O'Brien, Mark J.
Mark J. O'Brien
Chief executive officer and president, Pulte Homes
Career: Pulte Homes, 1984–1997, employee; 1997–1998, COO; 1998–2002, president; 2002–, CEO and president.
Address: Pulte Homes, 100 Bloomfield Hills Parkway, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48304; http://www.pulte.com.
■ Mark J. O'Brien worked his way up through the Pulte Homes organization to become the president and chief executive officer of the large builder in 2002. He steered Pulte Homes into new markets, helping the company that had yet to show a loss throughout its existence continue to grow. Under his leadership the company ranked as one of the top three companies in the J. D. Power and Associates customer-satisfaction poll year after year, and O'Brien was constantly looking for new ways to increase Pulte's rating.
O'Brien joined Pulte Homes in 1984, which was founded in the early 1950s and incorporated in 1956; by 2004 the company was the largest home builder in the United States. After 13 years with Pulte, O'Brien became chief operating officer in 1997 and then president in 1998. In January 2002 he took over the additional role of chief executive officer. A top analyst noted in the Wall Street Transcript, "I think he will do an outstanding job as CEO of Pulte. All indications so far are that O'Brien is going to be a very capable replacement for Robert K. Burgess and a very capable CEO for Pulte" (March 14, 2002).
In 2000 O'Brien worked to acquire two retirement communities in Banning and Brentwood, California, for Pulte to develop. These gains were expected to raise the profits from the retirement home portion of Pulte by 25 percent or more and brought the company into a prominent position in a new market. In 2001 Pulte Homes merged Del Webb into its operations, forming the biggest, most lucrative home builder in the United States. Meanwhile Pulte received the highest marks for customer satisfaction in four out of 10 markets by the J. D.
Power and Associates New-Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Study of 2001. The company was voted number one in Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada and placed second in Houston, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; and San Diego, California. Together with the newly acquired Del Webb, Pulte Homes ranked as one of the top three home builders in seven of the 10 markets surveyed.
After the J. D. Powers report was released, Realty Times reported O'Brien as saying, "Exceeding customer expectations and providing a quality product remain the foundation of Pulte Homes' 'Homeowner for Life' strategy. Our goal is to ensure that a similar standard of customer satisfaction, as reflected in the J. D. Power and Associates results, is achieved throughout our operations" (September 27, 2001). In 2001 O'Brien was asked to join the National Advisory Council of Fannie Mae.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, some of the top builders in the country, including Pulte Homes, conferred and resolved to each donate $1 million to a Home Builders Care Victims Relief Fund. The fund was set up to assist all of the victims of the attacks, including families, rescue workers, and others disturbed by the tragedy.
In 2002 business was looking slower for the home-building industry as a whole. O'Brien was optimistic, however, telling Builder magazine, "Even before the slowdown, it was clear that the size of the industry itself isn't really growing. We have a dominant position in all our markets. We want to get larger market shares in larger markets" (December 2001). On February 25, 2002, O'Brien tried something at Pulte that not many builders had done at the time: he held a Webcast of the company's Investors' Conference, sharing information with anyone who was interested in domestic home building, retirement communities, housing-market opportunities, and Pulte's growth strategies; O'Brien hoped that Pulte's openness would win them more clients.
In 2002, thanks to low interest rates, the building market for Pulte Homes boomed. O'Brien told the Detroit News, "We're obviously enjoying good times. If we've done our work effectively, we'll continue to return the benefits to shareholders" (November 29, 2002). Pulte Homes was the only publicly traded company in Michigan to garner an A+ grade in Detroit News 2002 Serving the Shareholders report. That year Pulte was also named Builder of the Year by Professional Builder magazine, and O'Brien and his colleagues Anne Mariucci and Henry DeLozier were collectively named among the top 10 people or groups of people with the most influence over the golf industry. As the trio was listed alongside such golfing greats as Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, the recognition showed how important Pulte's role in building and designing golf courses was to the sport—something O'Brien had been emphasizing ever since his ascendancy to the position of president.
