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Harry “Buck” Hunt IV believes the sky’s the limit for the real estate corporation, which recently had its first major leadership transition in 47 years.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Harry “Buck” Hunt IV, shown in front of the Copper Croft Apartments in Blacksburg, was recently appointed chief executive officer and vice chairman of HHHunt Corp.
Harry "Buck" H. Hunt IV
Sunday, July 21, 2013
A careful balancing act guided real estate company HHHunt through the last decade's housing market rollercoaster, said Harry "Buck" Hunt IV, newly appointed chief executive officer and vice chairman of the HHHunt Corp.
Buck Hunt, son of founder Harry Hunt III, said HHHunt's ability to juggle a variety of business operations helped the company stay afloat during tough economic times. He said he wants to maintain that balance in the aftermath of HHHunt's first major leadership transition in its 47 years of operations.
As part of that transition, Buck Hunt, 38, replaced long-time CEO David Reemsnyder II, who retired at the end of June. Daniel Schmitt assumed the role of chief operating officer. And James Crowder took over as executive vice president of finance and accounting. HHHunt spread out its new leadership team into offices near Raleigh, N.C., Henrico County, and its Blacksburg headquarters.
Over the years, Buck Hunt has held a variety of jobs at HHHunt. He worked on paint and maintenance crews during summers as a Blacksburg teenager. He regularly traveled to Richmond to work with HHHunt's land development and home building teams while he took classes at New River Community College. He later went on to work in business development and as a member of the properties division in Raleigh, N.C.
Hunt recently talked about his views of the current real estate market and why he believes the sky is the limit for the HHHunt Corp .
How was HHHunt able to survive a financial crisis where so many other firms stumbled or completely fell away?
If we had just been a home builder or just a land development business, we would have gone out of business. We have land development and for-sale housing. And you have the other side of business, which is our apartments and our assisted living.
We've come to see how beneficial it is to have product diversity. In the early 2000s when the apartment business wasn't doing all that great, the other side of the business was doing very well - the land development and the home building. You need to be diversified so that if one's doing well and one's doing not so well, you balance each other out.
And there was some luck involved. We had, just like everyone else, some land that we hadn't bought at the right price. Or we bought it at market price at the time, and then all of a sudden the market price got a lot lower. It's taken years to work through a lot of that stuff, but we did it.
The last piece is that we've had great leadership. We had really good, solid people making tough decisions to get us through that fog. That was key.
What's the state of the market now?
It really is a market-by-market kind of thing. It's such a local-market-driven business. You can't really take a big United States picture and say, "OK, housing's back." Different markets reacted differently during the crash.
It seems to be getting better every year, especially for-sale housing. That's coming back. And the apartment side of the business has been very good the last several years. Where for-sale housing has faltered, the apartment market has been good. People still need a place to live. Folks might put off buying a house for a while, so they go into rentals. We've seen occupancies stay up pretty high, and rents have been able to stay high.
The assisted living market has a big demographic wave in front of it. It has been hit more than the apartments because it is such a niche business. You're looking for a very small sliver of the population to go into one of those places.
What's it like to take the reins of a company your father led for so many years?
It's a huge amount of responsibility. I take it very seriously and understand that my role here is really to work with the team that we have in place so that HHHunt can continue to grow.
My dad has been very diligent about trying to pull back his influence as much as he could. He still wants to be very involved in the business, and we still want him to be involved. But he wants to make sure that the business can continue on without him. [Former CEO] Dave [Reemsnyder] was the same way.
My dad has made sure that Dan Schmitt, the incoming president and chief operating officer, and I have a pretty broad amount of decision-making power. He's empowered us to really run the company based on our best judgment.
The good thing is it's not up to one person. We've always operated it as a team. We're all trying to move the company forward, so having such great people in the company makes it a lot easier to come into this position.
The senior management team that's transitioning in is relying on the people in place at HHHunt that are on the front lines doing business deals, managing our properties, selling our homes, picking out our new markets. We rely on those folks. They're a big reason why we made it through the recession.
How did you prepare to become CEO?
As far back as high school, I would attend a lot of the company strategic planning meetings where the senior management group would get together and look at our 10-year cash flow, look at our plan, make adjustments.
Over the years, I got used to being involved in those kinds of conversations and hearing the different terminology and about the different facets of the business. And then when I started actually working for HHHunt officially, then it was really more about learning how the business actually works and how it runs.
Over the last year or so, it's pretty much just been training and learning more about the entirety of the business, especially a lot of the back room kind of stuff: finance, accounting, human resources, HR, all of those things. I've been working with Dave Reemsnyder, the recently retired CEO, to just learn as much from him as possible about the nuts and bolts of running the business.
What will this leadership transition mean for the average employee?
We would like to invest more in training and development. We don't want to focus just on the revenue-generating side. All those back-office functions, all those support functions, we want to do some things differently there to try to enhance those.
We've gotten big enough to the point that, we're still growing, but we need to make sure that all of the parts and pieces of the company are keeping up.
We have leadership spread around, so there's always a senior person around somewhere. That way, the senior management team can be closer to the frontlines and communicate with our folks who are on the ground running the business. It'd be a lot harder to do this if we were all holed up in an office somewhere not getting out much.
We still want everyone to feel like it's an open forum to contribute your best idea. We still reinvest 90 percent of our cash flow in profits back into the company, so that's a stable growth engine. Nothing is going to stop. All of the policies, the bedrocks, the principles of the company will continue to guide us.
What's the future of HHHunt?
We're going to push out of our current mid-Atlantic boundary. That's just going to have to happen at some point. We've mined this quasi-Southeast mid-Atlantic market for a long time, but we're on an exponential growth path if we continue to reinvest 90 percent of revenue every year.
The biggest challenge in doing that is deciding how to manage it. The way we are now, we can hit pretty much everything in a car ride. If you're getting on a plane, it's a different style of management.
And it's a different culture. It's a different part of the country. How do you ingrain people you hire there into the HHHunt culture? How do you start that? If you go to Texas, it's a completely different market with completely different dynamics. How do you clone the HHHunt culture which has worked so well somewhere like that?
That's going to be one of the biggest problems in the future for the current management team. What are the next markets? That's the biggest challenge, really.
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