Alex O'Brien

CEO
Cardinal Group Companies

Location: Denver
Founded: 2008
Industry: Real Estate

Alex O’Brien is obsessed — his word — with how culture will impact the future of work, and his company’s aim is to be no less than “the best place to work, in any industry, for anyone.” The CEO of Cardinal Group Companies is doing everything he can to make good on that mission.

Cardinal Group Companies, founded in 2008, is a real estate management, investment, construction, consulting and marketing firm focused on multifamily and student housing throughout the country.

O’Brien co-founded Cardinal with Jason Luker, Eric Frank and Del de Windt in 2008, starting with the purchase and management of one home in California. Today, Cardinal manages more than 40,000 units across 38 states, employing over 2,000 team members representing more than $8 billion in value and is the third-largest student housing operator in the country. In addition to the management portfolio, Cardinal Group Investments currently owns over 4,500 units.

Since the company’s inception, O’Brien served as president and chief operating officer before taking over as CEO in 2020.

“He has been a key driver behind the tremendous growth of Cardinal, leading the company from approximately 13,000 units to 40,000 units under management across the country in the last three years alone,” his staff said. “Along with driving the organization to achieve 3x growth, he was also integral in launching multiple new award winning businesses that add value to the industry’s ecosystem.”

Cardinal is clearly focused on more than just the bottom line. It hosts a summer program where team members can apply for a week of growth, learning and personal development hosted at the company headquarters, where O’Brien spends time each summer fostering personal and professional growth with these team members. O’Brien also makes diversity, equity and inclusion a key component of the company culture. Cardinal ranks in the top 1% of real estate companies for DEI on Glassdoor.

O’Brien’s leadership style is tied to his background as a Marine Corps officer. In that role, he learned the value of caring for others and how it built trust. “In a high-stakes business with a lot at risk, I learned that a person will follow you to the ends of the earth and back if they believe you care about them,” he said.

O’Brien is involved in numerous community and charitable efforts and is a founding member of the Colorado Inclusive Economy. CIE is a consortium of business leaders and CEOs focused on driving the development of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in their organizations and the business community in Colorado at large.

“Alex continues to implement new initiatives to help Cardinal continue to grow while also maintaining the core values set by himself and his fellow founders many years ago,” his staff said.

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"In a high-stakes business with a lot at risk, I learned that a person will follow you to the ends of the earth and back if they believe you care about them."

Alex says: