ASHLEY COLLINS, CEO COLLINS BUILDERS - INTERVIEW WITH WBM TOP 100 INNOVATION CEO
ASHLEY COLLINS, CEO COLLINS BUILDERS HAS BEEN SELECTED BY THE JUDGES OF WORLD BIZ MAGAZINE'S ANNUAL AWARDS TO BE A RECIPIENT OF THE TOP 100 CEOS IN INNOVATION AWARD 2021. THIS SELECTION FOLLOWS A STRINGENT PROCESS THAT EVALUATED OVER 40,000 NOMINEES TO SELECT THE EXCLUSIVE LIST OF 100 WINNERS.
Since 2003, Ashley Collins has been the owner of Collins Builders. A Jacksonville, Florida native, he is a graduate of the Bolles School and holds a bachelor’s of business administration from Stetson University.
After college, Ashley entered the home-building business with a local company, Trademark Homes, as an assistant superintendent in December of 1999 and worked his way up to superintendent in 2000. From 2000-2001, he managed the construction of more than 70 homes. In late 2001, he moved on to work for another Jacksonville-based home builder, SEDA, in the estimating, budgeting and purchasing department as well as the construction department and worked extensively in internet-based scheduling software from 2001-2003.
In May 2003, Collins Builders was founded. For the first five years, Ashley led incredible growth for the company, from building one home the first year to 148 homes closed in 2008. When the economic downturn came in 2008, Ashley led the company through the recession, weathering the tough times and since 2013 has experienced 25 percent year-over-year growth. He credits the success to God, his family, a talented team of professionals at Collins Builders and an unwavering commitment to serving clients. Ashley is happily married to his wife of more than 20 years, Jeanie, and is blessed with four children: Hayden, Rowan, Lawson and Lincoln. Jeanie has been a steady and faithful encouragement by his side and he is eternally grateful to her. He credits his success to her devotion and their commitment to the Lord. When not leading Collins Builders, he enjoys attending church, reading, date nights with his wife, fishing, sports and vacations with his children.
"Specific to what values make Collins Builders stand out in the market; it is our unwavering commitment to honesty with our clients."
Collins Builders has received prestigious recognitions in the last year, please share some details on some of them.
In addition to the ongoing personal and professional development of a top-notch team of experienced individuals, we have recently been recognized by Build Magazine as the ‘Most Innovative Single-Family Homebuilder – Northeast Florida’. In addition, we have been recognized again, for the third year in a row, by Houzz.com for both Service and Design awards. Locally, as members of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, we have been recognized for multiple Laurel Awards for excellence in multiple categories, including luxury homes and our Design Studio. In all our years in business, recognition and achievement, outside of that received from our clients, has never been our first priority. We are unbelievably fortunate to be able to serve our community and our clients, and are truly grateful for any additional recognition, particularly within our industry. We firmly believe that, through passion for our product and a strong desire to serve our clients, these accolades become a by-product of our commitment to excellence.
How does Collins Builders stay ahead of the curve in regards to market trends and constantly moving customer trends?
As a small, local custom homebuilding company, we are constantly monitoring and assessing our market, along with the needs and desires of our clients, in an effort to provide the most relevant products and services we can, and to find ways to differentiate ourselves. The process or designing and building luxury homes takes a multi-faceted approach, starting with helping our clients to visualize a concept, and then turning that concept into a reality. In an effort to overcome the challenges of visualization, our team has also implemented 3-D and virtual design software, which very few homebuilders across the country have done. These resources allow our clients to perceive spaces, finishes and architectural styles that are unique to their personal tastes and preferences. The results have been amazing, and our clients are unbelievably excited to have the ability to engage more deeply in the process and see their dreams become realities.
From the perspective of your clients, what values and advantages make Collins Builders stand out in the market?
The focal point in this question is, “make Collins Builders stand out in the market?” If it were not for this distinction in the question, Collins Builders would probably sound familiar to most other builders across America. Regarding values, for instance, most builders will say that they “treat each home as if it’s their own” or “we listen to our clients’ needs and focus on every detail” or “we are passionate about each customer” or “we know that a house is more than a purchase, it is a home” or “we take ownership in your project from start to finish”. Of course, we wholeheartedly agree with these statements and strive to uphold, maintain a strong sense of urgency, good listeners, ethical, technically advanced, pursue excellence in construction and customer relations, thorough, skilled in our craft, work with a high level of integrity, etc. But, specific to what values make Collins Builders stand out in the market; it is our unwavering commitment to honesty with our clients.
Collins Builders finds the most value in giving our clients the truth about each build scenario. It is easy to say that we are honest builders, but when this profession meets with reality, practical and real-life circumstances, that is when this value is tested. Collins Builders believes that the client deserves the true answer, even if they may not like it or has the potential to make things difficult or if it costs the sale; telling the truth will ultimately strengthen the relationship and build a bond of trust with them. I can give countless stories of clients who have come to us thinking of purchasing a lot or have land to build on and after leaving our initial consultation, expressed such gratitude and relief that we were honest with them. It may not have been the news they wanted to hear, but it was the truth. We cannot be afraid to be honest with people. We believe that each active and potential client we have is a true blessing; a gift that we are called to be a faithful steward of. They are trusting in us to be truthful and deliver them a home and an experience second to none. We take this privilege and responsibility very seriously and are ferociously protective of our clients. Delivering the truth is a matter of our personal and professional integrity as their entrusted builder for the most personal product on earth.
