youngest son.

But at age 63, the elder Case has no plans to slow down. As chairman of the board and the major stockholder in a portfolio of 125 different properties, Mike Case sees more growth opportunities ahead.

"I just don't want to be involved as much in the minutia, in every detail of it," he said.

He earned that right the hard way. At the age of 19, fresh out of high school, the newly married Mike Case started work for a young Tulsa homebuilder named Roger Hardesty.

"That's where my story begins," said Case, noting Hardesty's experiments in building small apartment blocks. "He hired me to look after those."

So Case started developing his own handbook knowledge on apartment maintenance, from painting the walls to cleaning the pools.

"It wasn't like he hired me to be his VP or president," said Case. "I was doing pretty much grunt work. In those days you just had a 16-unit apartment deal or a 40-unit, so you just kind of ran it all. One person did it all."

As Case succeeded at handling the day-to-day multifamily headaches, Hardesty introduced him to shopping center and office building operations. Hardesty also expanded his multifamily portfolio, building some 20,000 units through the 1970s and '80s.

Like Krisman, CB Richard Ellis of Oklahoma brokers David and William Forrest credited that 15-year working relationship with teaching Case the apartment business. Case acknowledged Hardesty's mentorship role, although he said several of that developer's noted corporate expansions came after Case departed.

"No offense to Roger, but I think Mike probably learned most of it on his own, just by doing it," said Aaron Hargrove, a partner in Hendricks-Berkadia Apartment Real Estate Advisors and director of its National Affordable Housing Group.

"He's about as good as it gets, really," said Hargrove. "You meet guys in my industry that are successful. He's one that has earned and deserves the success that he has. You like to see that."

No bad marks

Case pegged Hardesty's apartment construction as his launching point.

"That's what made it so great for me," said Case. "I was involved in site selection and working with lenders. I made a lot of connections. That's what gave me the confidence in 1983 to go out on my own."

It proved one of Oklahoma's worst periods for business startups. Not only did the nation's banking industry still reel from 1982's Penn Square Bank failure, but years of volatile, plunging oil prices would ransack the state's energy, agriculture and real estate sectors through the rest of the decade, to be followed by a wave of savings and loan collapses. …

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