BY DIANE SEARS
Adam Wonus met his business partner by chance. His wife, Monica, was at a charity event and an-other attendee, Michael Krause, requested a song she knew was popular with people from Ohio, where Wonus attended college. She told Krause, “You’re going to love my husband.” But most of his career has been about intention, whether it was learning how to write big deals as a business banker with Wells Fargo, or buying his first business, a Kennedy’s All-American Barber Club franchise in Winter Park, or seeking the advice of people who have become his longtime mentors.
Today Wonus and Krause operate Atrium Management Company, which has managed single-family and multifamily properties for about 20 years. Since purchasing the firm in 2014, the partners have grown it from a couple hundred homes to more than 3,000. Atrium has been nationally recognized as an Inc. 5000 fastest-grow-ing company and fastest growing real estate firm.
“Our big goal is to get to 24,000 units in 10 years, and that’s what we rally behind as a company,” Wonus said. “It’s been exciting. The fun part is we’re just getting started. We’ve felt like these first seven years have been about getting us set up to be able to really make an impact.
“It’s funny how your business goes through different phases. When you’re starting out, every-thing is about ‘How fast can we grow?’ and now we’re just trying to add fantastic people to our company. When we first started, there were only three of us, so every movement you made affect-ed the company pretty dramatically, but every-body had to be moving at 100 miles an hour. Now we have 50 people at the company, and as a leader I’m focused on how to keep everyone moving in the right direction.”
“I’ve always been a dreamer. I’ve always loved what the world has to offer, the opportunities. As you get a little older, you get jaded sometimes, so you bring these young professionals into the company and their energy pushes you. I’ve really enjoyed that. It’s been a fun ride so far.”
Wonus seems to be in constant motion, travel-ing to scout out new properties for investments. He has a special affinity for the Milk District, a trendy Orlando neighborhood where he used to live near the historic T.G. Lee milk plant at Bumby Avenue and Robinson Street, so Atrium has purchased property to move its headquarters there from Lake Mary.
Plans call for redesigning the building, which has housed the local offices of global engineering firm NV5, to fit in with the district, incorporating milk stacks into the architecture’s façade. Atrium also wants to construct a 27-unit apartment building next-door with live-work units at the front to promote small businesses in the neighborhood.
In the meantime, the company is working with the City of Eustis in Lake County on a redevelopment project to create an urban core on three blocks along Lake Eustis with 75 apartments along with retail and restaurant space. Atrium has also expanded operations into Gainesville and Tampa, and it’s looking to move into Jacksonville.
One of Atrium’s main objectives, Wonus said, is to groom young people for successful careers. Some of the company’s superstar employees formerly worked as interns there from schools including Rollins College, the University of Central Florida and the University of Michigan.
“Property management isn’t the most fun business in the world, but it provides a ton of opportunity for our staff to become really great professionals, to grow a real estate portfolio,” Wonus said. “We have a class we offer to our staff on in-vesting. We read books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and we take a chapter every other week and talk about what that means to your life.
Giving young people their start is important to Wonus because he has been where they are. When he was starting, he reached out to some people for help, and they have remained mentors to this day. Those include Craig Ustler, president of Ustler Development, best known for development projects in Thornton Park and Orlando’s Creative Village, and Eric Holm, whose firm owns multiple Golden Corral restaurants throughout the Southeast, who is known for years of donating and serving thousands of free Thanksgiving meals at the Salvation Army in Orlando.
“It was great to get start getting advice at 22 years old from people like Craig and Eric,” Wonus said. “My biggest piece of advice is that who you align yourself with is so important. I’m just lucky that people I’ve looked up to this whole time have tak-en the time to help me grow.
“I’ve learned you can go really far in this world if you continue to partner and align yourself with the right people. The people who are doing a great job want to help you be successful. They’ll take time out of their day to give you the right type of advice. I find that the more successful people are, the more willing they are to help when they see that you’ve put in the effort and that you’re trying to do something to get to their level.”