This story is part of Heartland Voices, a series from Heartland Ventures focusing on the heritage and future of successful Midwestern businesses.
Here we look at M/I Homes
“There’s always an issue… and every issue can be dealt with.”
Nine times out of ten, if you ask someone on a construction jobsite why they’re doing something a certain way, they’ll respond, “it’s the way it’s always been done.” With record demand for housing, the growing need for available and affordable housing challenges American builders to evolve and build homes at an unprecedented rate. This means thinking differently.
The unique market dynamics present a mixed bag to home builders. Contending with uncertainty, rising costs associated with building materials, severe inventory shortages, and bottlenecks, many chose or were forced to slow construction. Others, benefiting from scale and a desire to take advantage of the unprecedented demand, thrived. M/I Homes is one of those that thrived, experiencing a record-breaking year in 2020. With continued indicators of strong demand, the Columbus-based real estate giant is on pace to break that record again this year under the leadership of CEO, Bobby Schottenstein.
Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, M/I builds about 9,000+ homes a year across the country. With over 30 years of experience at the helm of one of the nation’s leading homebuilders, Schottenstein recognizes that, sure, competition for materials, labor, and land will continue to put pressure on builders. But, “there’s always an issue… and every issue can be dealt with.” It’s reflective of a humble, practical, deep-keeled Midwest attitude Mr. Schottenstein has exemplified over his 30-year tenure at M/I.
It takes courage and honesty to face inconvenient truths and uncertain times. During the Great Recession, while half of the nation’s homebuilding businesses folded, Mr. Schottenstein was recognized as Builder magazine’s Executive of the Year for his leadership in a crisis. Mr. Schottenstein adapted quickly because he faced it head-on. He asked tough questions about the housing bubble, bank lending practices, and the policies and market forces that influenced market trends. His proactive leadership and willingness to evolve in real-time, was mirrored in the COVID pandemic, as he forged ahead while peers laid-off workers.
Not the way it’s “always been done.”
Mr. Schottenstein is constantly assessing current practices to see how, if new approaches are deployed, the challenges M/I’s operational team faces, can be addressed. He referenced the late James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” He did so while discussing historic discriminatory housing policy and its impact on underrepresented groups. But it’s clear M/I, under Schottenstein’s leadership, is not afraid to face tough issues in day-to-day operations either.
To keep up in the post-pandemic world M/I will continue pushing beyond the status quo. Schottenstein is adapting to a rapidly changing market with new millennial buyers and new demands, including VR and AR walkthroughs and increasing the functionality of garages and other flexible spaces. And yet, industry-wide, retrograde business practices and restrictive zoning rules threaten to prevent enough new homes from being built in the coming years. And Central Ohio is lagging. Last year, there were roughly 4,000 new homes built in Columbus. Austin, Texas, built nearly 20,000.
Mr. Schottenstein actively seeks out venues to learn what the challenges are that his neighbors and customers care most about. He respects people who have experience and take it upon themselves to fight to make their communities better; he relishes the “raw civil discourse and passion” on display at local zoning board meetings. He also recognizes that those local councils are historically where some of the most discriminatory and socially destructive policies have historically been able to profligate.
Bobby Schottenstein does not claim to know how to solve the housing crisis, but he is, in quintessential Columbus spirit, ever-ready to face these challenges head-on and learn how he can do his part. He wants to shine light on our most complicated intractable problems, and his continued commitment to excellence and openness in both business and in civic life are active and living endorsements for collaboration. If we want to see outcomes unlike those we’ve seen before, we will need to do things differently. It is organizations like M/I Homes and leaders like Bobby Schottenstein that give us good reason to believe a different and better future will be possible.