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Humbly Building a Pathway to Success

In today’s fast-changing marketplace, it can be difficult to achieve mastery in even one professional field. To taste success in multiple areas is quite the challenge, especially when that includes industries – such as real estate, land development and high-tech – that have witnessed such a remarkable range of highs and lows in the pre-recession, recession and post-recession periods that have marked the past dozen years.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with such as individual who has. Dustin Bogue serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of San Jose-based publicly traded homebuilder and land developer UCP, Inc. (NYSE: UCP). In addition to his extensive experience and success in the area of land acquisition and development, Bogue’s professional experience also includes creating two technology start-ups, despite having received no formal training in that area.

While these accomplishments are impressive, it was the timing of Bogue’s ascent that makes his achievements all the more remarkable. UCP was launched in 2004, just a short time before the real estate market (and the economy in general) began to unravel. Faced with making many difficult and painful decisions along the way, Bogue’s steady hand managed to steer the company through the historic and terrifying downturn (one that many businesses did not survive) and eventually into the arms of PICO Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: PICO), a publicly traded diversified holding company, which maintains a 56.9% ownership stake in the Company. Despite the emotional toll this time period had on his business and him personally, he never lost sight of his end goal: to create a business where “everything mattered” – from planning, design, construction, sales and the customer experience – that was as fulfilling as it was rewarding for all stakeholders, including investors, employees and homebuyers. Today, Bogue is well on his way to achieving this goal, having grown UCP exponentially from five to 200 employees, amassing nearly 6,000 lots, and branching out into new markets including Washington state and the Southeast.

I was immediately taken with Bogue’s friendly and personable disposition. It was clear to me that he was more interested in relating what others have done for him to help him than to tell me about the accomplishments he has achieved as CEO. His tone and word choice when detailing his rise, struggles, and resurgence conveyed a deep desire to share more about the human connections that he established through thick and thin than to detail the winning strategies that he has implemented. He was also quick to point out that his successes would not have been the case had he not surrounded himself with incredible people. While Bogue’s specific circumstances as a land developer in California may not speak to all of us, his ability to prioritize and nurture strong interpersonal relationships, which can be challenging when you are in a position of authority, is something that we can all learn from. 

The following were some of my primary takeaways from our conversation:

  1. Trust is built by trusting – When I asked Bogue how he got started along his own leadership journey, he said that it was a natural outgrowth of how his superiors had treated him. In his early years, he had supervisors that were less concerned about him making mistakes and more interested in him learning from those experiences. “Well, did you learn anything?” they would say. That thinking gave him the space that he needed and has framed his approach to management and leadership ever since.
  2. It is also built by being trustworthy – Some of Bogue’s business endeavors, such as the tech startups, were outside his range of expertise. So why did people trust him with their money? Bogue was able to demonstrate competence even without expertise. Not only did they see him as being “good at business,” but they appreciated his stewardship, the way that he ran his businesses and carefully managed their money.
  3. Think things through, especially in times of risk – One of the business mistakes that Bogue reflected on was a sizable purchase that he and his partners made shortly before the real estate bubble burst. They did a thorough analysis and were convinced that the property was so good that they could monetize it even with a 30% value degradation. What they failed to consider was what would happen if they would need to hold the property for the long-term. Banks at the time became extremely pressured and panicked, he said. Banks “made lots of bad decisions at worst possible times,” including shutting down projects midway and selling off loans even when they were sound.
  4. Do the right thing, always – This motto is central to UCP’s values. To Bogue, it means to always keep your core principles in front of you. What do I value most, such as trust, relationships, and customer relations, and will my actions right now advance those values or will they have the opposite effect? It also means balancing the short with the long term, especially in a cyclical market. Use a disciplined approach, even if it means sacrificing growth today. The last thing that you want to do is chase easy money today if it very well may blow up in your face tomorrow.
  5. Remember that business is still – and will always be – about people – Oftentimes we think of corporations as faceless, steel-framed structures that churn out products and services and whose shares are routinely exchanged by traders in stock markets. In reality, the lifeblood, ingenuity and greatest asset of every business, regardless of size, are its human capital. At no point was this human-side to business more evident than during the downturn. Folks on both sides (business and customers) were profoundly impacted by their financial losses and the emotional toll and turmoil associated with watching people lose their homes and jobs was not lost on Bogue. While there was little that he could do at the time to help, he knew that he would do everything within his power moving forward to put his people first and make UCP a strong, secure company for them and their families.

This post first appeared in SmartBrief on Leadership.

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