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After 60 Years Hamilton’s Still on Top

At The Hamilton Company's 60th anniversary celebration Saturday, chairman and CEO Harold Brown (New England's largest independent multifamily owner) revealed some of the secrets of his success: buy low, innovate, and hold long term; run a lean operation with low leverage; build a stable, collaborative team; and give back. (Notice he didn't say a word about the color of your tie. Brooks Brothers is lying to you.)

Not all smooth sailing; in the ‘90s, with $660M in liabilities, Harold (above with wife Maura) went through the largest personal bankruptcy in US history. A valuable learning experience, Hamilton “became a real company with more accountants than property managers,” he says. (More accountants is good for business, though it's not always helpful on the company softball team.) By the Great Recession, Hamilton was so well-positioned, its $129M purchase of Dexter Park in Brookline (409-units) was among the largest multifamily acquisitions of 2009. Now, with a $1.5B portfolio (5,500 apartments, 2.5M SF of commercial), Harold, 89, says the company isn't about him. It's about creating places for people to live and work, and about generating jobs.

It's also about the two affiliated charities. Harold's son Jameson (above) runs The Hamilton Company Charitable Foundation, which Harold founded with a $100M donation to support non-profits in Boston and surrounding communities, including Brookline (where Harold was born), and Allston where Hamilton still has its HQ and Harold made his first investment. In '54, he bought a six-unit building on Commonwealth Avenue that he and his father subdivided. The building's gross income jumped from $4,200/year to $30k/year; the apartments he bought for $4,000 each are now valued as high as $300k each.

Harold with corporate counsel Linda Vaccaro, head of accounting Ellie Chen, Hamilton prez Carl Valeri (sixth from left) and others who've been with the company for 20 years to 37 years. Among their innovations: the first pool in a Boston-area apartment building (it's crazy to think there was a time when that had never been done), the first hotel built in Brighton (Hamilton House), basement apartments marketed as garden apartments; adaptive re-use of industrial buildings into multifamily buildings; and continuously updated mobile apps for leasing apartments. 

Getting in on the downtown boom, Hamilton renovated the old office building at 8 Winter St into apartments. Last year, the company made$130M in acquisitions including Douglass Park for $52.5M, Andover Green for $62.5M and this year, a 20k SF retail building in Union Square, Somerville for $7.5M. The company has 130 employees (most quite young), an overall vacancy rate of about 2%, and enough cash flow to make it a buyer during the next downturn. "We're all teed up," says Carl.