Winner: Gale Sommers | Senior vice president and CFO, Professional Warranty Service Corp.
Gale Sommers joined Professional Warranty Service Corp. in early 2007 with the plan to make acquisitions, but the rough economy that ensued proved it wasn’t the best time to be expanding a company that works with home builders across the U.S.
“Shortly after I came on board the real estate market started to decline. We weren’t in the position to expand,” he remembers. “We focused more on how to try to maintain a revenue stream and what else we could do to capitalize on our position in the marketplace or grow our market share.”
The senior vice president and chief financial officer battled the recession by wearing a variety of hats, taking the reins of company operations and handling everything from human resources responsibilities to leasing documents to underwriting tasks.
He even took charge of sales for 15 months until fall 2009, when a sales director was hired to fill the role. Sommers spent 18 years at Ernst & Young as a partner and left in 1995 to join a privately-owned commercial mortgage banker in Tysons Corner, growing it from 45 people to 150 people over 11 years.
“I love the private business, because of the flexibility and difference you can make,” he said.
One of his attributes that has kept PWSC rolling is his frugality: “I am a hoarder; I don’t like to spend cash,” he admits, “and that’s been helpful.”
He’s gone with the flow as far as taking on odd jobs at the company that don’t fall under the description on a conventional CFO, and, as a result, there’s been no layoffs during the downturn.
“We can’t really spend the money on head count. We have got to keep it as lean as we can,” he said.
Conditions in the building industry still aren’t good; in 2005, there were 1.2 million home sales across the U.S. and now there are 300,000 per year. Sommers, an entrepreneur at heart, spotted a business opportunity in that decline.
At the start of 2011, he developed a new product for the company. When a large national builder went bankrupt, its 2,500 homeowners had a new problem: who to call if they had a claim, such as if a carpet ripped or a nail popped. Sommers worked out a deal so those calls could be deflected to PWSC, which could handle the claims through new employees and software to manage the process.
Now, he’s marketing those administrative services to other builders.
“The builder doesn’t have to be bankrupt,” he said. “It doesn’t want to spend money on infrastructure. We can be there from day one.”
From the judges: “Gale’s ability to lead his company through what have been extremely challenging years separates him from his peers. While other companies in the homebuilding and construction industry have disappeared, Gale has kept his company moving forward by focusing on both short and long-term opportunities ripe for the taking.”