Michael Uccellini on the Value of Choices

For The United Group of Companies, Inc., the strength of its housing offerings go beyond design and amenities for a better quality of life

Portrait: Michael Uccellini

Most company presidents and/or CEOs find it difficult to describe a typical work pattern. “No two days are the same” is a common refrain. For Michael J. Uccellini, president of The United Group of Companies, Inc. (UGOC), it’s not a refrain. It’s the company’s very definition.

UGOC is a full-service real estate business involved in construction, development, financing, and management. Everything that happens within UGOC is the ripple effect of an ever-changing landscape, with Uccellini—a from-the-ground-up developer at heart—needing to identify the best products to develop, and the best markets in which to operate. Every success in that realm makes the financing and execution that much easier to achieve.

“It’s the matters of continuing to grow the company, develop it, and find and hire the right people that are a regular challenge,” Uccellini says. “Financial capital and human capital are critical to any company. You have to have great people.”

Michael’s father, Walter F. Uccellini, founded UGOC in 1972, and Michael became CEO in 2006 after presiding over both the management and development divisions of the company for several years apiece. He actually spent a number of years as a stockbroker before initially joining UGOC at his father’s request in 1991. Nowadays, with $2 billion worth of developments in the company portfolio and more than 200 people on staff, Uccellini stays on top of the hiring when it comes to those with whom he’ll work directly. He says organized, outgoing, tenacious people who have analytical capabilities always get his attention.

College Suites at Washington Square development in Schenectady, NY

“I look for competitive people who want to win,” Uccellini says of his hiring process. “I can teach people the nuts and bolts of managing property, or developing property, that kind of thing. What I can’t teach is when you have to think outside the box, to make that decision in the gray, or have to come up with an idea or solution that’s not necessarily right there front and center. We’re looking for the problem solvers.”

A UGOC creation known as the SUN Program is a testament to that outside-the-box thinking. The program has been in place since the late 1990s, and it’s an array of services Uccellini calls “a seven-part lifestyle program, exemplifying the powers of education and lifelong learning” for residents in all of UGOC’s senior living communities. He sees it as a large part of the preferred alternative that the company provides to seniors in southern Florida, Georgia, and New York alike, noting that most communities are decidedly limited in terms of options, amenities, and services.

Seniors interested in what UGOC has to offer can choose from an ever-increasing number of communities. One of the newest openings, the independent-living Sandalwood Village, can be found in Naples along the Tiburon Golf Course. Residents of its 163 apartments—which offer state-of-the-art kitchen appliances and a screened balcony, among other amenities—also have access to covered parking, a salon, an outdoor pool and spa, and a clubhouse containing dining and recreational facilities.

“The idea is to bring the community to the seniors, but they only pay for what they want to use,” Uccellini says. “It’s true independent living.”

Sandalwood Village senior housing community in Naples, FL

At the other end of the spectrum is housing for college students, and UGOC’s portfolio has several offerings of that nature as well. One of its proudest examples is City Station, a series of student apartments skimming the edges of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Whether it’s fully-furnished student housing that features retail services on the ground floor, or the amenity-rich apartments designed with married students in mind, UGOC always is mindful to create a community for its residents, rather than simply shelter.

To that end there is also the “Live. Learn. Relax.” program, which is similar to the SUN Program, but tailored to the college audience. Cultural events, personal development seminars, and game nights of various themes all play a part in a given community’s program—as do the most common majors at that particular school.

“We try and create synergy between what we have in our community and what the university is doing for those majors,” Uccellini says. “In this field, you get to make a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis, and that’s very rewarding to me.”

FOLLOW THE SUN

The SUN (Senior Umbrella Network) Program, a brainchild of UGOC CEO Michael Uccellini, is composed of seven different tenets or “prongs”:

Health & Wellness: Visiting doctors, health screenings, and fitness classes

Finance, Legal & Administrative: Meeting with financial planners, assistance with legal affairs, and estate planning

Education & Lifelong Learning: Guest speakers courtesy of partnerships with universities and colleges, on-line learning, and cultural outings

Fun & Recreation: Wine tastings, cooking classes, and movie showings

Convenience & Economies: Group discount information and local resource information

Communities & Friendship: Meet-and-greets, block parties, and special interest clubs

Safety & Security: Identity-theft seminars, fraud/scam protection, and AARP safe driving classes

“People want choices,” Uccellini says of the SUN Program. “So what’s happening with CCRCs (Continued Care Retirement Communities) in Florida is they’re getting a much older senior—in their 80s—whereas we’re getting people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.”