YOUNG BUSINESSPERSON OF THE YEAR
TITLE: Managing member
COMPANY: Level Homes
• Level Homes has 3,000 home sites in the three states and aggressive expansion plans that could bring Level into central Florida by midyear.
• Revenues have climbed from $16 million in 2012 to $37 million in 2013 and are estimated to hit $66 million this year.
When Todd Waguespack was growing up in Baton Rouge in the 1970s and 1980s, his grandfather, Chuck McCoy, was one of the most powerful and respected men in the city. Even today, the late McCoy, who died in 2007 after a legendary career as CEO of Louisiana National Bank, is remembered as one of the city’s great business and civic leaders.
So you might assume that young Waguespack—with his family connections, friendly demeanor and wholesome good looks—had an easy time of it making his way in the world.
You would be wrong.
As Waguespack is the first to admit, he has had his share of difficulties. He is dyslexic and struggled through school. His father, David Waguespack, died five years ago, when Todd Waguespack was still in his early 30s. And his company, Level Homes, nearly went under when the real estate market crashed in late 2008.
But the challenges Waguespack has faced have only made him stronger and have helped shape his character and define him as an emerging business success. Those who know him well say he is an extremely hard worker who is guided by keen instincts and a desire to do the right thing.
“Level was hit terribly hard by the downturn,” says John Engquist, a longtime friend of Waguespack’s family and the principal investor in Level Homes. “Todd stepped up to the plate and guided that business through a very, very difficult time. He could have failed, but he did the right things to position his business to weather the storm and be poised for future growth.”
For his part, Waguespack is characteristically modest and credits others with where he is today.
“I don’t think of myself as a boss,” he says. “We’re a team.”
Waguespack has real estate in his bones. Even though his grandfather was a banker and his father was an attorney, both were heavily involved in real estate development. Waguespack cut his teeth in the commercial side of the business, working as a leasing agent for Kurz and Hebert Commercial Real Estate, where he learned about numbers, pricing and how to think on his feet.
In the late 1990s, he was presented with an opportunity to do some homebuilding and found it more to his liking. In 2000, with partner Kelly Sills, he founded what was then called Level Construction and Development, starting small and gradually growing to do entire developments like Nicholson Lakes, Arlington Trace and Lake Beau Pré.
Over the years, as the company grew, it attracted well-heeled investors like Engquist, Gary Solomon, Charles Landry and Waguespack’s longtime friend Ryan Engquist, John Engquist’s son. Then, in 2008, the real estate market crashed and Level got caught with a lot of inventory on its hands. It was a rough couple of years.
“Between 2008 and 2011 was the largest downturn in our time, and I would say that was the biggest obstacle Ive ever faced,” Waguespack says. “Fortunately, my partners kept the company thriving and helping by tweaking the price point and adapting to the market.”
Level not only survived, it emerged stronger than ever. In 2012 it branched into the North Carolina market and has since moved into South Carolina as well. Today, the company has some 3,000 home sites in the three states and aggressive expansion plans that could bring Level into central Florida by midyear. Revenues reflect the growth, climbing from $16 million in 2012 to $37 million in 2013 and are estimated to reach $66 million this year.
“Todd has grown Level Homes to become a significant regional homebuilder,” Landry says. “He epitomizes true entrepreneurship in a young businessperson.”
While Waguespack spends long hours at the office—”I’m pretty much always working,” he says—he finds time to participate in industry organizations, like the Baton Rouge Growth Coalition and the Capitol Region Builders Association. He also spends priority time with his family, which includes his wife, Jennifer; son, John Henry, 8; and stepson, Charlie, 9.
“I like to fish and hunt,” he says. “So it’s really great being able to have the boys go with me.”
Childhood face time with his father and grandfather taught Waguespack how to work hard, work smart, stay flexible and be always open to ideas. They are traits that have served him well in the tumultuous real estate industry.
“You always have to be nimble, open to ideas and ready to act,” he says. “As my grandfather always said, a good decision made today is better than a great decision never made.”