Tim Peterson

Sowing the seeds of success

The Altman Companies CIO Tim Peterson (BSAc ’85, MBA ’87) has focused his real estate career on building relationships that have helped grow his businesses and what would develop into the Kelley A. Bergstrom Real Estate Center.

Tim Peterson (BSAc ’85, MBA ‘87) was always in a rush to get through school, but not because he didn’t like it. He couldn’t wait to learn more.

Peterson skipped the third grade and did his senior year of high school and freshman year of college at the same time. Because of that, he transferred to UF as a sophomore.

By the time he completed his bachelor’s degree in accounting in three years, Peterson was ready to move into a master’s degree, which he would need in order to sit for the CPA exam. At the time he graduated from the MBA program with a focus on finance, he was just 21 years old, among the youngest graduates of the program at the time.

For Peterson, the MBA wasn’t just a requirement needed to earn his CPA license but also his steppingstone into the future.

“After I finished my degree in accounting, I came to see it as a study of history. [Accounting] is what you end up with after everything is done and decided,” he explained. “I saw that finance was about modeling where things were going to go. Accounting set the groundwork to understanding finance and projecting the future.”

With skills to interpret business past and future, Peterson headed into his first role in real estate tax practice at Price Waterhouse in Atlanta, where Warrington alumnus Bob Anderson (BSAc ’64) was leading the team.

“Bob took a personal interest in recruiting me as a Gator,” Peterson recalled. “I felt like if you have the partner in charge of the group taking an interest in you, that’s probably a good place to be.”

After some time in public accounting, Peterson ended up joining one of his client firms, Post Properties as a financial analyst. A real estate recession was beginning at the time he started at Post in 1989, though, reducing the department of four to just one – Peterson.

Despite industry-wide challenges in his early years with Post, Peterson’s luck changed when the company decided to go public in 1992.

“I was the only degreed accountant and one of two people out of 500 that had an advanced degree, so I was put in charge of converting all of our financial records from a cash-basis to GAAP,” he said. “We had 42 separate entities, we consolidated them all and prepared all of the public documents.”

Peterson’s efforts would ultimately lead Post to the most successful real estate investment trust (REIT) IPO at the time, which created a vacuum for his career growth. At just 27 years old, Peterson became Senior Vice President at Post.

After 10 years with Post, Peterson was recruited to another public REIT, Pennsylvania-based Keystone, which specialized in the office and industrial sectors. Within his 5 years as CFO, Peterson took the company from around $175 million in total capitalization to $1 billion.

Peterson’s success at Post and Keystone led to his involvement in another public company, Preferred Apartment Homes. Peterson joined the board of directors at the company’s IPO and over the next 11 years, helped grow the company to a $5 billion valuation. Preferred Apartment Homes was later sold to Blackstone in a transaction that resulted in an annualized return for shareholders that was 700 basis points higher than the NAREIT average over the time they were public.   

While Peterson had close to two decades of success with public companies under his belt, the 2002 passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act amped up the pressure on public company CFOs and made him strongly consider an offer from Joel Altman of The Altman Companies to join as a partner on the finance side of the business. The Florida-based private company that focused on apartments had all the attributes Peterson was looking for in his next role.

In his more than 20 years with The Altman Companies since, Peterson has served in three C-suite roles, CFO, COO and his current role, CIO. While Peterson’s wealth of accounting and finance insight have undoubtably contributed to his career growth, he sees his 35 years of building personal relationships and industry experience as his most valuable assets.

“The relationships I’ve built have allowed me to have a pulse on things that are coming,” he said. “It’s like that Wayne Gretzky quote, ‘Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ I spend a lot of time outside of Altman to position us to where the puck is going to be.”

Looking to the real estate puck’s next spot, Peterson is helping Altman explore two new products that he believes will move the company into its next chapter and are central to its mission of delivering an exceptional living experience for residents. The first focuses on apartment housing for people in workforce roles like teachers or firefighters.

“For some properties, the focus is on amazing amenities, like virtual reality rooms, golf simulators and huge pools, but the cost of extravagant amenities pushes up rents into an unachievable amount,” Peterson explained. “But it’s just as important to provide spaces for people in the workforce where rent is more attainable.”

The second focus is on rental single-family homes, which is a growing new real estate class also aimed at creating more affordable living-spaces.

“This is a way to fill the gap on affordable homes as prices in Florida and other states get further out of reach,” Peterson said. “[With both initiatives,] we’re looking to how we can bring our institutional knowledge and quality service to residents and impact two populations that are underserved.”

While new projects change with industry fluctuations, the constant that Peterson sees in his work is maintaining the far-reaching relationships he’s developed over three decades with his peers and business partners. In fact, Peterson’s reputation as a partner always ready to lend a hand spurred a nickname from past associates – the farmer.

“I was told, ‘You’re always out there spreading seeds, helping someone with something, then when you come back, there’s huge trees that have grown that you planted years earlier,’” Peterson recalled. “My advice [to young professionals] is to keep planting seeds. Keep helping people, creating relationships and investing in your relationships.”

Peterson’s penchant for growing relationships played a critical role in creating what would become the University of Florida’s Kelley A. Bergstrom Real Estate Center. In 1998, Peterson was part of a group of 10 people assembled with the common goal of setting the structure for a world-class center that would bring together real estate researchers, academics, students and industry leaders. He recalls the meeting of the minds at what was then called the Orange and Blue Bar at the UF Hilton.

“It’s so wonderful to see what the center has become today,” Peterson said. “The 450-plus people who attend the Trends Conference, advisory board of more than 100 people, real estate research publication Due Diligence, prominence and ranking of the academic program, and top-notch students. I have been blessed to have been there from the meager roots and see the center’s rise to prominence.”