Brandon Sullivan

Profile: Bill Harrill

Title: Vice president, national purchasing
Company: Meritage Homes
Location: Scottsdale, Ariz.
Previous Experience: US Home, KB Home
Philosophy: Builders must eliminate wasted effort and work closely with trade partners to keep costs down.
Favorite Business-Related Books: The Mars Pathfinder Approach to Faster-Better-Cheaper by Price Pritchett; Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson

Bill Harrill never underestimates the value of doing things right the first time.

“Too often we get moving too fast to take the time to do a task right the first time—always thinking we’ll have the time to get back to it to make corrections,” he says. “But more often than not, we never get back to it.” Later, time is lost correcting the subsequent problems.

This is symptomatic of a daily battle across the industry, one that Harrill says he’s seen at every level of his 30-year career: combating wasted effort. However, he’s fighting that battle through centralizing purchasing functions and improving communication among divisions to reduce duplication.

Technology has been a driving force for those changes. For example, using iPads to connect and fix problems in real time has given staff more agility in the field. That field presence is an invaluable tool to gain insight about the supply chain—one that Harrill says builders often don’t use to their full advantage.

“I tell my purchasing leads all the time, ‘Get out of the office. Get into the field. See what your jobsites look like. Look for inefficiencies,’” he explains, adding that he encourages staff to regularly block that time out in their calendars to ensure it’s treated as a priority.

His proactive mindset is supported by lessons learned from the recession, when builders had to make operational changes to keep costs manageable. “If the downturn taught us anything, it’s that, regardless of the selling environment, we have to pay attention to cost.”

For effective cost management, “our trade relationships can make or break us,” Harrill says. While consistently rebidding for lower prices may save at first, it leads to long-term losses in efficiency. A trade partner who knows, understands, and respects the builder is immeasurable, he notes.

The emphasis on fostering strong relationships reflects something that Harrill says remains constant throughout the industry’s ups and downs. “In the end, it’s all about your team—your people and how you manage them.”