Part XIII: The Unfinished Whole House
By purchasing Alpine, ITW/Truswal strengthened their chances of outflanking MiTek/TrusJoist in building the whole house. At the time of this acquisition in early 2006, we at MiTek had poured many millions into our efforts and had little to show for it. Now our competitor was bulking up. The economy was scaring us. But before any showdown, both of us had to overcome some serious internal conflicts.
A business partnership is said to be the most contentious form of organization. How accurate that characterization proved to be. Both sides were bringing together former competitors with disparate objectives. Truswal had heavily hawked Tommy Wood’s whole house potential, while Alpine had mainly focused on their truss expertise. Yet Truswal was the incumbent at its parent company, and their Tommy Wood was a formidable figure. How would his parametric approach, which so far benefitted only a minority of truss plants, mesh with Alpine’s much more prolific truss tools. Soon this dichotomy would be put to a crucial test.
We at MiTek were also at odds with our TrusJoist (T-J) partner. Our 70-member joint development team was holed up in Denver, 900 miles away from both headquarters, and seemingly a long way from producing usable software. Truss and wall design is incredibly detailed, involving hundreds of different individual pieces, while EWP design basically involves a much smaller number of beams, columns, and connections. Each partner had insufficient knowledge and not enough interest in addressing the other’s concerns. And matching our competitor’s superior wall panel functionality wasn’t even on the docket. Contentious communications and visits finally led to legal disputes. And T-J had many more lawyers than we had.
Getting anything done with stakeholders dispersed across the country is difficult. Getting good software done is nearly impossible. Which party prioritizes the innumerable tasks to be accomplished? Who determines when it’s street-ready? Will too many chefs spoil the stew?
But as housing starts slowed considerably throughout 2006, the pressure to show results increased. The war chests that funded these exceedingly expensive development efforts were emptying. Time was short.
Finally, a CM, ProBuild, forced our hands in Atlanta. They saw the value of designing the whole house in their heavily stick-framed market, and brought us both to the table. Neither side was ready. Our team worried that a premature showing of OptiFrame would permanently scar or even sink our 6-year $50 Million venture. We also knew that our legacy software, eFrame, was a more stable and proven solution but lacked the whole house pizazz. Our competitor had the pizazz and the huge advantage of being the incumbent supplier at this location. But what could he bring to the table in such a short time after the Truswal–Alpine merger? Then, as we prepared for the ProBuild demo, housing began its 2007 collapse. Not only was this huge customer in the balance, but our reputations and our futures were at risk.
Whole House Launched