WHEN THEIR ASSOCIATES describe Larry Webb and Joe Pusateri, they use words like “hero,” “risk taker,” and “optimist.” Without prompting, they explain that if not for the leadership and generosity of Webb, chairman and CEO of Newport Beach, Calif.—based John Laing Homes, and Pusateri, president of Elite Homes in Louisville, Ky., their organizations might cease to exist today.
In 1999, Hearthstone Advisers, a national firm that provides financing to home builders, and Builder established the Hearthstone Builder Awards to pay tribute to builders like Webb and Pusateri, who improve their communities through their dedication to charitable work.
Webb and Pusateri's efforts have provided shelters for orphans, battered women, as well as HIV and AIDS patients. They support a wide range of nonhousing causes, too, from the Boy Scouts of America and public schools to public television and the arts. What's more, they have leveraged their contacts within the building industry—employees and business associates alike—to build upon their own good deeds.
Those who work with them know that great things lay ahead. Joe Davis, president of Irvine Community Development Co., says that Webb's leadership style “causes people to want to be engaged in his cause and follow his lead.” Scott Provancher, executive director of the Louisville Orchestra, describes Pusateri as “one of those few people you'll meet who you have the ultimate confidence that if you're partnered with him, the project will be successful.”
More great ideas will take shape thanks to this year's 45 Hearthstone sponsors: Webb will receive $150,000 to donate to his charities, and Pusateri will receive $100,000.
LARRY WEBB HAS BEEN A BUILDER FOR more than 15 years. In that time, companies he has worked for and led have constructed tens of thousands of homes. Yet, the only picture of a home hanging in his office is one of Emmanuel House, a transitional shelter for homeless adults living with HIV and AIDS.
Scott Larson, executive director of HomeAid Orange County in California, counts the construction of Emmanuel House (it was built for Mercy House Transitional Living Centers) among Webb's greatest accomplishments. Webb led the multi-year effort to see Emmanuel House built as a HomeAid project, struggling through architectural guidelines, funding crises, and garnering support from the shelter's neighbors.
“The more we got to know the Emmanuel House people, the more we didn't want to let them down,” explains Webb. “We made an internal commitment that even if we had to pay for it all ourselves, we were going to build it.” In the end, Webb estimates John Laing Homes pitched in about $1 million of Emmanuel House's $4.5 million cost.
That kind of charitable effort is the rule, not the exception, for Webb. From his first job teaching high school social studies and coaching soccer to encouraging a culture of community involvement at John Laing Homes, doing good has been a fundamental part of Webb's life.
A self-described “evangelist” for community service, Webb encourages his employees to participate in charitable events. he believes the work serves both the recipients and his workers. “Often, the people we're helping have so little, and yet they are wonderfully optimistic,” he says. “That rubs off on you. You can't be involved in that and then complain that you have too much work the next day. I think this work has really transformed the company.”
He leaves it up to each division of the company to decide which charities to support and how much to donate. He has just one rule: Dollar donations must be matched with time and energy. “The dollar amount is, in my mind, less significant than the enthusiasm of the team and sweat equity,” he says. “The closer we are to each community on a divisional level, the better we understand what these people are like. We find out the areas where they need help.”
Choosing Well Webb has set quite an example for his employees. He met many of the directors of Orange County's nonprofits when he served as a county housing commissioner in the late 1980s and early 1990s. (The organizations came before the board for grants.) The best applicants were passionate and excelled in their roles, Webb says. “Over the last 15 years, I've tried to align myself with their causes.”
Tim Shaw recalls meeting Webb when, as part of his first job, he requested grant funding for a program covering rent for families transitioning from homelessness. Days after the presentation, Shaw met Webb again when he was refereeing a basketball game Webb was playing in. “From that moment on, Larry became a supporter and a friend,” says Shaw, now CEO of the Irvine (Calif.) Public Schools Foundation, which raises private funds to supplement the public budget for the 25,000-student district.
In the 15 years since meeting on the basketball court, Shaw estimates that Webb's activities have contributed at least $3 million toward his work. “He's brought in money that never could have been raised otherwise,” Shaw says.
Most recently, Webb donated a John Laing condominium worth $670,000 at cost, minus $25,000, to a house raffle benefiting Shaw's foundation. The organization sold 10,000 tickets at $200 each; minus costs and other cash prizes, Shaw says the school district will receive about $1.4 million from the raffle.
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