Finding Comfort in the Uncomfortable

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Selecting our Builder of the Year is one of the few things we do as a staff that makes each of us squirm.

December 01, 2001

 

Heather McCune, Editor in Chief

 

Selecting our Builder of the Year is one of the few things we do as a staff that makes each of us squirm. Typically, each writing editor comes to the meeting with a candidate - the one company in his or her region of the country that each believes stands out as an innovator with lessons to offer the rest of the industry.

It's all nice and proper until the presentations are done, and then the real meeting begins. Verbal wrestling ensues as each editor seeks to win supporters. Voices rise, faces contort, fingers point, and eventually consensus emerges.

This year's selection meeting included all the above but was different for one notable reason - not one editor initially nominated the company recognized in this issue as Builder of the Year - Pulte Homes. As the case for each nominee grew, we all sensed an 800-pound gorilla waiting to be acknowledged. Finally someone said it: "What about Pulte?" No doubt about it: Pulte made news this year. The Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based builder pulled off the largest acquisition in home building history with the purchase of Del Webb. It debuted a new name - Pulte Homes - as part of a massive national branding effort in an industry largely devoid of consumer awareness. It extended its streak of profitability to 50 years. Then there is that other bit of news, the story of the problem house in North Carolina and the unhappy homeowner told to the nation on Dateline NBC.

We did what every journalist would do: We started asking questions. We learned the facts behind the story that weren’t aired on television. We found a company that made every effort to make right on what it admits was a problem. We also found a company that because of its size will likely face a similar situation again someday, because to some, it will always be perceived as a deep pocket.

In our digging we learned that the real story at Pulte Homes isn’t the good PR or the bad. The story for our industry - and for Wall Street as well - is the one being written every day at Pulte Homes. It is a story of a company that has learned to find comfort in the uncomfortable.

What does that mean, you ask? Simply, day in and day out the people who are Pulte challenge what they do and how it is done. The culture of the company is such that every associate, not just the powers that be back at corporate, embrace rather than resist the restlessness that comes from continually seeking improvement. An energy, an almost electrical charge, emanates from every individual we interviewed.

However, just any improvement isn’t the goal at Pulte. As the articles beginning on page 40 make clear, every innovation, every initiative, every process improvement undertaken by the nation’s biggest builder must pass its own litmus test: How will this benefit our home buyer? Why? Because Pulte vice president/marketing Jim Lesinski mined the data, did the math and learned that every satisfied customer generates 5.5 more new home buyers for the company.

These are customers Pulte spends no money to acquire. What a way to grow margins.

Now, as a builder competing with Pulte Homes for buyers, you probably are experiencing an unsettled, uncomfortable feeling that comes from knowing that the ante has just been upped. To that I say good for you. Hang on to that feeling, that surge of adrenaline that makes your heart beat faster, your mind race and your palms sweat. Success and survival are very different things, and I believe that to achieve the former, we must become familiar with what makes us uncomfortable. There are days when I long for what is familiar, what is safe. I also know that if, for even one day, I give in to that desire, it will be harder not to let the same thing happen tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Pulte Homes has institutionalized what so many are still trying so hard to achieve: a culture - from founder Bill Pulte to its newest hire - content to be uncomfortable. From this place it will get where all of us want to go.

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