Bill Donges has always been good at the basics – management and organization – which has enabled him to take on new challenges. Throughout his career, he successfully ran chemical and manufacturing businesses, distribution centers, dot-coms, and software and electronic start-ups. Although Donges didn't have any real estate experience before joining the Lane Co. in April 2002, as its COO, he brings a very different viewpoint to the industry and a determination to be best in class. This is why George Lane, the company's founder and chairman, hired him.
Professional Management When the two first met, Donges had just sold his software start-up and was looking for his next challenge. Lane asked Donges to look at his company – made up of six subsidiaries at the time – and share his thoughts. Lane had always thought of his Atlanta based-company as a hobby. But as a company that now owns, manages, and develops more than 30,000 units for third-party clients and its own accounts, he knew that if it was going to be successful in the future, he needed to bring in someone who could run the company professionally.
So, for several months Donges examined the companies. He told Lane where he thought changes could be made. Lane was so impressed with Donges, that he asked him to join the firm and help bring the Lane Co. into the future.
"In fairness to all the great people we have," Lane explains, "we needed to build a company that will outlive me and make opportunities for our employees." He continues, "Because I treated the company like a hobby, we were organized like a bicycle wheel – with me in the middle. The time had come to unite the company as one, with all [the subsidiaries] working together across company and territorial lines on specific projects. Bill has the skill set to do that."
Uniting Lane Throughout his career Donges has been a change agent by helping companies get out of tough situations and becoming more efficient. Over the years, he has been able to review a company's operations and quickly assess its strategy, people, processes, and technology. At the Lane Co., he immediately realized that in order for it to continue to grow, a new operations strategy was needed. Typically, it takes a few years to transform a company, explains Donges. But, "change requires some tough decisions," he says. "The company is going to change, and that is the most difficult thing to do, because people don't like it."
Donges' first priority was to brand the subsidiaries and use the "Lane" name in each title. He felt that the Lane Co. was the best-kept secret in the industry because there was no name recognition between the different divisions. While the company is still executing its new goals, the Lane Co. is well on its way to redefining and implementing its priorities. And the subsidiaries have been renamed – Lane Management Corp., Lane Investment and Development Corp., Lane Realty Construction Corp., Lane Asset Management Corp., Condo Lane, and Lane Affordable Housing Corp.
"George is not one who seeks recognition. He never wanted to use his name for all the companies," explains Donges. And, while "people know us, I don't think they realize all the different services the company offers."
Donges knew that if the company was going to take on a new strategy, the board and senior management had to be included in the decisions. "I forced them to sit down and go through a very rigorous strategic planning process," he recalls. "It took several months and several hundred hours, but we came out of it with a new vision for the company – United 2003."
United 2003 is the company's overall theme for 2003. Bringing all the subsidiaries under the Lane umbrella is just the first step.
Beyond the name change, it's about creating synergy between the subsidiaries, so they can work together and benefit from each others expertise. "They were each, in their own right, great companies," says Donges. "But they were not taking advantage of each other's abilities of going and working with one client." Now, the company is truly a one-stop shop for the industry. Offering greater value to the customer, clients can find out about its development, acquisition, building, condo sales, and rehab services in one meeting.