This is a cheerleader piece. If unabashed advocacy and affirmation offend you, you might want to skip to the inside pages of the magazine where, like every other form of media coverage of housing right now, we have to run our fair share of downer headlines and dire forecasts. Let's acknowledge first that Big Builder has absolutely zero impact on "buyer psychology," so our headlines and coverage–positive or negative–do not affect public perception of your management. We don't sell more copies of the magazine by virtue of "housing slump" story promotions, nor will what we write do anything to turn the tide of sideline sitters into a well-spring of demand for your product.
That part's been said. What hasn't been made enough of is the story of the cultural impetus and soul that keep thriving within your organizations, whether you're collectively delivering 2,000 homes every weekday of the year or 1,200 of them. The excellence evident at a beyond-capacity market demand, and the brilliance that's clear in an excessively-capacitized market are two entirely different business skill sets. Within an 18-month period, you've led your organizations from a period where transactions were seemingly everything to a period where relationships are the critical lifeline, whether it's in sales, purchasing, construction, human resources, or land negotiations.
It's the worst new-home market that most people in this business can ever remember, and yet big builders alone will sell 300,000 homes or more–roughly $75 billion worth–in the next 12 months. Government economic policy makers seem to be yo-yo-ing back and forth between their fears of "moral hazard" and "collateral damage" as they consider monetary policy choices. They appear to be prepared to await the gravitational tug of recession before they act to forestall it. Meanwhile, you must lead.
Your people are learning to sell in a fiercely competitive environment; your managers are learning to do more with less at every turn; your construction supervisors are driving time out of the building cycle and wasting less material; your CFO is learning to leverage better operational visibility into amended lending agreements; your project managers are learning to say "no" more often and be the bad guy; your purchasing executives are getting into weeds on whether to play the national contract game or go for the community-by-community sourcing relationship to deliver savings to the bottom line; and your focus on customer care has begun to show a real pulse.
"Our underpinnings are exactly the same as they've been, and culturally we're the same," says John Laing Homes CEO Larry Webb in answer to how different it is leading a company now versus during the go-go growth days that ended in 2006. "Only now, we're more financially driven than we've been in the 30 years I've been in this business. We'll have a Christmas party this year, but it won't have as much of the fancy stuff as we've had in past years."
It may be hard to believe, but sometime around the last couple of months of 2009, you might well be possessed at least temporarily by an instinct to look back at the bust that went before. Clearly, the team you'll be standing with at that moment will be the ones you can trust for the next stretch of growth. They'll have come the distance with you when times got as tough as they can get. They're good men and women.