David Weekley, David Weekley Homes
May 28, 2018
When you become a millionaire at an early age — in my case, at 30 — it’s easy to let it go to your head. That’s exactly what I had done. By 1984, I was living the dream ... until, in 1984, the homebuilding market went bust and I lost it all. I promised myself that if I were given a second chance, I wouldn’t screw it up.
It wasn’t that I wanted more fancy houses or cars, though. I wanted my success to truly mean something. I wanted a second chance so I could make a significant difference by giving back to the world. Years earlier, I had seen author Stanley Tam (“God Owns My Business”) give a rousing speech on offering 50 percent of one’s earnings to charity. His words lodged in my mind as I began to envision an Evergreen company.
Thanks to an expansion to other markets outside of Houston, where my company is headquartered, my business bounced back. By 1992, David Weekley Homes was once again financially stable and generating a revenue of roughly $300 million a year. I remembered the pledge I had made and decided the time had come to give back.
Refocusing on charity brought a new energy to my life and my work. I established the David Weekley Family Foundation that same year and began to learn how a nonprofit business operated. I hired a competent COO to run David Weekley Homes and eventually stepped aside so he could be CEO (he has since helped grow this to a $2 billion company). For my family, I banked enough money to cover my three children’s college educations and enough to cover family emergencies, and then decided that 50 percent of my time and salary moving forward would go toward charity.
For the first 10 years, the David Weekley Family Foundation focused on providing assistance to those in need here in the United States. We often use our construction skills in addition to providing partners with grants for youth development, education and spiritual leadership. After a few years of involvement in traditional U.S. nonprofits, I needed a new challenge.
I started learning about giving on an international scale. It’s so much more difficult to give smartly in other countries where you don’t know the legal systems, the language, the economics or the cultural norms. I set off on an exploratory trip in 2008 and went to every continent — eventually deciding to expand our efforts to Africa. I thought the continent had the greatest need and the least opportunity because of a lack of infrastructure and stable government.
In Africa we partner with programs or services that have a unique and well-defined mission, a three- to five-year strategic plan and a clear path to measure results. Our intention is to make an impact by improving people’s livelihood, education and health. I have one person at the foundation whose job is to travel to all of our African charities to inspect our work and make sure our funds are being well-used.
Five years ago, I realized that I was robbing my employees of the joy of seeing the positive charitable results of their hard work upon which this company is built. So we set up a CARE council in each of the 20 U.S. cities where we have offices to bring our Purpose of Building Dreams, Enhancing Lives to life. These CARE councils receive funds from the foundation, but each group can decide which local charities they want to work with. Employees volunteer to join, and each group makes local donation decisions. They’ve served meals, stocked food pantries, and held fundraising drives, cancer walks and other activities that enhance both their lives and those whom they serve. Often they pitch in on construction, such as wheelchair ramps for needy people or a new kitchen for a homeless shelter.
Giving back to the community is a strong part of our company culture and I believe it is one of the reasons we have been named to Fortune’s list of “100 Best Places to Work For in America” 12 times. Our CARE program has been a real motivator for our team members, and for people wanting to join our company.
I highly recommend that any Evergreen CEO considering adopting a philanthropic outlook find like-minded people to learn from and work with on a regular basis. It’s been incredibly helpful for me over the years to bond with peers here in Houston who share the same beliefs. It keeps me motivated and reinforces my hope that I am on the right path.
My next task is setting up an organizational structure for the next generation: I am setting things up for one-third of our stock ownership to go to the Weekley family, one-third to employees and one-third to charity. I endeavor to leave a blueprint so that this Evergreen company and its good deeds will continue to flourish for decades to come.
The mechanics of giving money away is easy. The hard part is changing one’s mindset. We shouldn’t measure our success by how much we acquire, but instead by how much we give. It is joyful to make a determination of what is “enough” and give generously of yourself and your money during your lifetime, and beyond.
David Weekley is the Founder of David Weekley Homes.