Standard Pacific co-founder and father figure Ron Foell offered to resign as non-executive chairman of the 43-year-old home building company's board of directors as the eight of them met in dark December 2008, right smack in the vortex of financial mayhem that enveloped Wall Street, Capitol Hill, and Main Street in fear. At that instant, nothing would have surprised anyone on that board. Foell's fellow directors almost unanimously accepted his conviction that he no longer had a place in a company whose direction and future lay obscured amid cross-purposes, power struggle, financial duress, and strategic indecision.
A single director—new to the board as of earlier that summer—felt Foell's offer was one he could refuse. It turned out to be 52-year-old Ken Campbell's “be careful what you wish for moment.”
Campbell felt Foell knew what makes the business tick beyond the mumbo jumbo that had layered itself over it through the decades. He believed Foell belonged on the board, as its chairman.
“That triggered a few things,” says Campbell. Effective Dec. 17, 2008, Ken Campbell took over as CEO, and Foell reaccepted the mantle of non-executive chairman and cultural guardian angel. Jeff Peterson, whom the board had asked to come out of retirement the previous March to stabilize Standard Pacific as acting chief executive following longtime CEO Steve Scarborough's forced departure, exited to a well-deserved retirement with a $3 million bonus for probably keeping Standard Pacific from bankruptcy.
A company that had made a formidable name for itself as a firm that had a habit of putting value over profits was dialing 911. The board realized Standard Pacific needed more than money, it needed help.
“We were in a crisis, and we had to go from building 10,000 homes a year to doing 3,000 profitably, and existing management wasn't going to be able to make expense reductions and operations changes fast enough,” says Foell, who's 78, but still eats, sleeps, and breathes Standard Pacific. “Ken is accomplishing that.”
Those who know Campbell well know he starts a big mission with just two things: a blank sheet of paper and a “cruelly pragmatic” intellectual honesty. So it's only slightly ironic that, almost a year-and-a-half into his work, the big change he seeks at Standard Pacific is more about rehabilitation and less about transformation. It's mining and operationalizing an “inner Foell” that made the company distinguish itself as a culture of higher quality, a great place to work for and with.
Campbell's goal, then, is not to change that culture, but to re-infuse it pervasively across markets and divisions. The goal conflicts with a holding company mentality that had settled in over 10 years of scantly integrated acquisitions amid a mad push for geographic diversity. But it runs perfectly true to the original Standard Pacific DNA.
Campbell's stripes as a “fixer” had come clear earlier in the decade as he'd resuscitated a New York-based railway construction company and an Ohio-based aluminum manufacturer, both virtually left for dead. The companies currently make money and employ thousands of hourly and salaried workers.