Why Not Share Your Secret Sauce?

Open-source sharing can prevent having to reinvent the wheel

August 13, 2015
2015 Housing Giants Special Report_home building report

I began covering home building by way of the food world, as an editor who shot and wrote about kitchens. The generosity of great designers and chefs made me a better journalist; more importantly, it provided readers with useful and interesting information. At first, the openness of such vaunted talents about tricks of the trade surprised me. It shouldn’t have. I soon learned that the idea of a secret recipe was an outdated notion. When you’re that good at something, you own it like nobody else.

In our 2015 Housing Giants Special Report, close to 300 builders share important information with us. As you’ll see on the pages that follow, the numbers tell the story—and there are many stories to tell. “The Consolidation Convergence” by senior editor Mike Beirne observes a confluence of factors that may fuel a spate of mergers and acquisitions in the coming years. In “Fail Safe,” I explore how builders are preparing for the next down cycle. Some sources declined to be interviewed, which begs the question: Were we asking for their secret sauce recipe? On the other hand, when folks don’t want to talk, it can mean that you have the makings of a good story. 

As we cast a wider net, we found more and more builders who wanted to explain exactly what they’re doing to batten down the proverbial hatches. So many offered smart insights that we ended up with 40 pages of single-spaced transcript. Generosity prevailed. 

Bart Mitchell is CEO of The Community Builders, the country’s largest nonprofit developer of mixed-income housing. His business doesn’t get as upended by boom and bust cycles as others might. Community builds in 30 markets, and Mitchell cites geographic diversity as a strength. In addition, the company offers a mix of products: new construction, adaptive reuse, and historic rehab of existing apartments. It’s a range that allows the company to adapt in hotter and cooler markets.

But there’s something else. Mitchell cites open-source sharing of best practices as key to Community’s success. Seeking information from someone who does something well means that builders and developers learn from one another and “aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel,” Mitchell says. So much for secret sauce. 

The Housing Giants featured in this issue are giants both large and small. From coast to coast and north to south, all play at the highest level because they’ve learned how to capitalize on their own particular strengths. Consolidation, diversification, land position, management, and more: In this issue, they share what has helped keep them on top.


Amy Albert is editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine. Previously, she worked as chief editor of Custom Home and design editor at Builder. Amy came to writing about building by way of food journalism, as kitchen design editor at Bon Appetit and before that, at Fine Cooking, where she shot, edited, and wrote stories on kitchen design. She studied art history with an emphasis on architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania, has served on several design juries, and is a recipient of the 2017 Jesse H. Neal Award for excellence in journalism. 


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