From the Ground Up is the journey of real estate magnate Dan Hoffler, a person from a very modest family, a kid with average grades and a big smile who succeeded in business on the force of personality and a strong belief in himself.
Hoffler’s story is rife with lessons on finding success, coping with controversy and how to enjoy life. He is a world traveler and big game hunter who tells of his harrowing pursuit of polar bears, rhinos, and mountain sheep in some of the most remote and dangerous regions in the world. Famous politicians, successful business leaders and sports stars—the people who populate his world—offer insight into the man who rose from modest beginnings to become a titan of industry.
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|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Joe Coccaro is executive editor of Koehler Books and a former deputy managing editor of The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia. In his thirty years as a journalist, Joe has won more than a dozen individual writing awards for business, investigative and news reporting. He is a graduate of Syracuse University.
Read an Excerpt
Bigger and Better
“I have critics, but I don’t think anyone would say that I don’t remember where I came from.’’
With the “oil days’’ behind me, I could focus exclusively on our business. If I wasn’t in a meeting or at lunch or dinner, I tried to be in the field surveying our projects or mingling with staff. I wanted to remain more than just a nameplate. I had learned early on the importance of staying connected to the people who get things done—the tradesmen on a construction site, the administrative assistants, mid-level managers. If you become aloof, the rank and file no longer work for you; they work for a paycheck.
It was a rainy, cold spring day when I visited a job site to check on progress. I had heard some of our subcontractors were having trouble excavating a site for offices and warehouses. The men were cold and wet and standing around a burn barrel sipping coffee to get warm. I walked up unannounced, wearing a trench coat. The men didn’t notice me—or at least they pretended not to. They were grumbling about the work conditions, weather and the difficulty of the job. From the home office we were pressing the contractors to meet a deadline so we could start building. My name came up. Hoffler, one of the men said, needs to “come down from his ivy tower.’’ There were a few other disparaging remarks that cast me as an elitist. I never mentioned anything about that moment to the crew’s bosses or my people. I am grateful to those men for teaching me a lesson: stay connected. If work crews were dealing with problems, I wanted to know.
It was tough to get to every job site while our company was expanding through the mid-1980s. But when I did visit, I always made it a point to speak with the hardhats. Most of them were subcontractors—excavators, masons, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, laborers. Their bosses or crew leaders would often squirm when they saw me coming. I wanted to know if the worker bees had the materials or equipment needed. Were there any problems? When I found some, I acted immediately. I’d return to the office, summon a few key people and tell them to bring a pad and pen. Our focus at these fix-it meetings was to find solutions. Those responsible could be dealt with later. Assigning blame never fixed anything, and there was usually plenty to go around when something did go wrong.
Construction sites, when run properly, can be a like a ballet. One phase of the dance segues seamlessly into the next. But if there is a break in the chain, everyone downstream is knocked off balance like dominoes. Building materials on the site must be ready, waiting and of the right mix. If the window installers show up and the windows are the wrong size, that means the building can’t be closed and kept dry, which means the floor and tile workers can’t start, which creates moving delays for tenants. This can become more than just a chain reaction of inconvenience. Poorly managed sites can take longer to build and have a lot of do-overs. Lost time and materials cost money. It also pisses off the subcontractors and their tradesmen who show up on a job ready to work but then can’t because of some problem that may have nothing to do with them.
At Armada Hoffler, we often worked off of very slim profit margins and tight construction schedules to remain competitive. One way we protected ourselves early on was to stick with a predictable building size and style. Many of our first office buildings were six floors and about one hundred thousand square feet. We softened our office exteriors with rounded corners and columns. Our large signature windows were recessed about three inches, which could save us as much as one hundred thousand dollars on steel and other materials. We used heavier insulation, washable wall coverings and high quality roofing to enhance energy efficiency and maintenance. Our lobbies had high-grade marble floors that gave a warm feeling but withstood heavy use too.
Competitors criticized our buildings as cookie-cutter and said that companies wanting Class-A office space would turn away. Nonetheless, we wooed them by providing custom lighting and other architectural extras that, while appealing, didn’t require us to significantly alter our business designs. We could also complete a building in six months. Our business model was built on speed. Our construction division had become so efficient that we could build a big box store for the Price Club in ninety days.
What People are Saying About This
“Neither of us knew if the establishment would accept us. We were kindred spirits in that way….Dan’s friendship has been very important to me. “
— Mark Warner, current U.S. senator and former Virginia governor.
“Dan values family very highly. A lot of the respect that he has on a personal level carries forward in business….Everyone needs someone to talk to, and I trusted him implicitly.” — L. Douglas Wilder, former Virginia governor.
“I liked that Dan wasn’t stuck up. He wasn’t one of those people. He was a man of integrity, a man of his word….You can’t confide in everyone, but I could confide in him.” — Bruce Smith, former defensive end for the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills and NFL Hall of Fame inductee.