“I 'm a male dancer now.”
That's Terry Russell's droll response to the question about what he's been up to since being cut loose as president and CEO of John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods last February. The dance analogy isn't totally off base, though, as Russell has stayed light on his feet, picked up the pieces after 22 years with Wieland, and this summer launched his own self-financed development firm, Atlanta-based Sanctuary Homes. Around the same time, he also began his term as chairman of the Urban Land Institute's Atlanta chapter.
For the half-year before he started his own company, the 47-year-old Russell took advantage of his time off to play more golf and begin running five days a week. He recently took an eight-day mission trip with his daughter to Guatemala, where Global Soccer Ministries was building a soccer field. “I was so impressed, I wrote them a check.”
But Russell has long been a high-profile housing executive and was a hot commodity almost immediately after Wieland released him. “I got calls from just about everyone in the industry about one thing or another.” He considered job offers from several builders, including a regional presidency with one of the top 10 companies, but turned them all down. He says he also looked at 40 to 50 projects that developers wanted him to move forward, but he spurned these, too, “because it became clear to me that we'd be building for practice” in a “miserable” market. Russell also couldn't see how he'd benefit financially from these jobs, which sometimes left him scratching his head in disbelief. “There's a story to be written about all the dumb projects out there. I saw one with four drive-unders, off of a common drive, priced at $900,000 apiece. Not one of them sold, and you have to ask yourself, ‘What were they thinking?'”
Russell planned for Sanctuary to focus on infill projects that served under-supplied markets, and as of late July it had one such project in the works in Cobb County, Ga., with 12 lots on 9 acres. Homes there will be priced at more than $1 million each, with no significant road frontage, says Russell.
But just as he was getting Sanctuary off the ground, Russell received a call from Mercer Reynolds, chairman and CEO of LingerLonger Communities based outside of Atlanta, whose 10,000-acre Reynolds Plantation on Lake Oconee between Atlanta and Augusta, Ga., is one of the premier golf communities in the country. Reynolds asked Russell to join the company to manage its projects outside of Reynolds Plantation and to expand the LingerLonger Communities brand. Russell accepted and is now the company's executive vice president. (He hired a general manager to complete the Sanctuary project but isn't pursuing any more deals under that entity.) Russell is also responsible for Linger-Longer's new, home building division, which specializes in “ultra high-end homes,” says Russell, and is on track to build around 125 houses this year. “It's a real ground-floor opportunity,” says Russell, who is already talking about expanding that division's annual production to 500 homes.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.