The Motley Fool's readers have spoken, and I have heeded your cries. After months of pointing out CEO gaffes and faux pas, I've decided to make it a weekly tradition to also point out corporate leaders who are putting the interests of shareholders and the public first, and who are generally deserving of praise from investors. For reference, here is last week's selection.
This week I'm going to bite the bullet on a sector I can't stand and highlight why homebuilder Lennar's (NYSE:LEN) CEO, Stuart Miller, has been an exceptional leader for shareholders and its surrounding communities.
Kudos to you, Mr. Miller
For nearly a year now I've been waiting for high unemployment rates, weak wage growth, and a glut of foreclosed homes still for sale to wreak havoc on the homebuilding sector. Yet, in that time hardly a blip has been seen to the downside in homebuilding stocks. But, before you get the idea that you can simply throw a dart and be successful in the sector, think again. There are still plenty of "builders of mass destruction," as I'd like to refer to them, occupying the marketplace.
Hovnanian (NYSE:HOV) and Beazer Homes (NYSE:BZH), for instance, are two builders that, even with homebuilder sentiment and new housing starts at multi-year highs, are projected to lose money at least into 2014.
Hands down, the real standout in the homebuilding sector is Lennar! To begin with, Lennar's homebuilding margin absolutely crushes its competitors. After tacking on an additional 210 basis points over the year-ago quarter, at 23.2% Lennar's homebuilding margin leads the sector. Lennar owes this success to offering fewer incentives and focusing on buyer-driven markets that aren't as affected by fluctuations in home prices. Now compare this to D.R. Horton (NYSE:DHI), America's largest homebuilder, or higher-price point KB Home (NYSE:KBH) which both reported homebuilding margins of 18% and 17.5%, respectively, in their most recent quarters.
It's really all about execution, execution, execution, and Miller is absolutely delivering for shareholders. In its recently reported third-quarter results, net income advanced 209% over the previous year, revenue rose 34% to $1.1 billion, and EPS crushed Wall Street's expectations by 43% -- and you wonder why Lennar has basically doubled year to date.
A step above his peers
As always, it isn't just the tangible figures that make a great leader, but the intangible, off-balance sheet facts, as well. Miller doesn't let his employees or the community down.
Lennar's employees are treated to the usual benefits you'd expect from a great employer, such as various health-care coverage options, a 401(k), as well as short and long-term disability insurance. One additional feature offered by Lennar involves discounts on a Lennar home as well as discounts on certain GE appliances for employees as long as the home is their primary residence. Not a bad "welcome to the company," right?
Lennar is also intricately involved within the communities it operates in. The company donates 1% of its after-tax profit each year to the Lennar Foundation which, in turn, invests 50% of the funding it receives back into the community. In California, the Lennar Charitable Housing Foundation collects 0.05% of the closing price of each home sold (in an eligible community), and donates the proceeds to help the homeless find transitional housing. Each Lennar office around the U.S. also works side by side with a charity of its choosing each year.
Two thumbs up
Lennar really is head and shoulders above its homebuilding peers, and it has Stuart Miller, its CEO of 15 years and counting, to thank for that success. Miller's focus on quality and community instead of quantity have positioned Lennar to better survive any future housing sector downturns and has set its shareholders up for better long-term success than its peers. I may not be a fan of homebuilding stocks, but I'm certainly willing to admit that Stuart Miller deserves two thumbs up.
Do you have a CEO you'd like to nominate for this prestigious weekly honor? If so, head on over to the new CEO of the Week board and chime in with your fellow Fools on who deserves some praise. If you don't have a nominee yet, don't worry; you can still weigh in on other members' selections.
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Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He loves giving credit when credit is due. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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