Homebuilder Greg Ugalde prizes measured risk-taking

LOS ANGELES (AP) — After more than quarter century as a homebuilder, Greg Ugalde knows something about taking complex projects from the idea stage to something concrete.

Ugalde is president of Torrington, Connecticut-based homebuilder T&M Building Co., which has built more than 3,500 new single-family attached and detached homes in over 40 communities across the state.

Last month, Ugalde was elected chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, a Washington-based trade association.

Ugalde shared some of his management insights and experiences with The Associated Press. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity:

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Q: What advice would you give your younger self about managing people or running a business?

A: One of the things that’s unique to our industry is that just when you think that you’ve learned enough so that you can build your future by using those models, they’re already outdated.

You have to be ever-vigilant in watching for the trends in the marketplace and our industry.

Everything evolves so quickly and there are so many things that affect what we do, you can never settle and think that your game plan for the next 5-10-15 years is in concrete, that it’s settled.

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You always have to be looking to change and make sure that you adapt willingly and effectively, on a daily basis.

Q: How much do you pay attention to your competition, and what do you try to learn from them?

A: I would say that (we study) our fellow members all the time. We are willing to look at what others do, what successes, what failures are out there. And likewise, we share information openly.

Our industry is unique in that way, that we never really felt that we have trade secrets that we have to protect.

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Q: What have you learned about problem-solving over the years?

A: I have an interesting perspective, because I’m a practicing lawyer as well, so coming at this industry with the ability to think like a lawyer has served me very well, especially when it comes to negotiating deals and setting up the financial structure and the legal structure of our entities and communities.

We’re not making our industry simpler, by any stretch. It keeps getting more and more complicated. And that only increases the value of being able to be flexible and use some of the skills that I’ve learned over the years.

Q: What advice do you have for small business owners right now given that most economists expect growth to slow in 2019?

A: I’m conservative by nature and I think the size and success of our company since 1962 is in large part because we dot the i’s and cross the t’s. And we are very careful in our approach.

Having said that, you really do have to brave the elements. It’s not getting easier. You have to take that whole part, and be careful and be conservative, but you’re not going to be able to survive if you’re not willing to evaluate and take measured risks and try to get ahead and forge forward.

It’s a very tough business that we’re in, but it’s very exciting and there’s nothing like showing up at a closing table and seeing your new buyers with big smiles and so happy that all their hard work has paid off. You have to trust yourself, too.