With management talent being the high-stakes game that it is, it's a wonder America's world class home building companies haven't started implanting subcutaneous sensors to keep tabs on their key executives' every move outside the office. For example, January's International Builders' Show (IBS) hosted by the NAHB was a gold mine of business and networking opportunities, with more than 105,000 housing professionals attending and 967,000 square feet of exhibits. But a lot of the real story took place off of Orlando's convention center floor—in neighboring restaurants, hotel lobbies, and executive suites. Small and big builders alike turned into professional talent scouts, looking to lay groundwork and walk away with their next VP or expert consultant. All it takes is one chance meeting at the bar at the Peabody, and the next thing you know, someone's calling his or her spouse about a new career opportunity of a lifetime.

Here's a taste of what was going on outside the IBS exhibit halls this year:

  • With business travel a costly headache, builders packed more and more face-time into conference travel this year. Several builders we know never left the company suite—instead, they chose to book back-to-back meetings with candidates and vendors, such as one large Midwest builder who interviewed multiple recruiting firms during the course of the week.
  • Many builders attended seminars likely to attract talent in their area of need. We witnessed the beginnings of several job offers as people met up at the exits of meet-the-expert sessions. Lots of builders were seen comparing notes on common problems, particularly about what works (and doesn't work) in recruiting.
  • Not just for entry-level employees looking to break into home building, builders were working the floor of the Career Fair hoping to spot the executives who were putting out their proverbial feelers. Execs from the chilly north were a particularly hot commodity. Beazer's recruiting booth this year was ready to hire, with division presidents, VPs of construction, VPs of finance, and other senior executives on hand.
  • Builders left the conference floor—if they ever made it there—in order to chase talent, opportunity, and innovation in confidential meetings in the hotels surrounding the convention center. More than fedoras and dark glasses were used to avoid being seen by employers or the competition. Small builders looking to attract big builders were on the lookout for BUILDER 100 denizens, in hopes of setting up private discussions in suites.
  • Spouses and kids were scarce in the restaurants of the Rosen Centre and Peabody, as business carried on into the night. Dinner meetings served as good reconnaissance, as trusted in-person impressions of candidates saved builders money and time to ensure a good fit in chemistry. One hungry soul went so far as to order a second meal to enjoy later; his potential employer prepared to foot the bill.
  • Builders had the right idea at IBS 2006—looking for talent at every turn, tapping the networks of the best recruiters and consultants in the industry, and building relationships face-to-face, all while using the forum of the conference to cut costs. With cost per hire in travel and interviewing time alone topping $7,500 for small builders and $4,500 for the big guys, industry meeting and conferences are perfect opportunities to promote your vision and scout out your next star player. Just be wary that the competition is out there doing the exact same thing.

    Bill Carpitella is CEO and principal at Rochester, N.Y.-based Associated Builder Solutions. Email Bill at bill@associatedbuildersolutions.com.

    Hire Learning: A Tale of Two Recruits Pursuing big league talent often means two bigger price tags for smaller builders. First, hiring costs run 40 percent higher. Second, total comp comes in at 20 percent more when smaller builders try to lure execs from the big guys.


    Why the Move?

  • Values/culture clash
  • Clearer growth path
  • Company-wide impact
  • Jump in base/total pay
  • Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.