Gene Myers: Fearless Leader
Gene Myers and Thrive Home Builders raise the bar on high-performance housing by “just doing the right thing” and, in the process, earned our Sustainability Superhero award.
Ask Gene Myers about what makes him a sustainability superhero, and you’ll notice right away that he doesn’t brag about his accomplishments. He doesn’t need to.
“The key is to not be afraid to try things. Don’t be afraid to innovate.”
Myers, as CEO of Thrive Home Builders in Denver, has guided his staff to multiple awards in just about every major sustainability arena over the past 20 years: U.S. Department of Energy, EPA, Energy Star, U.S. Green Building Council LEED, National Housing Quality and Green Builder magazine, to name a few.
There are, he says, two reasons for this success. One is his employees, for whom he has the utmost respect and appreciation. (“They really are the thing that’s propelled our business over the years.”) The other is his customers, who continue to challenge Thrive in unusual ways, forcing the company to become ever more innovative.
Thrive Home Builders, which specializes in high-performance single-family subdivision homes, sees all types of customers. There are Baby Boomers who don’t want to buy another house but end up doing so after seeing a Thrive product. Millennials who are buying because their parents are “kicking them out of the house.” Gen Xers who simply want to feel like they’re doing the right thing with green homeownership.
And the requests? Clean-energy-encouraging solar. Air-freshening HVAC. Environmentally clean all-electric. Net zero. Modern architecture. Unique design. Easy decision making. Affordability. On the surface, not a big challenge for any builder. But making them all work can be hard, depending on what a buyer wants, or thinks they want.
“I’m a civil engineer by training,” Myers says. “So, I think I’ve always brought a problem-solving approach to everything. If a problem looks really big or challenging, you just break it down into its parts and start by examining the little ones, and start solving the little problems. The key is to not be afraid to try things. Don’t be afraid to innovate.”
That goal carries over to his business. In his 30-plus year career in housing construction, Myers has learned that manufacturers can be great partners. He is more progressive than most when it comes to tying a product into a home’s construction and sale. (“For a lot of builders, the answer’s a no right off the bat,” he notes.) And there have been some great successes, such as partnerships with Panasonic or Broan.
But there have also been some flops. One prominent home battery maker failed to meet its obligation and left Thrive with customers who had paid for the product and waited for up to a year to have it installed. But now there’s a similar plan in the works with Sonnen, another prominent home battery manufacturer, one that looks far more stable, Myers notes.
In another case, a solar panel manufacturer offered customers a no-money-down lease, which Thrive worked into its home pricing. But then the company cancelled the program without telling Myers. The “huge mess” was resolved with the help of SunStreet and its similar leasing program.
A lot of the learning process is “fail forward,” Myers says. “After situations like that, your thought may be, ‘Oh, man, I never going to do that again,’” he notes. “Well, if it doesn’t work, you try to find out why it didn’t work. That’s been pretty typical of our evolution over the years.”
Thrive’s community standing can’t be ignored, either. Over the years, the company has donated more than $1 million dollars in time and homes to Denver-area nonprofits and local building associations and foundations. “Our mantra is to always do the right thing,” Myers says. “It’s something everyone can believe in.”
Thrive Home Builders’ award-winning product, such as Panacea, a Green Builder Home of the Year winner from 2019, can be found throughout Colorado. Courtesy of Thrive Home Builders
There are a dozen other reasons why Myers and Thrive Homes have succeeded over the years, through good economies and recessions, through pro-green and science-defying Administrations. But going into all of those here would result in an epic like War and Peace.
He offers some parting advice. “We, as green builders, like to think that if we build these homes, they will come,” Myers says. “I think what we’ve learned is that they might not. The home still needs to be beautiful, emotional, and comfortable. It needs to be all of the things a customer is looking for … We can’t coast on sustainability; we can’t coast on green building; we can’t coast on zero energy homes. It’s got to be the whole package.”
Myers Advice: Say No to Going Solo
Being a great builder means being part of a group effort.
Gene Myers and Thrive Home Builders have taken on a lot of challenges over the years, and they are ready for whatever lies ahead. Courtesy Gene Myers
Being a successful, high-performance builder is not easy. Thrive Home Builders CEO Gene Myers agrees that the innovation and change-management necessary to move beyond code minimum building is often difficult, frustrating, and grinding. But there’s a four-word piece of advice he offers to anyone who wants to be a developer that stands out from the crowd: Don’t go it alone.
Myers says it’s the most important lesson of his career, and one he’s happy to share, along with these other pieces of advice:
Pick a legitimate standard to aim for. Don’t come up with your own. Whether it is Energy Star, Zero Energy Ready and/or EPA Indoor airPLUS, these programs are backed by hard science from the national laboratories. “If you come up with your own, you are probably watering down one of these standards,” he notes. “Or you are ‘winging it’ with possible unintended consequences for you and your customers.”
All of these programs come with marketing support, with resources that have been developed to tell a customer about the benefits of your product, while ensuring that you are making truthful and substantiated claims.
The programs require third-party verification by an established base of raters. There is a sophisticated and seasoned network of experts behind these programs that is vested in your success. “I liken not being in one or more of these programs to ‘performing without a net,’” Myers notes. “Home building is risky enough. I sleep better at night knowing that our homes are field verified to meet the highest building standards in the land.”
Plug into the high-performance building community of support. Myers says some of his best friends and best advice has come from interacting with others who are also vested in getting better homes built for people. The Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) is where most of that interaction has happened through conferences, training and education, employee certification programs, and EEBA’s Builder Benchmark Group.
“Frankly, it has been the only place that convenes the best of building product manufacturers, building science experts, and fellow builders,” he notes.
Share your vision and the burden of innovation. Building better homes for your customers and for the planet is a high calling. It requires change in the way you, your team, and your trade partners build. You cannot do this alone.
Bring people in your family and company along with you. Invest in training your people by bringing them along to conferences, celebrating certifications and awards, and “internally marketing” to your team.
“A shared vision is a strong vision,” Myers says. “An unshared vision is recipe for loneliness, frustration, and even failure. ‘Infecting’ your team with the mission shares the burdens…and the successes.”
An inspired team will also help to bring along inspired trade partners. Myers says great partnerships can be formed with building product manufacturers who want their products installed right so they perform right. Also, be sure to give your partners some pats on the back.
“Handing out awards and recognition to your trades is a way of thanking and respecting them,” he says. “Shining the light on your high-performing trade partners will inspire others.”
Share your vision and inspiration with your customers. Your home buyers are consummate consumers who are often educating themselves about high-performance building long before they meet you, Myers notes. Make sure that your sales team is a team of “believers,” so that your message is getting through to customers.