Through 2003 Pulte Homes had shown a profit for 51 straight years, a record of which O'Brien noted few companies could boast. The company as a whole was credited with always being willing to change, pushing into new markets, new states, and new kinds of constructions. O'Brien stated in the Detroit News, "At the end of the day, we're a big-ticket consumer-products company. It's our absolute belief that if we don't deliver quality products and have happy customers, we'll vanish. We intend to be relevant" (November 29, 2002).
Mainly because of his entrepreneurial attitude O'Brien was called "the new number one among the Giants" of the home builders by Heather McCune on the HousingZone Web site (April 1, 2003). That year Pulte was named one of the top three builders in 17 of the 21 market areas polled by J. D. Power and Associates. By 2004 Pulte had become the leading builder of retirement communities and also owned a mortgage corporation that was committed to meeting consumers' financial needs, offering a large assortment of loans as well as top-quality customer service. Pulte operated in over 40 markets across the United States, Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. In the latter half of 2004 O'Brien intended to work on further expanding Pulte Homes, adding an extra tier of management and increasing the company's operational geographic areas from six to 11. As of 2004 Pulte was building around 23,000 homes a year.
See also entry on Pulte Homes, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Brown, Lori, "Pulte Homes Dominates J. D. Power Customer Satisfaction Poll," HoustonHomeCenter.com, 2001, http://www.houstonhomecenter.com/centers/news/stories/story5.asp.
Dobbs, Lou, and Richard Wagoner, "Focus on the Fundamentals: Housing, Auto, and Energy Executives Assess Their Industries," Money, February 1, 2002, p. 59.
Dreier, R. Chad, "From the Top: Big Builders' Take on the Year Ahead," Builder, December 2001, p. S11.
Dybis, Karen, "Pulte Stands Alone with A+ Grade," Detroit News, November 29, 2002, http://www.detnews.com/2002/business/0211/29/h08-22282.htm.
Guido, Daniel Walker, "O'Brien Rules," Builder, March 2002, p. 27.
"Hires and Fires: Dec. 31, 2001–Jan. 4, 2002," Forbes.com, January 5, 2002, http://www.forbes.com/2002/01/05/0105hires_print.html.
"Industry Movers and Shakers," Builder, March 2001, p. 16.
"Mark J. O'Brien Was Assigned to the National Advisory Council of Fannie Mae," Multi-Housing News, August 2001, p. 7.
McCune, Heather, "Beyond the Numbers," HousingZone, April 1, 2003, http://www.housingzone.com/topics/pb/management/pb03da001.asp.
"Meet the 25 People Who Have the Clout—and Will Shape the Future of the Industry," KemperSports, June 2002, http://www.kempersports.com/media/press/golfinc/July_2002.htm.
"Nation's Largest Home Builders Announce $10 Million Fund to Aid Those Affected by Terrorist Attacks," PR Newswire, September 24, 2001, http://ir.centex.com/ReleaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=103902&RELTYPE=General.
"Off the Record: A Top Analyst Praises Pulte Homes' Management Team," Wall Street Transcript, March 14, 2002, http://www.twst.com/notes/articles/pab700c.html.
"People," Crain's Detroit Business, January 14, 2002, p. 13.
Perkins, Broderick, "Pulte Wins New Satisfaction Survey," Realty Times, September 27, 2001, http://realtytimes.com/rtnews/rtcpages/20010927_survey.htm.
"Pulte Acquiring Two Communities," National Mortgage News, March 13, 2000, p. 27.
"Pulte Homes to Webcast Investor Conference," Business Wire, February 22, 2002.
"Pulte Names O'Brien CEO," Business Journal–Phoenix, January 3, 2002, http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/stories/2001/12/31/daily25.html.
Richmond, Iris, "Added Tier: Pulte Restructures for Growth," Builder Online, July 1, 2002, http://www.builderonline.com/Industrynews.asp?channelID=59§ionID=66&articletype=1&articleID=1000025351.
Smith, Jennette, "Pulte Chief to Retire: President to Be New CEO," Crain's Detroit Business, January 29, 2001, p. 53.
"The Straight Dope," Builder, March 2001, p. 54.
—Catherine Victoria Donaldson