How long have you been in the business and what drew you into the industry?
I’ve been in the industry for 15 years. I started in 2005 when the market was at an all-time high. I saw about two years of the run up and then cut my teeth during the Great Recession. In hindsight I’m very fortunate to have been with a company that not only weathered the storm but prior to my involvement had made decisions to allow us to capitalize on some once in a lifetime opportunities. What’s the old adage – A crisis is a heck of an opportunity to waste? Those seven years really exposed me to the good, bad, and ugly of the industry, which has really shaped my view of how to move forward. As far as what drew me to this industry, in all honesty I didn’t know it existed. My parents were teachers, so I didn’t grow up in it. I got a finance and philosophy degree in school, so I followed most business majors’ path of looking at large corporate companies. It just so happened that after a few years abroad, and wanting to get back to the Richmond area, I stumbled upon the industry and East West and haven’t looked back.
What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of your job?
What I love about my job is the collaboration between so many disciplines to create a plan that, if successful, creates enormous amount of value– not only for our stakeholders but for municipalities and future residents. There is something very satisfying about bringing that all together and having a hand in so many areas of the entire process.
The least favorite part of my job is more of a realization – I’m a generalist versus a specialist. Had I known my career path I would have not only obtained a finance degree but also civil engineering, architecture, marketing, and planning degrees to name a few. There’s just so much to learn and become an expert in, it’s exciting and daunting at the same time.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Since there are so many disciplines, stakeholders, specialists, opportunities, problems and challenges in our industry I can honestly say I don’t have a typical day to day, which is part of the reason I love it. What I can say is that it starts early (4:30 a.m.), and with technology, such as smartphones, it never really ends. With that said, I’m a firm believer in following the Eisenhower Decision Matrix day in and day out. Prioritizing based on what is important/urgent and important but not urgent. To that end, we encourage our team members to carve out “alone” time to think through big picture strategy items so we don’t get bogged down in the routine day to day and putting out fires.
What is the greatest challenge to the industry right now?
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: affordability. Land continues to get more expensive, materials and labor continue to be on the rise and regulation, whether it is state or local adds 25% to the final product of the home. We need to come up with creative out of the box ways to address these issues – both at the local and state level. It takes a village. It’s not going to naturally fix itself.
Second, stakeholders, residents, and municipalities simplistically and obliviously make their case on the majority versus one individual, with the inference that, of course, the former should prevail. The majority often times is the vocal minority and the one individual can mean an individual, an HOA or the collective “one” municipality. We should all share the high regard for the majority opinion. However, just as with our Constitution that protects certain individual right with the Bill of Rights, we should also believe there are some rights that warrant special respect, consideration and attention. It is only when members of the majority mentally put themselves in the shoes of the minority that they begin to “get it.” Too often we acquiesce to the bully pulpit and progress and foresight are hindered or completing squashed in the name of the majority.
What’s the most memorable project you’ve completed?
I think I can speak for our entire team that, locally, the most memorable development is Hallsley. We hit the right location at the right time, with the right product mix that really allowed us to take our time and money on making little bets (in other words, small risks, innovations, etc. that sometimes don’t work out). On the amenity side we introduced a zip line, an elaborate tree house, the Hallsley Hopper community chauffeured van, a wild flower meadow, and more – which we hadn’t done before. On the architecture side we tried to push the envelope on critical regionalism by introducing new concepts such as Dutch Colonial, Shingle Cottage and French Provincial architecture. We also experimented with incentivizing our builder team to create unique selling points within their homes, which is an area in which we typically haven’t involved ourselves. That’s how we ended up with a rock climbing wall within a home, a two-story slide, hidden rooms behind moveable bookcases, wine cellars in the basement that could be seen through a glass floor on the first floor, and more. I give the builders credit. They bought into the concept, took a risk, and it paid dividends. For these reasons and many others, we were fortunate enough to have been named The Best Community in America in 2017 by the National Association of Home Builders.
How big a role does new technology play in your industry?
Technology certainly plays a role in our industry but at first blush I’d say it plays more of a role in the sticks-and-bricks construction side of the home than the horizontal land development business we are in. That’s not to say it’s not coming, and we are certainly keeping our eyes and ears open. I think in our part of the industry we are ripe for disruption more on the zoning and ordinance side of things than anything else, which affects things like product type, lot size, parking, transportation, and environmental nuisances.
What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of work?
Certainly number one is my family. I have two lovely girls, ages eight and ten. I enjoy watching and participating in their discovery of life. My wife appreciates that I love what I do and I spend an enormous amount of time researching ideas and running them by her. I couldn’t stay so focused on my self-edification quest if she wasn’t supportive. To that end, I love reading, hiking, going to the gym in the wee hours of the morning, and following my hometown Chicago sports teams. When the girls are older we’d love to take them abroad. I have a passion for international travel. When I got married I was 28 and at the time had been to 32 different countries. I was trying to visit the same number of countries as my age. That’s taken a pause with the kids and my career but I’d like to start traveling again, and I’m anxious to share those experiences with the family.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Wow. That’s a big one. I’m not sure I can say these are actually advice, but more mottos or mantras to live by that have served well:
Prepare for the worst. Truly accept it (more difficult to do than preparing). Then improve on it.
Become an optimist versus a perfectionist. Emotions are contagious, like catching a cold.
Be aware of confirmation bias. Do I know this for sure, or have I landed on a comfortable spot? Train yourself to be eager to be wrong.
At any given moment we can step forward into growth or backwards into safety. Adopt a “growth mindset.”
BE KIND, FOR EVERYONE YOU MEET IS FIGHTING A BATTLE YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT.