Some of Ali Rich’s earliest memories as a kid were answering rental calls, a preface of what her adult life would be. Her dad, Craig Wagoner, and grandfather, Ed Wagoner, started Brentwood Management as a side gig in 1976. They purchased and remodeled one home every year to rent out. Ten years later, Craig Wagoner decided to make the hobby his full-time job, and, after Rich graduated college with an accounting degree, she joined the family business, too.
Today, the property management company offers a range of properties including apartment complexes, downtown lofts, student housing and even townhouses. The company manages 550 units and has catered to the housing needs of 417-landers for 32 years with the help of 10 employees.
Had someone told Wagoner in the 1970s what his business would grow to, he would have been in disbelief. As a former accountant, Wagoner started buying and renting out single-family homes as a means for extra income and a safety net for retirement. Wagoner never thought it would turn into a full-time job, but after he quit his day job, he decided to grow the endeavor.
As a child, Rich was constantly along for the ride. She answered client calls and visited properties with her father. Even though Rich was involved at an early age, Wagoner didn’t want to force the business on her and never would have dreamed she would eventually take it over. “I never wanted to force her into it,” he says. “She went to school for something else. I just never thought this is something she’ll do.”
But after Rich’s first job after college didn’t work out, she decided to work for her dad as an accountant and has been with the company full-time for 11 years. Working as an accountant and leasing agent, Rich feels she got the lucky end of the deal. “I don’t have the creative mind like my dad has or my grandpa had where I can design stuff, but I have an accounting degree, so I can do the financial side of stuff as well as lease properties,” Rich says. “I feel like I get the best of both worlds where I get to do my number nerdy stuff and also get to get out and deal with the people a little bit, too.”
Although Rich is settled in her role, Wagoner has already started preparing and training Rich for how to run the business on her own. Within the next five years, he plans to take himself out of the equation, or at least as much as possible. “It won’t happen overnight,” he says. “Maybe I’ll never really be completely out of it, but gradually I want to start getting out of it.”
Before that happens, Rich and Wagoner must work together to ensure Brentwood Management’s success and reputation don’t falter. Wagoner says a little bit of training and learning every day is what will make a difference in the long run.
As the training increases, the pressure is on, and sometimes work feels like it’s never-ending. Rich says that operating a business with family can make it difficult to separate work from home life and that sometimes the amount of time spent focusing on work can feel overwhelming. “I think the biggest thing is when you’re working for a family business, you’re never really off work,” she says. “You don’t get to just leave it at five o’clock.”
Although the load can feel like a burden at times, Wagoner points out that the next generation has to love what they do as they take over the business. The biggest advice Wagoner offers to other parents in similar business situations is to leave the pressure off. “I think the kid is going to do what they want to do, and, even if they are involved in the business early, you still have to let your kids decide what they want to do,” he says.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled the names of Craig and Ed Wagoner. We regret these errors.