Under-40 Home Builders: Career Construction

Wayne Yamano explains how he went from staining microscope slides in college to strategizing for Housing Giant Meritage Homes. 

By Mike Beirne, Senior Editor | October 9, 2014

Wayne Yamano’s career path started in a science classroom where understanding such microbiology fundamentals as the difference between Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria is essential. But the UCLA graduate eventually found his way into finance, which exposed him to real estate. Ultimately, that landed him a position where he underwrites land deals and manages market research and product development for a builder ranked 11th among Professional Builder’s Housing Giants. 

Q: How did your career path move from a degree in microbiology and molecular genetics to an MBA and  home building?
A: Like virtually all kids entering college, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. My favorite classes through high school were biology and math, so I figured I’d challenge myself with a major that involved both. By the time I figured out that I had a stronger interest in business, I was too far along to change my major, so I decided to graduate and take my chances in the job market. My first job was with a mutual fund company, which gave me exposure to many different industries, and that’s where I started gravitating towards real estate. After a few years with CBRE in commercial real estate research, I had the great fortune of going to work for John Burns, who taught me all about home building and challenged me to look at the business in new ways. While at John Burns Real Estate Consulting, I went back to school to get my MBA so I could get some of the finance education I didn’t get during undergrad. My wife, whom I met while I was getting my bachelor’s at UCLA, still won’t forgive me for getting my MBA at crosstown rival USC. The latest chapter in my career at Meritage has been my opportunity to not just provide consulting in the industry I love, but also to make decisions that drive company strategy.
Q: What is most rewarding about what you do in your current job?
A: The most rewarding part of my job is that I have a genuine opportunity to make a difference at Meritage. I feel very fortunate that our senior leadership is willing to hear my ideas and empower me to make strategic changes where they make sense. I nationally manage our land underwriting, marketing, product development, market research, and consumer research teams, but I feel that my ability to impact a change in strategy goes beyond just the groups under my purview. I think this is one of the ways we’ve managed to keep innovation as part of our company culture.
Q: What is the most challenging thing in the business right now?
A: The challenge to grow is the most demanding right now. All builders, particularly the publics, are looking for smart ways to grow. That makes everything we do more competitive, whether it’s land acquisition, M&A, hiring the best people, or simply selling homes across the street from each other. The keys to growth in a competitive environment like today are finding growth opportunities where others aren’t looking and trying to predict where the market is heading, rather than just operating where it is today. That’s obviously much easier said than done.
Q: Which Meritage initiatives are catching on with the market/buyers?
A: Different strategies work at different communities, so the key that we have been focusing on is finding ways to measure the effectiveness of the strategies we try. That way we can focus our dollars and energy where they make a difference. One strategy that we have found to be more universal is strong online marketing. We put a lot of energy into getting our online strategy right, because we know that 90 percent of homebuyers search online for their homes. I know this isn’t breaking news to anyone, but not everyone is willing to make the same level of commitment. PB


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