David graduated from Trinity University and was on track for Harvard Business School. All he lacked was the requisite two years of management experience. So when recruiters from a home builder visited his campus looking for management trainee candidates, David accepted their offer. Within the first year, he discovered a passion for home building and quickly rose through the ranks to lead his own Team, building and selling homes in a new subdivision. "I liked the company, was learning a lot and doing well," David recalled. But his visions of a bright future at this company faded quickly when he was forced to choose between his prosperity and his principles.
They say, "It's not a principle unless it costs you money." When David's supervisor wanted to substitute the use of a company car for the bonus he had earned, David took his case to the company president who told him to take the Oldsmobile or take a hike. David made one of the most difficult—and important—decisions of his young life. He left with his principles and a dream.
At 23, unemployed with a family to feed, David still couldn't shake the idea of starting his own company. With home building experience and a fire in his belly, the only thing he didn't have was capital. David's older brother, Dick, had watched with amazement as David excelled at his first job. So Dick risked everything he owned for a line of credit and the two brothers started David Weekley Homes.
The world headquarters of David Weekley Homes was a lonely construction trailer in the middle of a field. David was salesperson, purchasing manager and builder. Competing against national companies, he started with two model homes and an ad from his dad. David's father created a newspaper ad which, appropriately enough, featured David vs. Goliath.
With no way to compete with the big guys on price due to the economies of scale, David held to his belief that design was an important facet of home building that had been largely overlooked. So he began questioning every preconceived home design notion. "Why so few windows?," "Why eight-foot ceilings?" As he answered these questions his homes began to stand out for their design.
Everyone in Houston was in the oil business. They just didn't know it until 1984. That's when oil and gas went bust and took Houston's real estate market with it. More than 100,000 people lost their jobs. In an industry where margins were already slim, David would have to look beyond Houston's troubled economy if his company hoped to survive. So he expanded into Dallas.
David was looking for ways to weather Houston's real estate crisis when he found a bankrupt Dallas builder who was selling his subdivisions. Dallas Homebuyers were wowed by David's unique design approach. He started handing out sunglasses to visitors and running ads that said, "We've Seen the Light." The overwhelming response encouraged David to expand into other markets.
Like all successful entrepreneurs, David was great at the fundamentals that made his company work. But now he was at a crossroads. Aware of his limitations, and the need to grow his company, he found a partner that could help. John Johnson was hired as Chief Operating Officer and was later promoted to President and CEO, with David becoming Chairman.
For David, the evolution of home building is fascinating. By the time other builders got around to rethinking their designs, David was already exploring ways to enhance the buying and building process for his Customers. A prime example is the rich array of options he introduced that has blurred the line between custom homes and production homes. David continues to keep the industry on its toes.
It's human nature: what gets measured gets done. David admits to being "maniacally Customer-driven." It's not unusual to find him on his computer the morning after a phone survey, perusing results and calling Customers to better understand their needs. As far as David is concerned, the only yardstick that matters is what his Customers think. And his company never stops measuring.
David Weekley's formula for exceptional Customer Satisfaction: Hire your industry's best. Keep them happy. They keep your Customers happy. Besides an excellent benefits package the company regularly solicits Team Members for their suggestions on ways to improve every facet of the business. David Weekley Homes is the only builder featured on FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For®" eight times.
The trophy cases at David Weekley's Houston headquarters are filled with hundreds of awards for design, quality and Customer Satisfaction. The company has been profiled in national magazines and was spotlighted on NBC's Today Show. But one of its proudest moments was when the Walt Disney Company asked David Weekley Homes to build in Celebration, a brand new community outside Disney World in Orlando. The folks at Disney had spent two years searching America for builders who shared their passion for excellence. In the end, David Weekley Homes was the only builder with the creativity and Customer-driven focus to remain involved with Celebration from start to finish.
Even though much has changed since 1976, David Weekley's Purpose has never varied: Building Dreams, Enhancing Lives. This mission extends beyond the lives of their Customers to everyone from Team Members and suppliers to those who have never even heard of the company. On any given day, Weekley Team Members can be found raising money and volunteering for a variety of worthy causes. David himself gives half of his time and half of his personal income to non-profit charities.
After building homes for over 70,000 families, some people might think about slowing down, not David. He's having too much fun.