What a difference two years makes. The industry has officially cooled since 2004, when BUILDER debuted its list of the 50 most influential people in home building. Builders who couldn't keep up with the demand for their product then are now scrambling to sell aging inventory. In 2004, home builders were a shining light in the economy.
And then there were Hurricane Katrina and her nasty cousins, Rita and Wilma. The storms forever changed the physical landscape and the cultural fabric of the Gulf Coast and fueled a call for a new approach to building in coastal areas that are vulnerable to monstrous storms.
This fall, BUILDER's editors met to discuss who should be included on this year's top-50 list. Many of the names we reviewed were familiar—people still exerting considerable power—and roughly half the list is a duplicate of the original. But the top name on our 2004 list, Alan Greenspan, retired as chairman of the Federal Reserve, and No. 2, Franklin Raines, was forced out as chairman and CEO of Fannie Mae. President George W. Bush still made the cut this time, but for an entirely different reason from when he was just ending his first term.
Some names dropped off the list, not because the individuals no longer wield power, but because we felt they had simply stayed the course instead of charging forward, creating opportunities, or redefining the boundaries of innovation. We also made a conscious effort to recognize some new voices. With others, we opted for a wait-and-see approach. It wasn't enough that a person had taken on a major role; we wanted to see what he or she does with it.
If your name is here, it's a testament to your vision and success during difficult times. If it's not, there's still time to make your mark and earn a spot on our next list.
1. Ben S. Bernanke Chairman Federal Reserve System Board of Governors In 2006, the chairman of the Fed continues to hold the key to housing's position in the economy—though builders might wish otherwise. The Harvard- and MIT-educated economist presides over the agency at a time when rising interest rates have curtailed investor interest in housing and cancellations are up. Plus, as ARMs are reset at higher rates, countless homeowners face significantly higher monthly payments—and the possibility of foreclosure.—Pat Curry
2. Michael Chertoff Secretary Department of Homeland Security While Congress agreed to disagree on immigration reform this year, the Department of Homeland Security cast a chill around builder jobsites with its Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch's crackdowns on employers. Chertoff is also pushing hard to seek criminal penalties against business executives who hire undocumented workers.—Steve Zurier
3. Jerry Howard Executive Vice President and CEO National Association of Home Builders Howard has won a well-deserved reputation for being a responsible voice for the home building industry. In the past year, the NAHB has pushed to revitalize the FHA, supported a guest-worker program for immigrant workers, and issued a landmark study with the NAACP that addresses barriers to minority homeownership. Howard has been the top NAHB executive since February 2001.—S.Z.
4. Marianne Cusato Principal Marianne Cusato Associates Cusato made our list as designer of Katrina Cottage 1, a 308-square-foot emergency dwelling that actually looks like a house. It can be built more quickly and much more affordably than a FEMA trailer—especially now that Lowe's is selling it in a kit. Cusato's elegant solution for the aftermath of a natural disaster is also the realization of a more far-reaching dream—a well-designed, truly affordable home.—P.C.
5. George W. Bush President of the United States When our inaugural list appeared, President Bush made the cut (at No. 3) because builders supported Republican business policies and for his commitment to minority homeownership. He returns to the list this year for his guest-worker plan, a program to help address the need for a stable workforce in such industries as home building. He'll need all the weight of his office to get the new Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill to go along with the plan.—P.C.