David Olney ’82 wakes up each day thankful to be in the business he’s in, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken a heavy toll on so many industries.
The CEO of Berkshire Residential Investments – a role he’s held since November 2019, says that a combination of market forces, thoughtful planning, and a solid business model has rendered his company one of the lucky ones.
“We are fortunate to be in the multifamily rental sector,” he says. “Single-family housing is expensive and there’s a shortage of inventory. People – particularly millennials – are staying in apartments longer.” That’s fortuitous for organizations like Berkshire that own and manage large, multi-family residential properties – well-appointed apartment complexes designed for the middle- and upper-middle-class renter.
“Embrace what’s happened and learn from it”
After earning a Finance degree at Bryant, and an MBA at Babson, Olney spent a few years as a part-time real estate entrepreneur while in a management development program with a defense contractor. Having enjoyed his experience owning rental properties directly, he joined Berkshire in 1986 as Assistant Controller, and worked his way up through the organization, where he now manages the multiple challenges of running an organization of more than 800 people through a global pandemic.
“First,” he emphasizes, “when the pandemic shut down offices, we focused on taking care of our people and letting them focus on themselves and their families.” And he says that as Berkshire shifted to become a more virtual team, they gleaned some valuable insights.
“One thing I’ve learned from this crisis is that sometimes it can be a good thing to ‘blow things up a bit’ – stop everything you were doing and re-evaluate.” He adds that the switch to virtual forced Berkshire to invent new ways of doing things. By embracing the new-found flexibility, they discovered new possibilities for collaboration, talent recruitment, customer service and client acquisition he says.
The situation revealed other opportunities as well, he adds. Thanks to Berkshire being well capitalized, the company has been able to seize on new investment opportunities that materialized in late March and allowed them to grow their footprint.
Olney has been a leader in organizing Bryant’s ever-popular President’s Golf Cup Tournament, a key fundraising event held each summer. Though the pandemic quashed those plans this year, he says the organizers are now busy planning an even bigger, better event for next year.
In the meantime, as Chair of the planning committee, Olney has generously agreed to match, dollar for dollar, all Bryant Giving Day gifts (October 28) to the President’s Scholarship Fund, up to $20,000.
“Embrace what’s happened and learn from it,” is his advice for enduring these unprecedented times, adding that smart businesses – and smart fundraising events – “can come out of this even better than we were pre-pandemic.”