- Leaving public before reaching Senior
- Evaluating your next career move
- Typical day working in FP&A
- Challenges in the Homebuilding Industry
Landon Hood began his career with PwC in the audit practice and left for an FP&A opportunity. Since then, he has progressed through the ranks and has valuable insight to someone looking to make a similar career transition. Read more for the full interview!
I grew up in Missouri in a small town close to St. Louis called Troy, Missouri. I went to Mizzou and decided to enroll in the accounting program. I knew I wanted to do something in business and realized how good the accounting program is, so I went that route to set myself up for the future.
I started my career with PWC in Dallas in the audit practice. However, I was originally planning to go back to St. Louis, but decided I wanted to try something different. I did my internship in Dallas in the winter of my senior year, enjoyed the area and made a couple of friends, so I decided to take the full-time offer and move to Dallas in 2016.
I was with PWC for just short of two years. I always thought I'd make it to senior, but didn't quite get there. I took a role with Beazer Homes as a financial analyst and I’m currently an FP&A Manager after about 4 years with the company.
I knew I didn't want to stay in the audit. I think that was always a foregone conclusion, but I told myself, I was going to make it to senior associate. However, I had just finished an irregular Thanksgiving busy season and was about to start with my second post 12/31 busy season when I got a LinkedIn message about the opportunity with Beazer that intrigued me.
I took the call with the external recruiter and within 24 hours, I had an interview with the Director of Finance at Beazer’s corporate office.
One of the things that I asked the external recruiter about was that I really had my mind set on becoming a senior and putting a little more time into public accounting. He asked me whether I wanted to be in a financial reporting and accounting role, and I said no. He added that it doesn't do me any good to stick around and spend more time doing that. If you really want to switch directions and go towards more of a finance role - which I did - then jump ship and do it now.
I started talking to Beazer right around the December timeframe, which is a tough time for companies to move forward with decisions due to the holidays, so the interview process dragged out a little longer than I wished. I also thought that if I wanted to do this, I wanted to give PwC as much notice before busy season as I could. I didn't have an offer until early to mid-January.
I was worried about those conversations. I had a pretty good relationship with my senior, so I brought it to him first and he was very cool with it, but we both knew it would be a tougher conversation with the manager we had on all our jobs. I talked with her and had a few conversations with a couple of partners, and all of them were obviously trying to get me to stay.
It did make me stop and fully consider everything, but ultimately, I thought that partners at the firm haven’t really served in those functions. They've only known about audit and hadn’t really seen the other side firsthand. It could have been a terrible experience, but luckily, I'm very happy with the direction I've taken. Those were difficult conversations, no doubt about that. I ended up leaving in February, which is the worst time frame, but ultimately you have to do what's best for you in the long run.
With my accounting background, I obviously looked at their financial statements high-level, but to be honest you don’t get much out of that as far as what a specific role is. The main thing for me was that I was working on real estate clients when I was at PWC and thought I wanted to stay in that space. I also knew I wanted to get away from a traditional financial reporting role and jump into the finance and operations side of things, and this position was described as a much more operational, decision-making, and strategy type role - which I liked. I also met with division leadership, who I would be working with - which included the division and area president and director of finance, who has been my direct boss for my entire time here. Most of the division leadership along with some of the other employees have been with Beazer in the Dallas division for 10+ years, which is a big stamp of approval on the culture.
Ultimately, you just have to trust your instincts on whether you feel like you’re going to like the role and the people you’re working for, but you’ll never fully know until you jump in. Those were the two biggest deciding factors for me in making the decision to pursue the opportunity.
When I evaluated that aspect, I considered the fact that I was going to be working in one of our 16 divisions that very much operates as its own entity. Of course, we roll up to corporate, but all decisions are based on how it impacts the Dallas division. Beazer has over 1,000 employees, but only ~115 here in Dallas with 70% of that being salespeople and builders so although overall we’re a large company, it doesn’t feel that way in the separate divisions.
I also looked at the career runway within the company. At the time, they were looking to hire either an analyst or senior analyst and I was the youngest person they had interviewed for this position across the country, so I knew coming in at the analyst position, I had some room to grow. If you switched over to industry where there was already a senior, manager, and director in positions they don’t appear to be leaving anytime soon, then I might have considered whether that role could prevent growth potential.
Beazer is a publicly traded home builder that builds single family homes, townhomes, and active adult condos in locations across the country including Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Beazer takes a piece of raw land and develops it, or purchases finished lots to build a home for a happy homeowner. We are the first national builder to publicly commit to ensuring each home is Net Zero Energy Ready and we plan to reach this objective by the end of 2025, so we are doing some really cool things with our homes that other builders aren’t. At a high level, it's not a super complicated business and that's what I really like about it, it's very tangible. You can see it from start to finish and the FP&A role allows you to see every part of the process. You can drive a raw piece of land, then come back a couple years later to a sub from when we buy a piece of dirt to when the keys are given to the homeowner.
