Partners (Fall 1997)

Building Communities
A Conversation with John Wieland

By Marie Easley

t's hard to believe that a company like John Wieland Homes - literally, a household word - began as a small business. Building thousands of homes throughout the Southeast, Mr. Wieland reminisces about how he and his college roommate started a building supply business more than 30 years ago. Realizing the venture would not be profitable, the two folded the operation. Left with a hammer, nails, and a stack of two-by-fours, John Wieland did what any resourceful entrepreneur would do; he started building. Twenty-six years and thousands of homes later, his success is remarkable.

Mr. Wieland knows the value of hard work. He always had a part-time job growing up - from working at a gas station to delivering newspapers to stocking vending machines. Currently, he employs more than 700 full-time employees and thousands of subcontractors, as president of his own company.

Today, his business is synonymous with quality. John Wieland Homes has received over 280 awards for excellence in building design, construction and marketing, and community service. The pinnacle of these achievements was reached in 1994 when he was named Builder of the Year by Professional Builder magazine.

When asked what advice he would offer new entrepreneurs, he answered without hesitation, "Know your numbers. And remember you must constantly improve your product, getting better and more efficient with every attempt. Listen to your customers. They should drive your business products."

John Wieland's success has given him the opportunity to give back to his community. Serving on the International Board of Habitat for Humanity, he has had a hand in helping provide housing to the working poor. He has also served on the board of the Georgia Trust Fund for the Homeless.

John Wieland joined the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta this year. He adds an important dimension to the board because of the importance of homebuilding in the Southeast, and the derived demand for home enhancements, such as carpet, tile, and furniture.

John Wieland's building history gives him valuable insights into building bigger projects as well - like communities. He stresses the importance of the nation's cities, cautioning that suburban living is not a solution for troubled cities. Mr. Wieland is not alone in his belief that a suburb is only as strong as the city it serves. He encourages residents of metro areas to preserve urban housing.

Mr. Wieland shares a philosophy with Reserve Bank management that a strong community is essential to the well-being of all citizens. His personal belief is that "We are put on this earth to be responsible for ourselves and to serve others."

In his mind, "Life isn't complete unless it includes service. If we all do for others," he adds, "there are plenty of resources to solve a lot of problems."

Mr. Wieland has been Chairman of the High Museum of Art and Vice Chairman of the Woodruff Arts Center. In addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Emory University Center for Ethics in Public Policy and Professions, a member of the Berry College Board of Visitors, and is a Life Director of the National Association of Home Builders.

A graduate of Amherst College and the Harvard Business School, Mr. Wieland is a strong supporter of education and sees it as critical to the success of the country's young people.

"We need to mentor our young, not just send them to training programs. And the earlier we get them, the better," he stresses. "I think Head Start is one of the best investments this country has ever made."

Building young minds, building communities. We can use more builders like John Wieland.

Pictured above with John Wieland are, from left, DeKalb District 1 Commissioner Elaine Boyer and her daughter, Rebecca; Lynwood Park Community (LPCP) Project Board President, Pat Martin; DeKalb County CEO Liane Levetan; DeKalb Community Development Director, Chris Morris; and District 6 Commissioner, Judy Yates. At the dedication recently, to thank business and government partners who helped complete the first phase of a program to address housing needs in the neighborhood, John Wieland presented a check for $10,000, to complement the John Wieland Company's earlier donation of $30,000 to the effort. The project is designed to make affordable new housing available to low-income families.
Jack Guynn 
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