The latest episode of Zonda’s Inspirational Leadership with the Best in Home Building podcast features an interview with Doug Yearley, chairman and CEO of Toll Brothers.

Yearley joined Toll Brothers in 1990 and has held various management positions over the last three decades. He has been an officer with Toll Brothers since 1994, holding the position of vice president, senior vice president, regional president, and executive vice president. In 2010, Yearley became CEO of the company.

Initially joining Toll Brothers to specialize in land acquisitions and project management, Yearley learned the home building business from the ground up thanks to his connection with the late and well-loved Bob Toll, who spent every Monday night teaching him the ins and outs of the business.

Here is the transcript from the episode:

Carmichael: Could you tell us a little bit about your role as CEO with Toll Brothers?

Yearley: I've been at the company for 33 years now. I've been CEO for 13 years, and the job is wild. I travel a bit; I need to get out and see all the divisions, and we build in 26 states. I know the importance of getting out there and cheerleading the divisions. I spend a lot of time on strategy, there's not a land deal of any size that I don't approve. That's the lawyer in me, I am a lawyer by background. So, I just like to have that control. Bob Toll gave me the marketing department when I was 35, and I will never give that up because our brand is so important. I don't have a marketing background, but I feel like if I can control land decisions and if I can oversee the marketing of our brand, I’m going to be able to sleep at night.

Carmichael: You were given marketing at 35?

Yearley: I was overseeing, and we had a chief marketing officer. But the CMO, I think she was a little let down because she reported to Bob, and then she was told she had to report to me. But yeah, he gave it to me and said I trust you to protect our brand. And I love that part of it. I love the soft side of the business, you know, I didn't grow up as a builder. I can still walk a house under construction and talk the talk, but not like most people in the field. But if you want me to fluff a pillow and straighten the directional sign and pull weeds and make sure our website is perfect, I'm your guy.

Carmichael: So, you went to school to become a lawyer? How did you end up in home building?

Yearley: My dad was handy. He had a great shop in the basement. I was always making stuff. My favorite class in middle school was woodworking, which you can't even take any more. I went to Cornell and graduated in 1982. I couldn't get a job. It was a deep recession. Part of it was I didn't know what I wanted to do, and part of it was the market was awful. I interviewed with a bunch of New York City banks for their credit training programs, which was a path back then that a lot of people took if they wanted to get out of Wall Street or get into banking. I think it became obvious in the interviews that I wasn't excited about that.

I had taken a couple of undergraduate law classes at Cornell for fun, and they interested me, so I took the LSAT. I did well, I went to New York as a paralegal for a year to see if I liked it. I liked it enough to decide to go to law school. When I graduated, I joined a New Jersey law firm as a litigator, which means whether you have the right side or the wrong side of the argument, you're fighting. I hated billing every 10 minutes of my day; I hated being in a fight. I like being in court, but that doesn't happen. That's, you know, fantasy. I mean, they get to go to court that often and, you know, be Perry Mason. It just doesn't happen. I hated it for four years.

I spent every free moment renovating my 100-year-old home, because that's what I liked to do. I was handy, and I just liked it. I actually thought about whether I should quit law and buy old houses and put my own sweat equity into the renovation and flip them. That would have been a disaster.

I responded to an ad in The Philadelphia Inquirer for an assistant to the CEO of a publicly traded home builder. Well, I knew it had to be Toll because they had just gone public, and it was the only builder in Philly. I didn't know if it was a secretarial job or not. It didn't say, so I threw together a resume and went in. And sure enough, I meet Bob Toll.

Bob went to Cornell; I went to Cornell. He loved that. Bob went to law school and loved how it rewired his brain, but he lasted in the practice of law for nine months. I went to law school, I loved how it rewired my brain. I lasted four years.

And he said, “What are you making?” And I told him what I was making. He said, “I'll give you that exact amount of money.” And he said, “How many weeks of vacation?” I said I got three weeks, and he said, “I'm gonna give you two.” I said, “Bob, you can't give me three?” And he said, “You’re going to be having so much fun, you're not going to find time to take two.” And he stuck his hand across the table. I shook his hand. I went home and told my wife. That may be the craziest thing I ever did.

It was the greatest move I ever made. And it was obviously risky at the time. But I think I was so unhappy as a lawyer, and I had this bug to somehow get into real estate. I didn't know I wanted to be a home builder. I was turned on by real estate, I thought it'd be fun.

Carmichael: What was that like meeting Bob Toll for the first time?

Yearley: Bob passed away in October at 81. I was at his side for 33 years. Bob is the most important figure in my professional life, by far. He's a wild man. I mean, the energy level, the passion. He held everybody accountable. But he did it in a loving way.

There's no onboarding with HR, you know, we're a small company. He said, "Walk around the place and introduce yourself to people." And then he said, "I'll see you tonight, you know, just hang around, I'll call you. It's a Monday." I learned later about these manic Mondays. So, I wait around. And after walking in the office and trying to introduce myself to people who didn't even know I was there, they're asking me what I'm going to do when I say I'm not exactly sure.

Finally, like 10:30 on Monday night, my phone rings. And it's Bob saying, come on over my boy, let's dance. And I go to Bob's office. I'm like, 10:30 to midnight, and we just talk about the business and get to know each other better. And then I'm walking out the back hallway at midnight thinking, what the heck have I gotten myself into? I get in my car, and I'm like, “I have made such a huge mistake. These people are lunatics.”

I spent over 900 Monday nights with Bob. That was his night to teach. That was his night to talk strategy and to do land deals.

Carmichael: You spent every Monday of your career with him?

