[Author's note: Dear Reader, a quick note to let you know a planned vacation and holidays will mean a short break from my daily briefings about home building to you, after today through Jan. 1, 2019. I, my entire team at Hanley Wood and Metrostudy, and our new team members at Meyers Research, wish you warmest, best wishes for your holidays. Let's lock arms for an exciting, empowered journey into the New Year. See you soon!]

Dan Ryan, Dan Ryan Builders.
Dan Ryan, Dan Ryan Builders.

Dan Ryan woke up one morning during the haze of teenage-hood with the same feeling so many of you have had. Being his father's son certainly accounted for part of the feeling, but at that very moment at least two other realizations powerfully and inalterably confirmed both his identity and the work life that stretched ahead.

One realization was, roughly, "I don't know how to do anything else." As in other than eating, sleeping, breathing job sites, new home construction, watching people's hearts soar as they took the keys of their brand new home.

The other dawning was, roughly, "And, I don't want to know how to do anything else."

At that moment, the deal sealed. Identity and livelihood melded.

Dan Ryan is a home builder, like his father Jim, founder of Ryland Homes (now part of Lennar). Like his Uncle Ed, founder of Ryan Homes (now NVR). Like his Uncle Bill, and his brothers, and his cousins, in a family dynasty that still spreads wide and deep into the fabric of American home building.

As a matter of fact, every time someone stands up and clamors as to how production home building in the United States is so technologically outmoded, Dan Ryan and his cousins Bill and Susie Gillespie and many, many other family members are probably secretly tickled.

Part of the reason builders build homes the way they have for so many years is that three brothers from Pittsburgh--Ed, Jim, and Bill--figured out, down to the board-foot inch, how to build a home as fast and well as Bill Levitt had. They built them well. They built them fast. They didn't waste time or materials. It was practically an assembly line, the most efficient, sophisticated way to manage 25 separate trade contractors through a start-to-completion cycle on multiple sites simultaneously.

And then, to boot, they figured out how to manage, train, inspire, motivate, educate, and empower thousands upon thousands of other people in the business of home building, and how to access sophisticated capital markets and investors to fuel it all.

After Dan Ryan's teenage epiphany moment, he got a business degree at Virginia's James Madison University, and he spent some time at his dad's firm Ryland before heading to work well down the chain of command of his Uncle Ed at Ryan Homes, which, to this day, is regarded as the MIT of volume home building. In the mid-to-late-1980s, if you made it there, you could make it anywhere.

The way his dad, Jim Ryan, tells the story, Dan telephoned Jim one afternoon in 1989, practically in tears.

It appears that, despite his familial connection to the top of the company and what Dan regarded as a perfectly adequate work ethic, a division chief had let Jim know he wasn't cut out for a leadership path at Ryan Homes, kind of like flunking quantum mechanics at MIT.

In that low-point moment, Dan flashed back to his two bottom-line realizations. "I don't know how to do anything else," and "I don't want to know how to do anything else," and transformed them into a single, fiery fusion of belief and passion.

In that next 12 months of 1990, he hung up a shingle, Dan Ryan Builders. He built one home.

The rest, as they say, is history. Inspired deep down by the company that spurned him early on--NVR--Dan Ryan counterpunched the giant started by his uncle to the point where it's become nearly equally as formidable--especially as part of a hungry, Japan-based 400-plus year-old giant of a home builder, Sumitomo Forestry.

Dan and I spoke this week, as he was barnstorming the Dan Ryan Builders Carolinas divisions amid townhalls full of tears, accolades, encouragement, and gratitude, wishing Dan Ryan, the man, the builder, the builder of an enterprise, the continuation of a family legend, well in the next stretch of his journey.

"What a great team they are," he said. "I've known it from working with them all, but this past couple of weeks, I've looked at them differently, and am so proud of what they've become."

Humble as always. In many respects, from that low-point moment in 1989 to now, Dan Ryan's storybook career and accomplishments--from one home in the first year to a top-25 home building powerhouse in 2018--is no surprise. We wrote the following in May 2009, when a decade ago, home building hit its own low-point, the Great Recession. It foretold what we believed would play out, but it could not approach the accomplishment Dan, and his team, and his family, and his partners would achieve between then and now.

As you well know, resilience and obstinacy are in no short supply, although credit where credit is due is nowhere in evidence. We've put together a mosaic of voices and stories—about survival, about cleverness, about wile, and about patience. “We're here to stay” is the mantra. We hope so.

Most veterans attribute an ultimate triumph among privates to residential real estate's first—but oft-forgotten—rule: All real estate is local.

Dan Ryan, founder and CEO of one of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area's most powerful home builders, Dan Ryan Builders, puts the rule a slightly different way, and it's a way that offers insight into why never to count private builders out of the running. “Home building,” Ryan reminds us, “is a people business.” Land sellers, subcontractors, lenders, and yes, home buyers are each in and of themselves marketing and capital partners that make home building profoundly local. Local skin in the game, local intelligence, and local fulfillment of local promises give local home builders at least an opportunity to win, if not better odds.

The Pittsburgh-rooted Ryan family, one of home building's royalty, also offers an example of why never to underestimate the power of the private home builders, even though lenders have most of them groveling on their knees, begging for time.

Here's the Ryan story, and it's about almost getting beaten, but not.

Ryan and royalty go together, but it's a royalty of rough hands, sun-wizened skin, coarse job site "motivation," day-in-and-day-out drive, endless hours of windshield time, constant rallying of morale and focus among team members, sleepless nights of loans coming due and trades needing pay and home buyers--those magnificent people making their boldest, most outlandish financial commitment of their lives--needing hand-holding, and calming, and care.

What's more, Dan Ryan, kept close touch with "the why" of his identity why it matters. He was our 2015 Hearthstone BUILDER Award winner for his profound contributions and work to help those who need help.

Ryan and royalty now go together, but not without the fusion of those two realizations, once upon a time. "I don't know how to do anything else."

And, "I don't want to know how to do anything else."

Ryan and royalty may go together; Ryan and retirement may or may not.

We'll hear more from Dan Ryan. And we'll listen, because in many senses of the words, when Dan Ryan speaks, a next generation of young men and women are likely to wake up one day with the same two realizations.

"I don't know how to do anything else."

"I don't want to know how to do anything else."

Such is the stuff of love, which Dan Ryan has brought boundlessly to home building, to those who've joined him in his journey, and all of us who wish him the best in the next chapter of his journey.