Drees Leads by Letting Go

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Many home builders, perhaps most, run their companies the way George S. Patton ran the Third Army, great at giving orders and getting things done, not so gret at mentioning the emerging leaders a growing organization needs.

October 01, 1999

Many home builders, perhaps most, run their companies the way General George S. Patton ran the Third Army, great at giving orders and getting things done, not so great at mentoring the emerging leaders a growing organization needs.

Former PB Builder of the Year Ralph Drees established a benchmark for leadership by delegation when his firm won the NHQ Award in 1994. That year, Drees reported $230.7 million in sales and significant progress toward decentralization of decision-making to operational levels. Today, the beat goes on.

"We’re still operating on the same principles we learned while competing for the NHQ Award in the early ‘90s," Drees says. "A few things have changed. The leadership transition to David (Drees, son and company president) is virtually complete. There’s no question David is the primary leader. I can be gone, and the company runs just fine. I’m on my way to Italy for three weeks right now."

But as chairman of the board, Drees acknowledges he’s still involved in nearly every land buy. "It’s the big risk factor in our business. Buying land is like getting married -- easy to get into, but hard to get out of if things go wrong."

However, it is David Drees and his management team who spearheaded Drees' new emphasis on growth by acquisition -- not the easiest strategy for a privately held firm to pull off. Drees used acquisitions as the entry vehicle to move into the Cleveland/Akron/Canton, Ohio; Raleigh, N.C.; and Austin, Texas, markets -- from established strongholds in Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and Dallas.

"I couldn’t run this company autocratically," says Drees. "The only way to grow to this size is by mentoring young managers and giving them the opportunity to learn and grow."

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