Big Builder '07 Conference

The refrain is too true to get tired: You control what you can control, and the rest takes patience and a well of "positivity." Talking with John Laing Homes CEO Larry Webb, who–like many a big builder top exec–was making the rounds among all of the divisional heads during the early weeks of October, the only way to put it is, "It's really hard out there. I get back from these visits, and it takes me awhile to get out of the fetal position. You feel for these folks. They're who I'm working for these days as much as anybody else." So much for planning for 2008.

Amid the uncertainty and dreaded unknowns, little, measurable improvements at the divisional and community level will make all the difference to keep morale where it needs to be during the doldrums. Cutting out costs in floor plans, construction processes, waste reduction, and logistics is critical. Cutting construction cycle time by a day or three can both boost the bottom line and safeguard against needless cancellations. National contracts are an opportunity to superimpose stronger buying disciplines while supplies are plentiful and suppliers are willing to bend over backward.

Finally, customer care, the area that gets so much lip service and so little actual execution, must make gains, or the market inertia will evolve into an organizational endgame. People, says Webb, need something to be proud of and intent on minus the "instant gratification" and thrill of big sales numbers. They need rallying points and successes among them.

That's exactly why we're focusing on the feats of effectiveness, blasts of resourcefulness, and quotidian triumphs that signify the many ways big builders' teams continue to excel in spite of the circumstances. We felt our 10 "breakthrough artists" both merit the spotlight in their own right as well as represent the committed, creative resolve of the big builder community as a whole. It sounds cliché, but in Larry Webb's words, the basics everybody talks about getting back to sound eloquent: "In good times and in bad, you want to constantly make the company a better one; you never assume that you've gotten there, or take for granted that there's not ways to improve. At the end of the day, I want to love my job, even if we're more finance-driven then we've ever been in the past 30 years, I still have to love my job when I come to work each day. After all, what we do is noble, and I believe that. The work that we're doing is a business, and at the same time it's noble, and people can't ever forget that without the positive reinforcement of record sales and such."

The times demand pragmatism. Innovation is nice when there's visibility in business, but when the next sale beyond the current sale is so unpredictable and months of uncertainty and contingencies lie ahead, innovation seems more like an extravagance. It's execution that counts for most. Impact is all-important.

Centex Homes

Atlanta Division President
Ryland Homes

Vice President of National Purchasing Operations
Standard Pacific Homes

John Laing Homes

Vice President of Acquisitions
Shea Homes

Vice President of Sales & Marketing
Warmington Homes, Northern CA Division

President & CEO
Fieldstone Homes

Group President, Nevada
Toll Brothers

Cohen Brothers Homes

Senior Vice President
Royce Builders