As R. Chad Dreier would tell it, one of his most oft-used expressions around The Ryland Group's offices is, “We don't need to build houses for practice.” But he's gotten a lot of practice building houses in his 15-plus year career as CEO of the company. In fact, he's built more than 170,000 during his tenure.

With that kind of practice, he's probably figured out a thing or two that the rest of us haven't yet. So, BIG BUILDER asked him to share a few of the lessons learned before his retirement takes effect May 29 and former COO and company president Larry Nicholson steps into his shoes. Dreier will, however, remain chairman of the company's board.

But Dreier isn't talking to the media these days, we were told. So, with a shutout at corporate, we broke out our files to see what we could tell you about the kind of thinker, the kind of leader, the kind of man he is. Boy, is it good stuff.

So, take a look at the 15 things—one to celebrate every year of his tenure—that we think you should know about Dreier.

Although this article is a laudatory nod to Dreier for turning a near-broken company into one of the best-managed home builders, it also is a line that marks the start of a major shift in the industry.

Mark our words, Dreier will not be the only home builder executive to retire from the C-suite in the immediate to near future.

  1. 1. Dreier grew up in the southern Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. These Southern California roots are what prompted him to move company headquarters to California from Maryland after he took over as chief executive.
  2. 2. The first of Dreier's three biggest influences: the Jesuits. Dreier got his bachelor's degree in accounting at Loyola University in Los Angeles, a Jesuit college, in 1969. “Frankly, I'd like to think they taught me how to think and be open-minded and deal with social justice,” he says.
  3. 3. The Jesuits also are responsible for introducing Dreier to his wife, Ginni. In 1968, there was a January dance mixer between the all-boys Loyola and all-girls school Marymount, where she attended. They met that night and got married a year later. They have two children.
  4. 4. Dreier was a baseball catcher in college, playing for the Loyola Lions. (Rumor has it that this is why he's got the nickname of “Lion” around the office.) He says the experience gave him not only a competitive streak but also a perspective on performance. “One of things I learned is you're never as good as you think you are in good times, and you're never as bad as you think you are in bad times,” he says.
  5. 5. Is it any wonder then that Dreier believes—without a doubt—that Sandy Koufax was the best pitcher that ever pitched in the game? And a Dodger to boot!
  6. 6. Dreier remembers his first marketing class, where he learned about loss leaders—a product sold at low prices to stimulate other sales. To this day, he says he still doesn't understand the principle. “I've always said I want make money on every house we build,” he says.
  7. 7. The second of his three big influences: the military. Dreier had been a first lieutenant in the Air Force from 1969 to 1972. He has remained a huge fan, calling it “the best training ground.”
  8. 8. Dreier became a certified public accountant in 1974.
  9. 9. Dreier was an auditor with Ernst & Ernst, E&Y's predecessor, from 1972 to 1975. At one point, he worked on an audit of Northrop Aircraft Corp. when it got a contract from the U.S. government to build barges. They built the first one, and it sank. They built the second one, and it sank. They built the third one, and it sank—and then they bought themselves out of the contract. He went to the CFO and asked what went wrong. The CFO replied, “You know what, we build the best airplanes in the world, and we don't know squat about boats.” Dreier says he thinks about that every time someone approaches him with an idea to expand Ryland beyond its single-family sweet spot.
  10. 10. Before joining Ryland in November 1993, Dreier was executive vice president and CFO of Kaufman & Broad, now known as KB Home, from 1986 to 1993.
  11. 11. There he met Bruce Karatz, who became one of his three biggest influences. The former KB CEO not only gave Dreier his first senior management opportunity but also served as a model—and often foil—for his management style. “I did think and do think, he was one of the most influential guys in the history of production building,” Dreier says.
  12. 12. Dreier spent the first six years of his tenure at Ryland putting the company back together, teaching people how to make money, and re-establishing the company's credibility on Wall Street and with its board of directors.
  13. 13. Dreier says he's good at three things: (1) being a pretty good public company CEO, (2) identifying and growing talent, and (3) land.
  14. 14. In his 15-plus years as CEO, he's never changed a company performance metric, policy, or procedure when it comes to buying land. He says, “Depending on what side of the table you're on, I'm either not very open-minded or very disciplined.”
  15. 15. Outside the office, Dreier's top interests are sports and collecting. He's got a 20,000-square-foot building for his collections. Included: everything from a Babe Ruth bat to all of the Willy Wonka memorabilia from the 1971 movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.