Been there, done that. Gary Garczynski has navigated several business cycles and has experience in nearly every aspect of construction. By Christina B. Farnsworth
If you're looking for someone to lead you through troubled waters, Gary Garczynski is your man. For the next year, Garczynski will be the NAHB's president and have the task of guiding the association and its members through these uncertain times. He has an agenda: "communication, strategic planning, education, and advocacy."
Garczynski is the right choice at the right time. He has been a big builder, a small builder, president of a private company, vice president of a public company, and a land developer, as well as a high school teacher and a coach. He has been active on the committee overseeing the newly remodeled NAHB headquarters in Washington. He has been through numerous business cycles: the oil crisis, high interest rates, the stock market crash, the savings and loan crisis, and the homeowners' warranty debacle. And he has always given back to the industry and the community.
Presidents earn association presidency over a long internship. "Starting back in my South Jersey days, I got involved in the local HBA. I was the first president of its local Sales and Marketing Council, probably in 1974-1975," he says. "Participation in the association automatically increases tenfold your knowledge of the market," Garczynski explains. "You get to know who the players are. Your company gets to be known; there is automatic credibility."
There is also considerable personal and financial commitment and some three "leadership ladders" to climb to reach the top. The first is at the local level, then state, and finally national. The association is "all volunteer," Garczynski notes; his climb has taken 20 years, though he has been a member since 1970. Garczynski's family roots are pure middle-class America. His father was a longshoreman. Unusual for the time, his mother worked outside the home, too. "She still works," he says, "because she enjoys work." Like many '50s families, his moved from inner-city Philadelphia to suburbia.
He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and then went on to Wharton's famous business school. After graduating from Wharton he taught and coached football and basketball for three years at Gannon Catholic High School in what is now Cherry Hill, N.J.
In 1970, he joined a local southern New Jersey builder, Scarborough Homes and worked in all aspects of the business from finance to marketing. In the mid-'70s, the Fortune 100 Weyerhaeuser Co. acquired Scarborough. Garczynski rose to be vice president of sales and marketing. He then participated in the company's market expansion into the Washington metro market. In 1979, he moved to Virginia. By 1983 the new division was building 300 homes annually. All this in the era that saw high inflation with mortgage interest rates skyrocketing to 18 percent.
"The first thing I did when I moved to Virginia, absolutely the first thing, was go down to the local to what was called the Northern Virginia Building Association," Garczynski says. He became president of its association in 1985. From there he got involved in the Richmond, Va., association and became that association's president in 1990. It wasn't a great time to be president; Garczynski rode the HOW debacle. HOW was the homeowners' warranty program that ran into trouble and died.
Virginia was also where Garczynski learned land development. After 12 years with Weyerhaeuser, he left to start Signature Communities, which merged and evolved into Long Signature Homes. He was part of the euphoric '80s and ran briefly with the likes of Michael Millken and his infamous Predators' Ball. Substitute the term "junk bond" for "dot-com," and you may get a sense of that era's frenzy. Poised to go public with lots of land on the books (in a time before land options), the stock market crash of 1987 burst the bubble. "The bloom was off the rose for public offerings, especially for home building companies," Garczynski says.
The land became a liability, as the savings and loan meltdown began. "Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady wrote the famous February 1990 letter telling banks to be cautious of or divest real estate. Good loans, paid up on good pieces of ground, began to be called in," he says of a time period he never wants to go through again. It was the era of the "performing, non-performing loan"--loans that were legitimate, being paid on time, and were called anyway forcing good companies out-of-business nationwide. "I remember two consecutive New Year's Eves spent in lawyers' offices negotiating with banks on some of the land loans they were calling," he says.
Great builders always get up, brush themselves off, and move forward after a fall. Garczynski and his partners split and formed new companies. Garczynski became president of Equity Homes in 1991.
In 1997, he left Equity to start National Capital Land and Development with his former partner John Long. "There were two tiers of companies left after the depression of the '90s," Garczynski says, small custom builders and large public or international building companies. "We decided the best thing to do was to feed those companies manufactured finished lots." By devoting itself to land development, the company could also locate and develop passed-over sites and walk them through what are now lengthy approval processes. "We're in an era where all the big companies are very competitive. They want finished lots because they don't want to carry land on their balance sheets--it is all about return on investment to stockholders. So they are looking for someone to take that risk," he says.
And that brings Garczynski to his interest in smart growth. Some call him "the father of the NAHB's Smart Growth Strategy." In the early '90s he was a gubernatorial appointee to the Virginia Commission on Population and Growth, among the first to look at growth management planning in Virginia. He became involved in the NAHB's smart growth strategies in 1999. He was also the NAHB's spokesperson for the "Showdown in Seattle," in March 2001 where he took on the Sierra Club's Carl Pope in a surprisingly civilized growth debate. "With household formation for the next decade predicted at 1.5 million, you have to answer the question: Where do we grow from here, if you don't want sprawl, and you don't want density? That is the ultimate question of smart growth," he says. "America stands for certain things," he continues, "a home of your own whether that's in the suburbs or whether that's in the city or far out rural areas, it is still a major precept of what we are all about."
"And in this business," Garczynski says, "you can always go back and look at your work by riding through the neighborhood and seeing that people are still enjoying it."