Heitman promotes collaboration among employees working in multiple disciplines.

Best places to work: HEITMAN

Chicago | 295 employees | 5th (tie) among alternatives managers

Heitman, a real estate money manager that has experienced change many times since its start as an originator of mortgage loans, isn't afraid of transformation.

The firm thrives on it.

Most of 2013 has been spent in temporary offices while the headquarters is being remodeled to create a more open space to mirror the firm's working philosophy.

That philosophy is one that promotes collaboration among employees working in multiple disciplines.

And it has helped create a genuine affection for each other among employees. One employee responding to Pensions & Investments' Best Places to Work in Money Management survey, cited three reasons Heitman is a best place to work: “Collaborative environment, helpfulness of co-workers, positive atmosphere.” Another wrote “The people — their intelligence, kindness, optimism, support, exemplary conduct, strong moral ethics, to name a few things.”

The firm also strongly supports an environment that promotes staff to higher positions within specific groups as well as across disciplines.

Employees agree. One wrote: “It's possible to move up in the company and they promote that.”

The most visible example of that possibility is CEO Maury Tognarelli. He first joined the firm as a summer intern in 1981 while a student at Indiana University studying real estate finance, just one year after Heitman became a registered investment adviser.

He found the entrepreneurial spirit invigorating, along with the freedom to “tap into the creative and scientific and analytical side” of real estate management, he said.

“When I began my career, I would have worked for free. I really had fun,” he said.

That experience has stayed with him and helped foster the firm's philosophy.

“I needed to create an environment where people were here by choice,” Mr. Tognarelli said.

To maintain that atmosphere, senior management takes part in small group meetings every three weeks, made up of randomly selected employees chosen across individual teams.

Employees appreciate those meetings. One commented that “management, including executive management, is approachable,” while another commented, “upper management is accessible.”

“It's an opportunity for two-way communication ... to share insight with people,” said Lewis Ingall, senior managing director of marketing.

Company management also believe employees should live a healthier life and they back that up with free fresh fruit every day.

Mr. Tognarelli said the decision to provide seasonal fresh fruit to employees comes from his experience in the "70s and "80s when the primary foods provided were less-healthier options like chocolate and doughnuts.

That kind of perk, along with free coffee and summer hours, makes an impression on employees. Among employee comments provided on why Heitman is a best place to work was “the in-office perks (an array of fresh fruit everyday, a milk fridge, home-cooked lunches) make it an affordable and healthy environment on a daily basis.”