Design for Living: John Johnson
Whether they’re dreaming or constructing, people make the home building industry what it is. David Weekley Homes CEO John Johnson says that by placing people at the forefront of his work, success has swiftly followed.
Building homes is a weighty responsibility for those in charge. It’s not simply a matter of erecting four walls and a roof and calling it a day; it’s the kind of undertaking that affects peoples’ lives.
It’s therefore important when selecting a builder that they understand the task ahead of them on that deeper level. The vetting process is, of course, made much easier when building companies wear such an understanding on their sleeve.
The team at David Weekley Homes (DWH) has this cognisance infused in their DNA. Since its foundation in 1976, the Texas-based home builder has achieved many milestones, and all under the umbrella of its strong company values: building dreams, enhancing lives.
It’s this commitment to building more than just structures that has made DWH one of the biggest private home builders in the United States.
Despite the dramatic nationwide growth of the company, CEO John Johnson says DWH has stayed true to its values. "One of the things we’re most proud of is that we’ve made the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list 16 times," he says.
"Last year we were number nine overall, number four for millennials and number one in Texas. It’s a big compliment to our company and our team."
Streamlining the company
The strong connection between DWH and its own home in the Lone Star State is exemplified by John, an industry veteran and Texas native who came on board at a time when its founder was looking to take the business to the next level.
"I came to work for David Weekley in 1990," he says. "I was working for a national home builder in Houston at the time, and David’s company, of course, was founded there as well. Our corporate office is still in Houston."
The primary reason for John’s hiring was to improve operations, but John says there was much more to be done. "The two biggest opportunities I saw were a chance to help establish a clear company culture, and to grow a strong, deep leadership team," he says.
"David was not only willing to allow that but actively encouraged it and assisted me in doing so. Many entrepreneurs are very hesitant to give up control when it’s their baby, but David’s much smarter than that. And it has worked out really well for the company."
One of the things we’re most proud of is that we’ve made the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list 16 times. Last year we were number nine overall, number four for millennials and number one in Texas.
David had reached a point where his interest in aiding not-for-profit organizations was beginning to take priority over the day-to-day running of DWH; in John, he saw the kind of leader the company needed. "David realized he didn’t have the skillset to grow the company the way he wanted to," John says.
Five years after he joined the company, John became President and a decade later he took on the role of CEO. "David’s still our Chair; he’s probably the most innovative and intelligent person I’ve ever met," he says.
"I call him an enlightened entrepreneur to allow me to streamline the company the way I have. Now, we have a very professional, knowledgeable leadership team that believes in properly managed and controlled growth, not growth for growth’s sake."
That belief has resulted in revenue growth of between five-and-eight percent annually over the last decade. "We’re currently in 19 different metropolitan areas with room to grow in each of these," John says.
"We can hit those goals for the next five years without adding any new cities, but we also look for opportunities as they present themselves in new markets."
People and land
The challenges for any home builder looking to grow have little to do with the actual building, however. Instead, these boil down to two separate issues – people and land. "It’s always a challenge to find good quality team members, but also our industry is having difficulty finding strong trade partners," John says.
"We’re trying creative new tactics to become more effective at recruiting. Our industry isn’t always viewed as glamorous compared to some, so we’re reaching out through high schools and colleges to educate the next generation on the opportunities within the market. We’re having success with that but it’s a long-term plan."
It’s a similar story with trade partners and supply chains, both rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. "We’ve invested a lot of time and energy with our trade partners and their suppliers," John says.
Communication is so important; it means we know what’s out there, and rather than having more choices, we have better choices.
"We’ve built up a strong relationship with them through communication, scheduling and planning. It has serving us well, particularly in terms of supply of materials."
By keeping channels of communication clear and flowing smoothly between its suppliers and partners, John says DWH is able to provide its customers with superior options and upgrades.
"Communication is so important; it means we know what’s out there, and rather than having more choices, we have better choices," he says. "We’re always looking to improve and streamline the customer experience. We’re very focused on our customers."
Delighting the customer
Any company worth its salt must have a purpose in order to thrive, and DWH has always had customer satisfaction as its primary motivator. "The way we define our purpose is building dreams and enhancing the lives of our team, our customers and our community," John says.
"Everything starts with our team, so we invest a lot of time, energy and money creating the very best team we possibly can."
That’s done by hiring for values and fit, then training for skills. "Our team members must fit our purpose, they must buy into that purpose. Their values must match our values," he insists.
Everything starts with our team, so we invest a lot of time, energy and money creating the very best team we possibly can.
"And that has become a key advantage for us because it means our people do much more than show up for a pay check every day. We want them to be successful, and one of the things we tell new hires is that we want this to be their last new job."
Given the importance DWH places on its people, it’s no surprize John and his team have such a clear understanding of what it means for customers to build a home.
The company is, in David’s words, "in the customer satisfaction business", an assessment with which John readily agrees. "We’re passionate about delighting our customers," he says. "That’s spread throughout our organization, and it drives everything we do."
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