My role can be boiled down to a couple things, forecasting and budgeting, which you still need a lot of that accounting background to do effectively. The thing I really love about the role is that it’s super operational. We're the translator between the operators and the forecast, which is forward-looking on how we want the business to look in the current year and years into the future. We're helping our central accounting team with financial reporting, but we're also forecasting forward. To accomplish that, you've got to have relationships with all the other departments. You have to know what's going on and you’ve got to influence the decision-making within the division in order to drive value and accomplish the goals that you have put in your forecast.
The first half of the month is heavily focused on wrapping up reporting from the previous month, then moving on to forecasting. We forecast everything that hits the division P&L or cash flow units (sales, starts, and closings), margins associated with closings (everything from sales price to direct construction costs to commissions, etc.), land acquisition and development spend, and all Overhead spend (indirects, sales, and marketing, and G&A). At any point in time, we’re always underwriting new land deals, and the finance department has a big role in the underwriting process and the pro-formas. We could go four months without underwriting a new land deal or we may underwrite 2-3 in a month, so that level of activity can really change the day to day. There is always something we are focused on trying to improve, which results in a lot of ad-hoc analysis and trying to make sense of it to add value to division strategy. What I like about my role is that every day is very different. The months and the quarters follow a similar trend, but every day it just depends on what comes up as a priority.
Building homes in this active environment is an extreme challenge. Two months ago, we couldn't get windows and now that isn’t an issue. Now the problem is brick or flex duct or condensers, or some other material you name it. We are given lead times for materials that change daily and many of our vendors can’t even give us estimated delivery dates. Brick will just show up on the jobsite one day, then the builder has to scramble to get trades there to install. It’s a domino effect within everything in the building process. It is the same with so many materials that go into building a house and its different reasons for the delays for all of them. Our cycle time has doubled in some communities - that really changes how you run your business.
100%. It’s interesting to see how much forecasting has changed since I first got here. When I started, the sales environment was nothing like it is today, so our focus was around how to meet our sales goals.
Whereas now, sales have not been an issue at all, but due to the cycle times extending it’s made the process around when to forecast closing sales nearly impossible. It’s made our relationship with the construction department crucial because we can’t just look at a spreadsheet and rely on closing dates with so many unknown variables in the process. You really have to learn the full narrative from the leaders in other departments because historical trend metrics aren’t as applicable as they used to be.
It kind of comes back to audit, and a way in which people that want to make the transition into FP&A can help communicate how a public accounting background will help them in this function. You’re taking information from different departments as if they are your client and ensuring it can stand up on its own. Sometimes they do feel like you’re digging around in their business, but ultimately, it’s easier for them to realize you’re working towards the same goal when you’re working for the same company.
When you first come into an FP&A role, you probably won’t enjoy questioning other people on their assumptions because you’re new. Developing that questioning mindset, and how to effectively communicate with people while staying cordial are two skill sets that I think public accounting does a great job of teaching young professionals. I also believe that the accounting/ CPA line of thinking has helped me explain some things at times. On the flip side, you do have to learn to tweak that mindset a bit as everything is not a debit or credit and you have to trust your gut when you are interpreting information. Just like performing walkthroughs or visiting the client warehouses in audit, you have to live the industry you’re in and get out in the field. You’re not going to learn everything with a formula.
I've always been a big fan of personal finance and investing. I find myself reading books, and learning, but I always come back to a passive investing approach and put it in index funds. 95% of fund managers can't beat the market so why should I try? It's a funny thing because I really enjoy learning about it, but then I come back to the conclusion I'll just throw it in the index fund and let it sit.
Recently I've gotten into cryptocurrency a decent amount and am trying to learn about that. I spend a lot of time on Twitter learning the technicalities of Bitcoin and Ethereum. That goes a little bit away from my passive investing approach, but I’m generally doing the same thing by just dollar cost averaging and letting it go up over the long run, hopefully.
Ultimately, I would like to earn a division president position. I think I'm in a great spot right now, because Beazer allows their finance people to be very operational, strategic, and make decisions.
I want to be making the decisions that affect the entire division. I'm on the right path to do that, but I need to get more experience in the field and learn how to be a better operator. When we go through the types of problems I alluded to, such as the many supply chain and cycle time problems, I want to get to the point where I'm able to make a call and figure out how to fix that.
I'm very happy where I am in my FP&A role with Beazer. I just need to continue to build my knowledge base and add value where I think I can, then I think I will get to where I want to be.