Joe Alexander (30), the new president of the Alexander Company, said he’s worked for the company for 25 years. Most would question his math, but being the son of Randy Alexander, one of the area’s most prolific real estate developers, son Joe admits he started early.
From the time he hit his head falling off a pile of shingles when he was just three years old, he seemed destined to be in the business his father created.
“The entire family was ingrained in the business,” he said. In fact, when young Alexander was just 14 years old, his family had to get a special work permit from the state to allow him to work as a bike courier for the firm. From there, he became an apartment leasing agent, then managed some apartments and even handled public relations for a time.
The business first started when the family remodeled their own Madison two-flat, he said. Later, they moved on to historic preservation. Alexander remembers a family car trip down South in search of antiques to decorate what would become the Mansion Hill Inn, a project they were renovating at the time.
Years later, while attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Alexander found his political voice. He served on a board governing AmeriCorps and also served on the Board of Regents. At the age of 19, he ran for Dane County board “and got walloped,” he laughed.
After graduating with a BA in History and Political Science, friend and Board of Regents colleague Ed Sontag invited Alexander to Washington, D.C. to work with him at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under former Governor Tommy Thompson’s leadership.
Serving as special assistant to Sontag, Alexander was charged with finding efficiencies at HHS facilities, including the grants and human resources departments. He and his office partner kept a keen eye on the operations and together, Alexander said, they nixed between $50-$75 million in wasteful spending, including kiboshing a $5 million helix-shaped staircase planned for the National Institutes on Health.
“We were like the Bobs from Office Space,” he quipped, “and they didn’t need a $5 million staircase!”
Alexander later returned to Madison and earned his law degree, but admits, “I’m happy to not be a lawyer. Like my dad, I’m a little restless and have a short attention span. I wouldn’t have done well with all the books and paperwork.
“I believe in the diversity of experience,” he added. “I spent lots of time in school, but you just can’t replace personal experience.
“All of this has taught me important lessons about management, operating strategically, community relations and government relations,” he said, adding that he maintains good relations with public officials he’s met along the way. After all, much of what the company does involves public and private partnerships.
In 2006, Alexander returned to the company in the role of VP, and in December was named president when his father moved up to CEO. He is excited about the opportunity and the company which, according to him, regularly has about $300 million of work in progress.
These days, the Alexander Company markets itself as a “master developer,” taking on large, multi-phase projects that others might pass up. “We’re not a green field developer,” he said. “We don’t mow down farmland to do our work. We don’t rip down trees and then name streets after them.” Instead, the company develops unusual projects, renovates, preserves, and creates density — ÃÂ¡ la Capitol West — and has done so in 10 states thus far. “Status quo is generally something I dislike,” he said.
Sounds like a chip off the old block.