Leadership

4 Generations And 95 Years In, Drees Homes Builds Its Future

An exclusive one-to-one conversation with Drees Homes president and CEO David Drees. We talk of who the company is as a 95-year-old homebuilder, and who and what it wants to be as it continues to evolve and excel.

Leadership

4 Generations And 95 Years In, Drees Homes Builds Its Future

An exclusive one-to-one conversation with Drees Homes president and CEO David Drees. We talk of who the company is as a 95-year-old homebuilder, and who and what it wants to be as it continues to evolve and excel.

March 3rd, 2023
4 Generations And 95 Years In, Drees Homes Builds Its Future
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The foreseeable future has been in the forefront in 62-year-old David Drees' focus and passion from the time he succeeded his late father Ralph as president and CEO of Drees Homes, in 2000.

He uses the term in part to describe the far reaches of his confidence in the business his grandfather Theodore Drees – who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany nearly a century ago, and built his first house, a brick cape cod in Wilder, KY -- started on a shoestring in 1928. He also uses it to describe both the Drees Homes team's and the community of homebuilders and residential developers' biggest challenges.

We've got phenomenal demand swings going on now, and it's far too interesting times, you might say," David Drees says, reflecting on his 23 years of leadership of Fort Mitchell, KY-based Drees Homes, which this year celebrates 95 years and now four generations of Drees family members working to build its future.  "At the same time, we've got our big challenges in constraints. Short-term, it's been a struggle with suppliers getting us the materials and products we need through the supply chain. But when you think about what lessens affordability, the real issues are not enough people out there to do the job of building our houses, and doing the other jobs the country needs done. And, apart from that, we're now too light on land and lot supply. Those are in front of us as challenges for the foreseeable future. We have to figure out how to manage those constraints."

That foreseeable future of both challenge and promise, for a company industry competitors, rivals, partners, team members, and customers regard as a standard-bearer for integrity, quality, and value, has been a constant for David Drees, literally from the time he was five years old.

Recently, to mark the 95th anniversary milestone, a Northern Kentucky Tribune article noted:

The Drees Homes story began in 1928 when German immigrant Theodore Drees crossed the Atlantic with visions of a better life. Today, the first Drees home ever built, a brick cape cod in Wilder, still stands as a testament to Theodore’s dedication to craftsmanship.
The first Drees-built home in Wilder.
Theodore’s son, Ralph, joined the business in 1959 after serving in the Army. It was Ralph Drees’ philosophy of diversification and industry leadership that took the company into new markets.
Ralph Drees died in 2021 at age 86. In addition to leading the company to national prominence, he was active in the Northern Kentucky community, serving as Judge Executive of Kenton County, chairman of the airport board, chairman of the Chamber, to name just a few, and receiving a long list of honors and recognitions.
Today, Drees Homes builds in 10 different metros spanning the Midwest, Southeast, and Texas. It is the nation’s 19th largest privately-owned home builder – the 36th largest overall.

David spent a few moments on a Zoom visit with us last week, gave us a personalized account of the company he grew up into and the organization he hopes to pass along to yet a next generation of Drees family members in the next five years or thereabouts.

Here are some excerpts of that conversation.

Early Memories

David Drees

My first recollection is two-fold. He helped set my dad and my uncle up in business. My grandfather actually helped my dad and worked for my dad, if you will. We had our offices in the basement of our house when I was little, five years old. I remember him down there in the basement working away. He was a very detail-oriented guy, and he helped out with the books. And of course, we always visited him at his house, the one my dad grew up in, in Wilder, KY.

First Job With Drees Homes

David Drees

I was in it from birth, almost, you could say. Like I said, our offices were in our home. The two homes I lived in when I was a child were both in Drees communities where we were building houses. So I was in the community every day. Our first official job was me and my sister – in the fifth grade – we would clean our offices at the time, which was a construction trailer. My mom and dad would drop us off and we’d clean the mud off the floors, and that was our first job at that age.
I had other jobs after that. I’m really good at cutting grass and cleaning apartments. I was always working; we were always working.

Epiphany Moment Via David's Father Ralph

David Drees

My dad was always super involved in the community. He was City Council, and later in his career, he was the judge executive of Kenton County, which is like the mayor or the chief elected political officer of the county. I remember one time he had a homeowner meeting –this is when I was a little kid, so it stood out to me – he met with some homeowners, they were having some problems. It was a little bit of an ambush, and they took a photograph of him and it made the papers. The photograph was essentially my dad leaning up against a little fence, his hand covering his face, thinking, ‘oh my word, what did I get myself into?!’
In this business that’s just part of it. You have do the best you can, and do what you can for the homeowners. You gotta get out there and try, but not everything always goes perfect. It talks to our culture of always doing the right thing. I think my dad did that, and we always try to instill that throughout the whole organization, even as we grow.
We have long term perspective on what we do. Relationships are very important. Our brand is very important. It’s paramount that we always do the right thing, even if it might be hard, and even though we’ve got to meet that customer and they might have that photographer ready to print something in the paper.

Serving The Community

David Drees

One of the stories we talk about is the school bus story. My dad’s first community was on the wrong side of the tracks, if you will. Meaning that they did not have school bus service. So, in order to help sell houses, he actually bought a VW van and transported all the kids, including myself, to school.
That was a cardinal rule he had, of ‘you do what you’ve got to do. And, you provide a service to the community.’
Timberlake was the name of the community… We actually had a community named after that street because its where all five kids were born on that street in Erlanger, KY.

All In the Family

David Drees

My dad did a fantastic job of keeping everything in balance. One of the ways he did that was to find the appropriate role for each of the family members. We’ve been blessed; we’ve never had any real conflicts. That’s part of my dad’s leadership on steering us through what could be tough issues. We each had our own role and we knew what that role was. And that worked.
Right now, in the business, my sister Barbara [Drees Jones] is VP marketing, and she does a remarkable job. And then I have two of my three kids are working in the business.
Alexa runs our design center here in Cincinnati, and son Scott is the sales manager in Indianapolis for us. I’m having a blast seeing them grow and develop within the company.
Hopefully I can do as well as Ralph as steering them and guiding them to a role where they can excel.

Culture & Capability

David Drees

What’s been interesting is that during 23 years as a ceo, we’ve been through a really interesting transition. A lot of people who were my mentors and peers, and who Ralph had put in place to lead the company have retired. Now I’ve had opportunity to – hopefully --  replace those folks with equally or more capable people. We’ve done that in a seamless and gradual way. I think we’ve been successful at it. So the people on the team now, No. 1, espouse our culture and are very capable, driven leaders in the organization.
That’s one of the things I’m probably most proud of, is being able to lead a company and go through the transition and improve the culture and the team all the way through.
Hopefully we’re ready for the next 23 years.

Paying It Forward

David Drees

I’m 62, and one of my goals will be to get to our 100th. That’ll be a big celebration, it’s going to be huge. We’ll have a big party.
It’ll also give me five more years to work with my kids and maybe my nieces and nephews, and give them an opportunity – hopefully -- to take this company into the future past that point.
That’s one of my goals that I’m focused on. We want to carry on our legacy. We want to continue to be proud of what we do.
We also want to grow. That’s something we could do better, we need to do better. And we want to continue to make the company a great place to work, and provide a future for employees and our family.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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