Standard Pacific Homes CEO Jeffrey Peterson likes to joke that last March he left the company's board room, where he served as lead independent director, to visit the restroom only to come back to find that he'd been voted in as a replacement for retiring CEO Steve Scarborough. Certainly, with the company facing a heavy debt load and diminished earnings from high cancellations and slow sales, taking on the task of leading it out of the morass wasn't a job for the faint of heart. But his jokes aside, it's one Peterson, whose experience lies in the fields of investment banking and management, appears to have taken on with zest and relish. A day shy of five months after taking the helm of the Irvine, Calif.-based company, Peterson, 62, took time to talk to senior editor Teresa Burney about the progress Standard Pacific has made.
JP: We had some very significant challenges when I came on in March. The first was to address our financial conditions. ... We took a two-pronged approach. One was to evaluate financial alternatives. ... Priority No. 2 was what I characterize as returning to profitability. What do we need to do to position this company to be competitive when this market finds its inflection point?
BB: Then MatlinPatterson Global Advisers appeared, ready to make a significant cash investment in the company, helping to resolve some of your debt issues, and even provide cash to seize opportunities in the down market, you have said.
JP: We have taken the foot off the oxygen hose, and we have refilled the oxygen tank. ... We have $660 million in capitalization. In addition, we renegotiated our bank facility. Now we have an amendment [with lenders] in place that runs out into 2011. ... It's a great accomplishment on the part of a lot of people to really bring this whole transaction together and to bring closure to it. ... Now we are on offense, where we are focused on opportunities. ... We are becoming the acquisitor rather than the conservator."
BB: Will you partner with MatlinPatterson, with its large fund for investment in land, to make those acquisitions?
JP: We do understand that they have toe-hold investments in other entities. We don't know whether there will be synergies.
BB: What are your hobbies?
JP: I enjoy playing a little golf, but what used to be 18 holes is now five, seven, or nine. ... [My family and I] enjoy traveling enormously. I have lived and worked in a number of countries for years. ... My wife is from overseas, and the whole family has traveled extensively.
BB: While there has been little time for personal travel now, you have been traversing the country, peddling the rights offering and visiting the company's 17 divisions.
JP: How can you not take advantage of that opportunity to meet your employees and see all your operations? ... If you haven't done that, how can you lead an organization? I shook the hand of every employee and had individual meetings with the management. I feel it is very, very important that employees know who I am and what I stand for and that they have met with me in person. ... I am a big believer in dialogue, not monologue.
BB: You asked employees questions?
JP: I walk out into the crowd and ask them to pose questions to me. I knew word of it got out ahead of me when one woman had a typed up list of 20 questions. ... I was overwhelmed with the responses. ... I sent every employee a pocket compass. One thing that is important to know is where you are going, and with the compass you can find direction.