SHIVERY RAIN DRENCHES THE FIVE-DAY PILGRIMAGE of the nation's home builders to Las Vegas this past January for their annual convention and business conference. Black clouds, headwinds, and a not so comforting outlook go with the turf these days, but one scarcely expects meteorological challenges in the desert mecca of Sin City. Against a soggy backdrop, Joel Shine and a couple of invited guests are chauffeured through the gates of a residential project in which the home building company Shine now runs, Woodside Homes, is building and selling new homes.
Through a rain-streaked windshield, work-jean-clad laborers lumber, hammers in hand, toward a few new homes just shy of fit and finish. Gene Morrison, a division manager and Woodside's guy-on-the-ground for Vegas and Phoenix operations, eases his SUV in behind a few of what would appear to be subcontractor pickups. A mud stream cascades down the fresh sidewalks and over the new curbs, carrying what would normally be tan, dusty soil away from nearby home sites and into the gutters.
Shine all but springs out of the car into the afternoon gloom. His cheery bounce belies Vegas' morbid clime, not to mention a financial storm that's plagued the company where he's just taken charge.
Woodside, the country's fourth-largest privately held home builder, had been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy until a handful of weeks earlier. It's one of scores of large, medium, and small home building firms caught in the vortex of the national and global financial dislocation of the past 36 months. But it's one of only a handful who've emerged relatively intact, albeit with some scars.
Second chances are hard to come by. This one happened mostly because the right kind of individual persuaded dozens of other individuals of a single plan that could serve their diverse business needs. In Woodside's case, Shine was the one with the sway and the spine to prove to the parties with the most to lose how they could still win in the end.
Amid Vegas' foul weather, Shine's irrepressible smile may be typical of his quintessential Southern California roots. But more likely, it's what's going on here—the sound of hammers clacking and clanging is the unmistakable sound of sales—that's buoying him.
This Madison Colony neighborhood is one of four projects Woodside has going within a relatively active master-planned community in northwest Vegas called Providence. Newly retooled, the homes and operations may offer a sneak preview of Woodside's redemption, following a traumatizing reorganization in bankruptcy that culminated in new ownership and management. Thanks to the product revamp, the Vegas division, whose sweet spot has been in the move-up and luxury markets, can make a solid go of it in a market pocked by foreclosures and short sales, appealing to the one home buyer segment still buying–first-timers.
The result, as absorptions in places such as Madison Colony gain velocity, is cash flow—precisely what Woodside needs to avoid a financial relapse.
Shine's struggle today is about the next steps. “If I can convince myself of the plan for this week, I think I'm doing pretty good,” he jokes.
He's well aware that the challenge to nail the company's go-forward plan is formidable. He must delicately balance brains and brawn to sustain Woodside's newfound momentum, which is tantamount to reengineering everything Woodside is and does.