Unlike many of the senior strategists who head up the nation's largest home building operators, PulteGroup ceo Richard Dugas earned his stripes in an earlier incarnation in the iconic consumer brand academy known as PepsiCo. He did stints in the company's Frito-Lay Plano, Tx., operations, and in Canada, sculpting his chops as process improvement specialist in one of the most consumer brand centric corporate environments you can get.
What's more, the Pulte chief, who engineered his firm's corporate headquarters relocation in the past two years from its origins in Michigan to the Southeastern hive where Dugas got his first real dose as a home building operations executive, Atlanta.
Now, from the moment Pulte pulled the trigger in 2009 on its $1.4 billion combination with Centex, it begged a question in Dugas' mind.
He had a construct on how and what a holistic PulteGroup would look. It would have Centex as a starter-home and entry-level market brand leader. Pulte Homes would represent the mid-level pricing opportunities and markets, for move-up buyers. Del Webb would continue to mean 55-plus lifestyle communities, even as they evolve from age-restricted island-cities in the sun to more proximate, integrated, and connected communities of the future.
DiVosta would continue to serve as a highly-regional, single-state brand for Florida communities that made aspirational neighborhoods and homes accessible, thanks to an extraordinary production and assembly development and construction process.
But the fifth and final piece, to make the national brand portfolio complete from a consumer segmentation standpoint, Dugas has coveted a national luxury brand. Through the years, Pulte has flirted--as both and acquiree and an acquirer--with Toll Brothers, but the combination never managed to make sense, especially when the eponymous founders Bill Pulte and Bob Toll were running their respective companies.
John Wieland Homes & Neighborhoods, under ceo Greg Huff's operational guidance and Wheelock Street Capital's capital access and strategic counsel, has done wonders to retool itself for resilient, opportunistic growth over the next stretch of the recovery cycle.
A question on observers' minds--both inside the Wieland/Pulte ecosystem and among competitors--is this: Will the John Wieland brand transport to new markets, say the Washington, DC area, Texas, and perhaps some Florida submarkets?
Whether Wieland would play in Seattle, or Northern California, or Phoenix is less on peoples' minds right now. But you can bet that the Dugas team, with its focus on brand alignment, which pulls in land strategy, product, pricing, operations, and marketing, will be testing the viability of the Wieland name in other markets.
Dugas emphasized the brand in his press statement on the deal.
"Population growth and housing demand in the Southeast are expected to remain strong for years to come, so this acquisition of the John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods brand and its robust land pipeline provides a great opportunity to increase our market share and operating leverage in five important cities, while expanding our presence in the luxury segment," said Richard J. Dugas, Jr., Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of PulteGroup.
Meanwhile, there's Atlanta, which has restored itself as one of home building's most diversified, job-fueled, fundamentals driven markets for a wide variety of housing price positions. There, Wieland's reputation, including at the critical jurisdictional level, where land sellers actually choose which builders they'd like to deal with, had re-gained distinction.
At the same time, the deal, like the April 1 deal in which Wheelock exited a number of Colorado and Texas master planned communities by selling them to North American Sekisui House, with Newland Communities as developer, runs consistent with Wheelock's "early buyers and early sellers" approach to managing its investments in the residential real estate cycle.
One more note. If you're wondering what's up with the John Wieland himself, he's merrily plying his trade as one of home building's octagenarian home builders. His JW Collection brand is building four or five projects in the Atlanta area.
The brand continues.