By: Sam Reiss
Brad Carr went to architecture school, but he never planned to be an architect. “I went to learn the construction industry,” he says. Turns out it was the first step on his path to his current position, as the newly appointed president of Monarch Corporation of Toronto.
He comes by the interest naturally enough — his father was a carpenter and he spent many a childhood day trailing his dad around construction sites. “I guess you gravitate to what you know,” he says. “But what I really love is the deal.”
For Carr, it’s the building industry itself that ended up stoking his passion. “I love the characters in our industry. Everyone is so unique, so interesting, and the negotiations often so difficult, so many character aspects of each player come out. If you ask me to boil down why I’m in the industry, it’s the people,” he says.
Talking to him in the boardroom at Monarch’s head office last week, it’s apparent that his love for the industry is real. He has a warm, animated manner that really sparks when he talks about the business. “People are very passionate about something as important as housing,” he says. “And from a policy perspective, planners are very passionate. Housing is so much a part of the weave of society, I just find it all fascinating.”
When I ask him he feels any particular pressure taking the helm of Toronto’s oldest home-builder, one with a history that dates back 95 years, he says Monarch’s history was actually part of the allure.
“It had a lot to do with that, actually, my coming here. That history, that reputation, the culture of the people they’ve created here. For a mould to be that successful for that long, you feel like your job is to be the steward of that legacy,” he says, then laughs. “Really, you just don’t want to screw it up.”
At the same time, of course, he acknowledges that every president wants to leave their fingerprint on their tenure. “It’s a balancing act,” he says. “You have to appreciate that great history, but at the same time, we work in an industry that is constantly changing, and not screwing it up means not standing still.
“You know, the last time Monarch recorded a loss was 1940. It’s a cyclical industry, and we’ve been through multiple up and down markets, good and bad cycles, and Monarch has found a way to maintain profitability for 72 straight years.
“It’s humbling, and scary, and just a really great opportunity.”
He says the inclusive, family-oriented culture Monarch creates is one of the things that gives him confidence. “The team is still here — only this one role changed,” he says of his appointment. “At the end of the day, we’re the sum of our parts. I’m here to steer the ship, not to do everything. I think you give people autonomy, let them do what they do well with a lot of leeway, just within a framework.”
Monarch, he says, is built on three pillars: community, history and service. “Community is perhaps the most important. We may talk in hundreds or thousands of closings, but it’s really just about the next one. To that buyer, it’s his whole world at stake. They need to understand that even though we are a large builder, our reputation depends on them, and that they are important as individuals. It has to permeate everything we do.”
History is a differentiator in business that few companies can really focus on, but it’s naturally top of mind at Monarch. “We’re not a one-off developer. It comes back to that legacy. We want our purchasers out there telling their friends and their acquaintances about their experience with Monarch. We’re trying to make sure they’re our advocates out there promoting the brand.”
As for service, Carr is matter of fact. “We like to help. Look, there’s a basic level of service that should be expected when you’re paying for something so important. I’ve seen this company go back in to help people years after their warranties expired. Why wouldn’t you? It’s easier in the long run. That’s how you stay in business for almost a century.”
Carr says he sees the lack of available land as the biggest challenge facing not just him but the whole industry, and given his background, it seems the powers that be at Monarch agree — he was recruited as manager of land acquisition in 2001, a brand new position that focussed on, he says, “chasing dirt.”
“We have, through government policy, constrained supply,” he says. “It can be debated whether that’s a good thing, but it’s certainly had a significant effect on pricing. But there will be an opportunity to pick away at the edges of these constrained areas to create more product.”
Carr says the company’s focus now is on families. “We’re really looking at opportunities for low- and mid-rise in the 416, sometimes brownfield regeneration,” he says, citing recent successful projects in Scarborough, such as Evergreen, Birkdale, and The Upper Danforth Village, a former glass plant.
In the increasingly vertical and densely populated GTA, creating family-friendly environments that are still affordable to the average buyer is a pretty tall order, one that challenges all industry players. “And the policy maker’s challenge is balance,” he notes. “There isn’t one-size-fits-all housing. One of the things that allows us to be successful is that we cover the entire gamut of offerings from traditional townhomes to a 44-storey condo. Everyone is looking for more density, and we’re trying to balance the desires of the municipality with the desires of consumers. We’re still all looking for that ideal way to deliver family-friendly forms of housing that meet the density targets.”
I’ll share more of my conversation with Monarch’s Brad Carr next week, touching on some of other challenges he thinks today’s building industry faces, as well as his plans for the company as Monarch heads for its centennial anniversary.Google+