Dan Fulton is president and CEO of Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Co. (WRECO), a wholly-owned subsidiary of timber giant Weyerhaeuser. In 2005, the company closed more than 5,600 homes and was among the nation's 20 largest home builders. In what Fulton calls “measured” growth, this year, WRECO purchased Arizona-based Maracay Homes. Fulton has a master's degree in business from the University of Washington. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Mareth, and 18-year-old son, James. The couple also has an older son and daughter. Fulton spoke with BIG BUILDER in August.
BB: On your faith in the long-term outlook for housing, what's the foundation for the optimism?
DF: Every single long-term demographic projection that I looked at over the last five years is very positive on the next 10 years to 20 years and you can go market by market. You can track what's happening with the baby boom cohort–the children of the baby boomers–shifts in geographic preferences, and the impact of immigration, which is very significant. That is where my optimism comes from.
DF: We have a little bit different strategy than some of the other public builders in that we hold, in general, a little bit longer land position. That's been good to us. In markets that have some restraints on growth, [it] creates a competitive edge for us. We think we've got opportunities to grow share in each of the markets that we operate in, and we see opportunities to participate in markets [where] we are not active today. We're going to be careful, but we see a slowdown as being an opportunity to grow rather than as a negative.
BB: Do falling sales require a whole new approach to selling?
DF: The selling process is a collaborative one of getting to know our customers and understanding what their needs are. I think the slowdown will give [home builders] an opportunity to polish up our own value propositions in each of our companies. We'll be competing based on the quality of the product, the quality of the neighborhood, the overall amenities in the community, and ability to create a high level of customer satisfaction. I think that those process improvements will be much more important over the next three to four years than they have been over the last five.
BB: How much will a pause in interest hikes help the housing industry?
DF: I think it will depend on the length of the pause; [it] is an interesting debate whether interest rates are really going to be a factor. I think the primary problem today is not interest rates, it is expectations. And if there is an expectation that prices may be softening, I think buyers will continue to stay on the sidelines until they feel confident that we've reached an equilibrium point.
BB: You were a Navy Supply Corps officer. Did that help you in your home building career?
DF: The Navy brought me to Seattle, where I met my wife. So even though it's not directly related to home building, it was that Navy connection that brought me to a place that I love dearly. In fact, I was initially hired at Weyerhaeuser by an individual who had been a Navy Supply Corps officer.
BB: Given the pressure involved your job, what do you do to relax?
DF: Historically, I spent a lot of my free time involved with [the] Boy Scouts. I think it is a wonderful resource for this country. Both sons were Scouts, and I was a Scout leader. It was fun for me as a leader to have that excuse to get engaged in backpacking and camping once again. Now my youngest has finally graduated from that activity, so I think I need to get a life at this point.