BuildDirect: Constructing a Culture That Can Weather the Storms

By Robert Sutton, Hayagreeva Rao, Rebecca Hinds
2014 | Case No. E526 | Length 17 pgs.
After a delayed shipment of flooring materials impeded Jeff Booth’s ability to complete a construction project on schedule, he, along with cofounder Robert Banks, was determined to solve the inefficiency of the heavyweight building supply industry. They founded BuildDirect, an e-commerce company based on a sophisticated technology platform that optimized the shipment of home improvement products. Since its founding in 1999, BuildDirect faced several near-death strategic and economic challenges, including the fallout of 9/11 and the 2008 housing crisis. In spite of these challenges, Booth and Banks never wavered in prioritizing corporate culture over bottom line results. To guide effective employee actions and behaviors, three core values of honesty, integrity, and respect for others had been engrained into the company’s DNA. Rituals such as daily “huddles” strengthened employee morale, increased emotional intelligence, and enhanced customer service. Company culture was a major competitive advantage; employees felt empowered to view the home improvement purchase process as an enriching experience, rather than as a mere transaction. In 2014, prospects looked promising. BuildDirect had raised CAD $30 million in Series B funding in a round led by Mohr Davidow Ventures. Headcount doubled in 2013, and was projected to double again in 2014. Customers enjoyed savings of up to 80% of retail prices. Booth and Banks were concerned, however, that continued rapid growth would threaten the culture that was so critical to their success. The cofounders needed to determine how to maintain this winning culture. What aspects of the company’s daily operations needed to be changed, and which ones safeguarded at all costs?

Learning Objective

This case is designed to help students understand the role of culture in organizations. Through the lens of BuildDirect, students are introduced to several initiatives and norms that fostered an effective corporate culture. Students consider ways in which companies can sustain a winning culture in parallel with rapid growth.
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