BILL PULTE, CHAIRMAN OF PULTE HOMES, is no stranger to cultivating relationships. In his 50-plus years in the industry, he's strategized with money men, muddied his shoes with landowners, and rolled up his sleeves with Wall Street analysts. But on October 6, he found himself facing another group critical to the future success of his company—the students and faculty of Brigham Young University.

As part of his scheduled visit to the Rexburg, Idaho, campus, Pulte attended a luncheon hosted by the construction management faculty and 17 students—each one of them a Pulte intern in past years. During a campus tour, he stepped into classes, introduced himself, and participated in discussions. That evening, more than 300 students and faculty members from several departments vied for a limited number of seats at a dinner where Pulte regaled them with stories of being a tradesman builder in the ‘50s, and then he guided his audience through the evolution of the home building industry. The following morning, he attended a faculty breakfast and then taught a construction management class before leaving. His presentation focus: traits students need to be successful in business. “It was an incredibly successful visit and a real honor,” beamed Brian Blaylock, chairman of the department of architecture and construction. “Pulte [Homes] has been very active on our campus for years, and our students are big fans.”

What Pulte and other builders have recognized is that tomorrow's leaders are in the latter stages of their undergraduate and graduate school programs today. In order to stand out in the competitive recruiting environment on college campuses, these companies have honed a recognizable edge, cultivating relationships among the college ranks and securing the brightest of emerging “doers,” managers, and strategists.

HIRE LEARNING Among the best at making inroads are Centex and Pulte, whose names have become well known on campuses across the country. “They regularly attend campus and department career days, may sponsor field trips or guest speakers, may sponsor company information Q&A events on campus, [and] send recruiting posters prior to visiting campus,” says Richard Boser, construction management coordinator at Illinois State University. And both builders and academics agree that the key to success is in reaching out.

“We work as a resource to the schools,” says Steve Nellis, vice president of recruiting at Centex. “We don't just go on campus during recruiting season. We go as much as possible.” In fact, Nellis just completed a day-and-a-half training session with more than 200 Centex managers to ensure that the company representatives will be hitting home runs on college campuses. “We want our managers to understand how to interview a college student and to feel empowered to identify a key candidate when they encounter one. Even if you are an operations manager and you find an excellent sales candidate, you're empowered to hire.”

In addition, these representatives work with academics to become an extension of the schools' programs—getting involved with the individual professors and finding ways to put a real-life validation on the theoretical track that occurs in the classroom. “As an exercise, we suggested one professor ask students to write a letter to a homeowner who was unhappy and filing a warranty claim,” says Nellis. The company then reviewed them and offered real versions of how that situation is handled.

“A‘honk and wave' won't work,” says Boser of companies who just show up on career day and expect to recruit. “You need to develop a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship to succeed.”

Other builders are getting the message. “Companies that have recruiting programs that have been effective on our campus include Lennar, Richmond American Homes, and TOUSA,” says Blaylock. In fact, last year TOUSA officially kicked off the corporate version of its college recruiting program by focusing efforts on a handful of major universities. Meeting with the deans and developing a comprehensive internship program that spans two summers, TOUSA has already made inroads, offering guest speakers, training, and subject matter experts as resources. “TOUSA came to our campus and offered to do mock interviews with our students. They even taped them, and the students walked away with a really valuable experience,” says Blaylock.

“We want to become part of the DNA on our campuses,” says Karen Hoffman, director of human resources operations for TOUSA. “We are passionate about developing a program that students are thrilled to be a part of.”

In response to this builder outreach, universities are also working more closely with the home building industry to create curricula that meet the needs of today's evolving industry. “We don't want schools to create expert technicians,” says Nellis. “We are looking for managers.” The general knowledge of construction is certainly beneficial, but, according to Nellis, students with additional studies in areas like real estate law, speech, and other communications, as well as Spanish, truly thrive.