Larry Webb wants everyone to know that he’s not retiring.
The CEO of John Laing Homes will leave the company on May 21, 13 years after joining the Newport Beach, Calif.-based builder and just under two years after the Dubai-based real estate conglomerate Emaar Properties entered the United States market by acquiring Laing for $1.05 billion.
Webb confirmed his departure during a telephone interview with BUILDER Online last night, during which he spoke with pride about his accomplishments, speculated about his future, and somewhat gingerly discussed his reasons for leaving now, three years shy of the five-year management contract he signed to stay on after Emaar took over.
“I hate it when executives say they are leaving a company to spend more time with their families,” laughed Webb. “I’ve had a wonderful journey growing our company, and I think I’m leaving in a positive way. The Lakers and Celtics already have general managers, so I guess I’ll stay in home building, which is a business I love. But I’m definitely going to take a deep breath and think about what I’m going to do next.”
Webb’s replacement is Robert Booth, who is currently running Emaar’s Canadian operations. Webb thinks John Laing Homes might actually benefit from the installation of a chief executive who is closely aligned with its parent. “Robert is smart and a good guy, and this is affirmation that Emaar still wants to grow the business,” said Webb. When asked if he is leaving John Laing Homes of his own volition, Webb paused and answered that the decision was “mutual,” while admitting “I could never stop thinking about [Laing] as my company.” He added, without elaborating, “I’ve always had a strong desire to work in an environment where I’m valued, and never wanted to work in a company that wasn’t supportive.”
Webb calls his time at John Laing “the pinnacle of my career. I’ve had the freedom to create an environment where people could do their best work.” After joining the then-British-based John Laing plc in 1995 as president of its California division, Webb grew the business to where it was the industry’s second-largest private builder in 2006. Under Emaar’s ownership, John Laing expanded by acquiring Lindenwood Homes in Houston, launching its Phoenix division, and hiring David Pitt from Centex to grow its Los Angeles/Ventura division. Webb said that he and Emaar agreed on the company’s growth objectives. However, “we didn’t always agree on how we would get there.” The severe downturn in the housing market, especially in the western U.S., didn’t help matters, either. And Webb implies that Emaar may not have considered customer relations to be as critical to selling homes as Webb has long maintained.
Webb said his severance package from Emaar is “generous,” and does not include a noncompete clause, leaving him a freer agent than most builders when they leave their companies. He expects to be involved in some aspect of home building again by the end of the year, and is open to starting a new business. Among the options he’s considering as well is “tackling affordable housing” either as a builder or through philanthropy. Webb said he admires David Weekley, chairman of David Weekley Homes, who splits his time between building and charitable activities. For several years, Webb and John Laing Homes have worked with HomeAid to build houses for homeless families, and he has also donated time to Interval House, a home for abused women and children.