D.R. Horton's president and CEO Don Tomnitz doesn't have a company-issued cell phone. There are no company jets or cars. He doesn't have a fancy office either. Tomnitz calls the largest home builder in the U.S. “a humble company,” and by the same token, he is a humble leader. “It is easy to make money in the home building industry. It is hard to keep it,” says Tomnitz, who has two cell phones that he pays for himself. “If it's your cell phone, you are not going to run over your minutes,” he adds.
Tomnitz is the first to acknowledge that D.R. Horton has its own culture, a culture that drives the business that has earned it 114 consecutive quarters of growth. For example, the company uses its own employees, not economists, to check the pulse of the landscape and find communities that are growing. And new employees and their families are invited to a ranch in Central Texas owned by founder Don Horton, who runs a camp there for employees' kids.
Tomnitz, himself, is a man from modest means. His father was a master sergeant in the Air Force, his mother a waitress. Growing up, he moved every two years with his family when his father was transferred from one base to another.
And it's no surprise either that Tomnitz lives by his own motto, “You need to get up and act like you are broke every day.”
A former bank vice president, college professor, and Army captain, Tomnitz lives in Dallas with his wife Sharon, a son, 16, and a daughter, 19. He runs and skis and, when he can, retreats to the wilderness of Alaska to fish and hunt big game.
BB: If you had to define “America's builder” to a prospective buyer, how would you do that?
DT: It's a builder who focuses on the first-time and the second-time home buyer. Our large focus has been largely on that first time buyer and moving him out of an apartment and putting their family in a nice community, in a nice house where they can have someplace in comfort, and with a great degree of security to raise their kids.
BB: You had a rich resume even before you joined Horton in 1983. Which part of that background has helped you most in your home building career?
DT: Without question my four years as an Army officer. It taught me to deal with personalities and people and a lot of responsibility at a very young age. It also taught me that you may not have the exact, perfectly trained person to be in a specific position, but you need to put that person in that position, train them, and bring them along so they can become that ultimate employee. A lot of times in the Army, you had to deal with not enough people, unqualified people, or not properly qualified people and not enough materials, and the home building business is no different than that.