Webb Walks the Talk of Family Values

The wonder of it is that anyone as passionate about teaching and coaching as Larry Webb ever found his way into managing a home building company.

By Bill Lurz, Senior Editor | November 30, 2003
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The wonder of it is that anyone as passionate about teaching and coaching as Larry Webb ever found his way into managing a home building company. This Harvard Business School graduate carries much more the mark of the State University of New York at Cortland than his more prestigious alma mater. Even now that he's a 55-year-old Californian, his Buffalo, N.Y., roots show.

"At Harvard, I was amazed at the number of case histories we studied where the right answer was fire everybody and bring in your own people," he says. "I've had bosses where every time they talked to me, they'd yell about something - and I was successful! That gets old. There's something inherently wrong with a company where you can hire away any employee, without paying him more money, just by showing him a little love. We've got a lot of companies like that in our industry. I want to keep my people for a long time."

But what does he do when he has to fire someone? Wayne Stelmar and Bill Probert, his partners in John Laing Homes, say Webb pulls the trigger faster today, perhaps because Laing's culture is so solid that people who don't fit in stand out almost immediately. "But we've had problems with Larry on that score in the past," Stelmar says.

"The hardest one for me," Webb says, "is the person who really tries hard but just can't cut it."

The CEO's other weakness? Despite his dedication to process control, Webb says process mapping is not his bag. "I'm the king of winging it," he says. "Wayne and Bill are much better at defining a process and getting it down on paper."

Webb's strengths revolve around people and communication, and he doesn't deny the importance of teaching and coaching in shaping his persona and management style. Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington, Mass., remains a big part of who he is. "We're having a 30th anniversary reunion of my 1974 state championship soccer team next year," Webb reports.

Webb, who played soccer during his youth in the Buffalo suburb of Hamburg, N.Y., now is the head of coaching for the Newport Beach, Calif., chapter of the American Youth Soccer Organization. But his athletic interests go far beyond soccer. In fact, upon learning of Toll Brothers president Bob Toll's Monday land meetings that invariably last until midnight, Webb asked, "How can they do that and miss Monday night football?"

Balance among work, family and play is a central theme of Webb's life and a JLH corporate policy. Wife Janet and daughters Laura, 17, and Emily, 14, are as involved in sports as Larry is. "We're still able to get the kids to do a lot of things as a family," he says. "We've done five back-roads bicycle trips to places like Italy, France and the San Juan Islands [in Washington]."

He admits to being scared of his approaching empty-nesterhood. The only thing that scares him more? Retirement.


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