Business: Big Man at Campus

As the CEO of Campus Apartments, David Adelman helped transform West Philly. Now he’s helping college kids all across the country live the luxe life. Tanning bed, anyone?

Over the past five years, Adelman has increased Campus’s revenue by a whopping 585 percent, largely by expanding the company concept to 50-plus colleges around the country, including Emory, LSU, the University of Arizona and Purdue. Though he and Horwitz share the profits, Adelman is taking the business to a level the company founder never imagined. “At my age, you want to slow down, not go the other way,” says Horwitz. “I’m so proud of him, watching him. It’s like having a courtside seat at a basketball game.”

The nationwide portfolio means Adelman’s suitcase works overtime these days, typically hitting pavement outside the state at least twice a week, sometimes visiting three cities in one day, with wheels worn gray and zippers opposing closure. Today, entering the Northeast Philadelphia airport, Adelman has successfully stuffed 10 pounds of crap into a five-pound bag: work papers, binders and folders, a stack of written Valentine’s Day cards, a Louisiana State University baseball hat, a camera, yesterday’s Wall Street Journal and Inquirer. (His refusal to throw out unread newspapers allows him to play catch-up during travel and vacations.) Adelman’s a half-hour late for a flight to Baton Rouge — to check up on his LSU properties — but the pilot patiently waits, then loads the suitcase on board. Just one of the luxuries when you fly chartered.

Adelman has a penchant for the finer things; a Land Rover and an Escalade sit in his driveway. He craves Napa trips and hosts wine-tastings at home with his buds. But he pays that hefty charter flying fee ($2,500 per hour) so he can spend less time away from Hallee, his wife of eight years, and their two girls. “It’s funny,” he says, “because two or three years ago, I became Chairman’s Preferred with US Airways, and I said, ‘Wow, isn’t this great?’ My wife looked at me and goes, ‘You think that’s great?’”

On the charter’s six-seaters, his suitcase is always within arm’s reach.

Before takeoff, Adelman sends a congratulatory e-mail to the CEO of a competitor who just bought out another ­company that provides student housing. “We do compete in a few markets,” he says complacently, “but there’s 5,000 schools out there, you know?”

He stretches his legs, crossing them on the opposite leather seat. He rips off a few e-mails and phone calls while his BlackBerry still has reception.

“It’s easy just to buy things,” he says in the air, showing me his latest LSU property rendering, pulled from his suitcase. “But actually executing a plan, now that’s something else.” He describes the new apartment complex he’s building in Baton Rouge, with retail stores on the bottom level. He puts the rendering away. “I’m too young to screw anyone over. Some people in the business don’t want to listen to ­anybody — they think there’s nothing left to be learned. I listen to people.”

The word he hears now from kids and their parents is “luxury.” Today’s overprotective, coddling moms and dads are most particular about where Johnny and Susie live during their collegiate days, which has ultimately raised the bar for universities to rethink their decades-old dorms and housing units.

So where the trials of “college housing” used to be a rite of passage, these days, if Susie wants a tanning bed in her apartment complex, Susie will bronze with the best of them. Or so Adelman quickly learned from conducting focus groups about what students consider “necessities” nowadays. By giving them what they want (media rooms, computer labs, lounges, gyms, etc.), he makes his complexes that much more appealing than the next guy’s.