As for what products / service advantages make Collins Builders stand out in the market? Our full design and build services set us apart. It cannot be overstated that most people looking to build a custom home have their work cut out for them. They must pull together multiple resources from different areas of town or even outside their city, most of whom do not know or collaborate with the others, to complete the project, opening themselves up for costly pitfalls and unnecessary delays. We are a full, soup to nuts, design plus build firm. What that means is that from sales to horizontal lot development, architectural design, job specifications, interior design, project and closing coordination, house construction, and services after completion, we handle all of it.
"We are a full, soup to nuts, design plus build firm. What that means is that from sales to horizontal lot development, architectural design, job specifications, interior design, project and closing coordination, house construction, and services after completion, we handle all of it."
Collins Builders is highly engaged socially in the communities it operates in, please highlight some of them.
At Collins Builders, our commitment to service goes beyond our customers. Central to our mission is to also be of service to the communities in which we live and work. To that end, we support the efforts of Christ Church Academy, Compassion International, Daniel Kids, i9 Sports, Investing in Kidd (ink!), St Augustine Youth Services, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Davidson Cares both financially and through volunteering.
We are proud to partner with Builders Care, a faith-based 501c3 organization (run by a licensed contractor), whose mission is to provide affordable-to-no-cost construction to disabled and elderly members of our community in addition to other non-profits in Northeast Florida. Our team donates hours of their talents and energy each year to help provide this much needed service to our most vulnerable neighbors. Service is vital to how we conduct our business at Collins Builders - and it is truly our honor to build homes that our clients are proud of, but it is our blessing to be able to serve our community.
What are some of your plans to provide leadership to your industry in order to raise standards across the board?
Although we certainly offer a specific product for our clients, we consider ourselves to be a service-based company first and foremost. To that end, we believe that it takes a significant focused commitment to succeed in achieving a high level of customer service in all aspects of our business. Quality is paramount to the success of our company, as well as the satisfaction of our clients, and we believe that there is far too much focus on speed and the overall delivery of housing ‘units’ in our industry. One of our primary objectives is to collaborate with like-minded developers, trade partners and suppliers, to offer and provide quality homes for all our clients. In order to do so, intentional effort has to be made to ensure that the team is on the same page, and that the bar for excellence is set high and then managed to ensure that expectations are met on a consistent basis.
What are your views about great leadership?
Great question! Although the list of what makes a good leader can be extensive, I will give just five that I believe are essential to being a good leader. Please believe me when what I answer here is just as much intended for me as it is for the interested reader.
First, humility. Being humble may sound old fashioned; it is unequivocally the greatest character trait in being a good leader. Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” We all have unique talents and skills, some inherent to our personalities and some crafted over time through experience and training, but humility is a matter of true ownership of who we are. We must have a teachable spirit and a meekness about ourselves. For this to be a reality, we must be open to other opinions, correction and sometimes even criticism. Sometimes this means coming from people outside your company, but specifically when it comes from people within your company. The individuals who we lead must know that they are being heard and that their thoughts and ideas matter. They must be able to trust in us in this area. Operating in fear will never lead to a culture of trust. Trust in leaders is earned through our willingness to consider our employee’s feedback. Can the leader be taught? Is the leader willing to be held accountable for his or her actions? Is the leader teachable? Humility says “yes” to these questions.
Second, discipline. Be humble enough to admit that you need to be disciplined; you need to stay organized and laser-focused on setting and achieving goals. President George Washington said, “Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.” Although building homes can sometime feel like a kind of war, it goes without saying that as a leader, George Washington put such a high value on discipline that he said it “is the soul of an army”. What a statement! He was right though.
Third, be a risktaker… but a calculated one. Being calculated in the risks you take as a leader involves discipline no doubt, but a good leader must be willing to take risks. Often in business we can become paralyzed by the comforts of the status quo. Good leaders will find innovative ways to grow, stay ahead of the competition and excel their team to new levels of performance, product, and service. Risk taking involves investment and investment, in and of itself, is risky. But good leaders who calculate ahead of time will inevitably find a path to improving and innovating without blowing the budget. A good leader must be willing to press the limits of each team members potential. Risk taking can be an amazing platform to catapult your business to greater heights. “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky.
Fourth, engagement. A good leader is actively engaged in the ongoing functions and the people within an organization. By “actively”, I mean that a good leader spends quantity time and quality time with the company. Absentee leadership is poor leadership. Ownership is not just financial obligations and responsibilities; it is exemplary work ethic and care. Being engaged is about serving. Serving the needs of the individuals who answer to you by promoting both professional and personal growth. I was blessed to be reared by a father who was never afraid to “jump in the ditch with them”. Good leaders are actively engaged in their business. “It all came down to employee engagement. It all came down to recognition. It all came down to leadership, which led to every sailor feeling ownership and accountability for the results. You can ask a team to accomplish a mission, but you can’t order excellence.”– Mike Abrashoff - Naval Commander.
Fifth, integrity. Integrity could have just as easily been the first trait that makes a good leader, but I think it does well as the strongest bookend. Integrity is defined as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” Good leaders embody the faithful maintenance of this character attribute. Top to bottom of any organization’s culture and character can be measured by the level of its embracement to its integrity. Good leaders who are people of integrity, do not allow decisions to be based on feelings or various circumstances. Honesty, fidelity, moral uprightness, transparency, and truth are their compass.