AS A MODERN-DAY PALADIN, the gunslinging hero of Have Gun, Will Travel, a popular half-hour television Western that lasted six seasons in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Doug Noakes is a trouble-shooting turnaround specialist who's called upon to clean up building companies rather than towns.
“I can do anything my client needs,” says the 33-year construction industry veteran, a self-described generalist who has restructured four companies, one of which was in bankruptcy and another which had a sales backlog of 100 houses but could only manage to start five units a month.
He doesn't shoot people, though sometimes he'd like to. But he does round ‘em up and head ‘em out, as they are fond of saying in B-film Westerns. “The home building business is a pretty tough place,” says the 58-year-old Noakes, who was CEO of Winchester Homes, a Weyerhaeuser Co., at the ripe old age of 28.
These days, he rides with the Sharrow Group, a gang a five highly seasoned, on-call sharpshooters with more than 250 years of construction industry experience. These aren't just any specialists, though. They are home building pros who have seen it all over their many years in the business.
For builders who want to grow, sustain, or even sell their business, or simply want to improve their operations, these guys are the housing equivalent of the Texas Rangers. “We have assembled an in-house team of executives from the home building and development arenas who are able to guide our clients in the critical areas of people, process, and performance,” says Bill Carpitella, the group's ringleader. “End-to-end, whatever a builder needs, we have somebody on staff who's ‘been there, done that.'”
BEYOND ‘ALL SEARCH' Sharrow's consulting practice was formed three and a half years ago when Carpitella joined the firm. At the time, the company was “all search.” But Carpitella, who had been using the firm as his primary talent supplier while working for Pulte and then as senior vice president of human relations for K. Hovnanian, saw that many builders need expertise beyond solely recruiting. “A lot of builders were benchmarking us, and we were benchmarking them, and I recognized there was a need for this kind of assistance,” says Carpitella, who is now CEO and a principal in the Rochester, N.Y.-based company. Many of Sharrow's clients are builders who “want to get from point A to point D, but have never been to points B or even C,” he explains. Others are looking for specific solutions to specific problems, or as Carpitella calls them, “operational pain points that are anything but what they should be.”
In either case, for a single fee, the client receives a solution, avoids the proverbial “dumb tax,” and walks away without having to put a fixed cost on the payroll.
GROWING PAINS To date, most of Sharrow's clients have been small to mid-size operators who are looking to improve performance as they compete against their larger rivals. Builders such as Chris Arthur of Westwind Homes in Laredo, Texas, who realized a few years back that he needed to grow but “needed some pretty comprehensive help” to do so.
“I knew I wanted to expand, but I also knew I couldn't do it until I got my processes fixed,” Arthur confides. So he began searching for help. And after palavering with several consulting firms, he settled on Sharrow. The company in general, and Noakes in particular, shared what Arthur calls the “same world philosophies about how we run our companies.”
“Doug [Noakes] really helped beef up all our processes so we could duplicate them in other markets,” the Texas builder says. “For example, he tied the budgets of each department into the same format so they roll up into our P&L statements, and he helped us track all our expenses from month to month so now we can see where we are bleeding and where our costs are getting away from us.”