Gregg Carlson hand-delivered a resume to the offices of Lee Wetherington Homes in summer 1993, seeking a job plus one perk: an inside office.
Then 33, Carlson had worked his way up in construction, going back to when he was in high school in Arcadia. He was a laborer, a carpenter and a project superintendent. He learned the nuts and bolts of building homes, but after 15 years he was ready to trade the hammer for a stapler.
“I wanted to get inside,” says Carlson, “but the lack of a (college) degree was a problem.”
Carlson got an interview on the spot at Lee Wetherington Homes. He competed with one other person for an estimator job, and he ultimately got it.
More than 20 years later, with some stops in sales and leadership posts at national homebuilders in the Tampa area, Carlson now has the ultimate Lee Wetherington gig. He was named CEO Sept. 1
Carlson replaces previous CEO Bill Hager, who retired. In addition to Hager’s exit, Lee Wetherington sold a portion of the company to a six-member management team last year.
Wetherington, who founded the firm in 1974, remains a consultant, the largest shareholder and funds many of the company’s land purchases and investments.
Day-to-day decisions and long-term vision of the Lakewood Ranch-based company now lies with Carlson. While Carlson is excited about his new role — and his strategy to grow into new markets and price points — he’s also somewhat reticent to talk it up.
“My goal was never to run a company,” he says.
Lee Wetherington had other ideas when he invited Carlson to dinner in February. The two had remained friends since Carlson left the company in 2003, when he was vice president of construction. Carlson once sent Wetherington a copy of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography, with an inscription that says Job’s singular genius reminded Carlson of Wetherington.
(The ability to see years and moves ahead and disrupt markets, says Carlson, not Jobs’ ornery personality.)
Wetherington and Carlson, over dinner at Capital Grille at the Mall at University Town Center, talked about how the company could adapt and adjust to the shifts in the marketplace. Five months later Carlson, the Tampa market president for K. Hovnanian Homes since 2013, accepted the position.
Lee Wetherington Homes had $20.17 million in revenue last year when it sold 23 homes. Sales fell 14.5% from $23.6 million in 2014, but are up from the worst year of the recession, 2010, when it had less than $7 million in sales and sold 10 homes.
Carlson doesn’t intend to lead a dramatic shake up at the company, which has built more than 4,000 homes. “I’m not a micromanager,” says Carlson. “If I have to manage everything you are doing, then you might not be the right person for that seat.”
Carlson believes there’s an unmet need in the $400,000 to $600,000 sector of the new construction market, both in the Sarasota-Manatee area and in specific Tampa pockets. Getting into those markets, he says, will require new analysis of land deals, in addition to different marketing and branding materials. Lee Wetherington Homes has mostly built homes in the $800,000 to $1.5 million range.
Carlson plans to balance a conservative outlook with an opportunistic mindset on land deals. The Venice area in south Sarasota County is one spot Carlson covets for the company, in addition to possibly east Hillsborough County. He seeks to avoid price-war markets already crowded with national and regional builders, such as south Hillsborough.
“We want to be in a broader market,” says Carlson, “but we want to find the right locations that are a good fit for the company and the brand.”
By: Mark Gordon | Managing Editor, Business Observer