Yearley: Every Monday, Toll University, Bob Toll holding court and teaching. And finally, after like 10 years, I got the courage to say, Bob, would it be OK if like maybe now I could go a little earlier on a Monday night because other people were leaving at 9 p.m., and we must stay till 2 a.m. And he says to me, "You and I are going to turn the lights off every Monday night."

Carmichael: Have you carried over the Monday night tradition?

Yearley: We don't do it anymore. We don't bring in bad pizza and stay until midnight. It’s hard to get people back to the office. And you know, we weren't all connected back then the way we are now with phones and iPads and texting and emailing.

Carmichael: When I think about Toll Brothers, I'm impressed by the people that work at this company. What’s the secret to that?

Yearley: We really spend the time upfront to try to hire people. I love competitiveness. Bob used to ask in interviews if they knew how to play poker. He loved poker players. I remember, I sat in an interview with him, and he asked somebody if they played poker, and they kind of said yes, and I don't think he believed them. He pulled out a deck of cards and asked them to shuffle the cards. Because then he could tell if they really knew what they were doing.

Carmichael: Toll Brothers is well known for design. How did that come about? Where does that sort of core value come from?

Yearley: We’ve always been at the luxury end of the business. Our average price right now is a million dollars. We're the only national public or private builder at that price. We tend to compete against the small local custom builder; we rarely compete against the other big publics. And when you're buying land at the corner of Main Street and Main Street, that is expensive because of its location. You better have special products, special homes on that land to drive the highest profit. It would be a shame to buy land at the corner of Main and Main, pay a lot for it, and then screw it up with track housing. It would just be a shame. It's an easier way to go, but it would be a shame.

We have 30 design studios nationwide. Not only can you pick structural changes to your design, but then you go to our design studio when you pick all your finishes. We are building semi-custom homes, as a production home builder. We did 10,000 homes a year that are semi-custom. It’s a tricky business. And to succeed, you better have good architecture. We hire great architects; we have our own in-house firm. We've learned so much from the Western interior decorators that decorate our houses. And I'm an East Coast kid so I'm not putting the East down. But most housing design ideas, inside and out, come from the West. And the more we do in the West, the more it's made our company nationwide better.

Carmichael: If you were to pick top three qualities to successful marketing, what would they be?

Yearley: Attention to detail, the little things matter. And I visit so many websites that are screwed up, I get so many marketing materials that are screwed up. I visit our competition. I love all the other home builders, but sometimes you walk in their sales centers or their model homes and wonder, does anybody want to stop the car and pick up the trash? Does anybody want to stop the car and pull a few weeds, straighten out a marketing sign that's been laying in the mud for a month? Details.

I'm a bit older. I have to remind myself all the time of the evolution of marketing to more digital to more techie, hiring people that tend to be younger, and really getting into the digital side of marketing, understanding it intimately, where to spend the dollars to get the most bang. I grew up with paper, I grew up with paper brochures, and it's moved. We're not in the newspapers anymore. We're not on the radio, we're not in magazines, our budget is 99% digital, and our marketing group is a lot of young, cool people cruising around here on skateboards. They’re going to take us to a level that I could never imagine, because I didn't grow up with it. And I don't fully appreciate it. But that's where marketing is headed.

Carmichael: Speaking of which, as we get to leadership, what are the top three things you're looking for when you're hiring a great leader? Because you clearly hired some exceptional people.

Yearley: We take the time, as I said upfront, because for sure we know how important it is. We don't put people through psychological testing. But I want somebody who's smarter than me. I want competitive people. I want people that hate to lose. And I want nice and fun people. We have fun together, we laugh together, we have a lot of fun. And it’s people that are real.

Carmichael: If you are looking back on your career, or even today, who are some of your top inspirational leaders, and why?

Yearley: Oh, well, I've mentioned Bob like 20 times in this podcast. So, he's at the top, for sure. There's no one like Bob Toll, and you can ask anybody in the industry. He was always the smartest guy in the room. He didn't say that, but you just knew it. He always got into more detail.

We’d review land deals together, and he'd have a land package in front of him that had to be studied. He would have 10 times the amount of notes and markups in his package than everyone else sitting around the table. And you learn from that. Absolutely. And he taught me, and it was beyond just work. I mean, I played 25 rounds of golf with Bob, I traveled with him, he was at my wedding, and he's been at my parents’ funerals. It’s crazy. Bob died at 3 a.m. on Oct. 7. My father died at 6 a.m. on Oct. 7 15 years ago.

Carmichael: Anything else you’d like to mention about what makes the company special?

Yearley: A lot of the jobs in this company aren't customer facing. And there's a lot of people that you don't get to see. They hear about it, they go on our website, they look at beautiful pictures around the office of our homes, but they don't get to see what we do. And we put all those employees and bosses and take them with us; we go out and visit communities with them.

If you’re on the line building a Mercedes-Benz, well, you should get to drive it. And I want everybody in this company to get out and see what we're all about. You know, we spent so much time envisioning the community. It's not just the houses.

We always talk about how we don't build homes; we build communities where neighbors become lifetime friends and kids become lifetime friends and moms and dads are pushing baby strollers— that's what I'm most proud of. We build communities. We happen to have lovely homes, but it's the community we built that changes people's lives, and it changes their friends. And that's why real estate is so cool.

Click to hear from the leaders in the last five podcast episodes, which feature Rick Severance, president of Wellen Park, Mattamy Homes; Shravan Parsi, CEO of American Ventures; Spencer Rascoff, former CEO and co-founder of Zillow; Joan Webb, New Home Co.'s former chief marketing officer; and Mike Forsum, president and COO at Landsea Homes.