2017-12-20 / Real Estate

The house that Shane built

Meet Schell Brothers’ rising star, Shane Burnette

Schell Brothers Richmond Division President Shane Burnette, at a company office on Iron Bridge Road, is taking over as president of the Home Building Association of Richmond in 2018. 
ASH DANIEL Schell Brothers Richmond Division President Shane Burnette, at a company office on Iron Bridge Road, is taking over as president of the Home Building Association of Richmond in 2018. ASH DANIEL As he mixed with colleagues at the Jefferson Hotel two weeks ago, Shane Burnette’s choice of attire made an impression.

At an event to celebrate the Home Building Association of Richmond – and honor his being named the trade organization’s 2018 president – Burnette attended the cocktail hour dressed in the type of creamsicle-orange tuxedo Jim Carrey’s character made famous in the 1994 comedy “Dumb and Dumber.” When asked about his sartorial decision at the event, the 38-year-old Burnette joked, “I’ve got to be really stupid to volunteer for all this hard work on top of what I’ve already got going on.”

The value of hard work is something Burnette learned from age 12 onward, spending weekends and summers laboring on construction sites for James River Exteriors, his family’s business. He may not have appreciated it then, but his time handling odd jobs on construction sites would serve as an early introduction to what would become his career.

Today, Burnette is the Richmond division president of Schell Brothers, a Delaware-based high-end builder. Since Burnette founded the company’s local presence in 2016, Schell Brothers has brought on 16 employees and built homes in Magnolia Green, The Sanctuary and The Highlands. For his efforts, Burnette was recently named a finalist for the National Association of Home Builders Young Professional Awards, but the fact that he ever went into construction is still a surprise to him.

“I pretty much hated construction, and swore I’d never do it,” says Burnette, whose all-American good looks recall movie star Chris Evans. “I had no intention of being part of this industry.” A lifelong sports fanatic, Burnette had dreams of becoming a college basketball coach. After shooting hoops for L.C. Bird High and Bridgewater College – and garnering a few offers to play in leagues overseas – Burnette was accepted into what is now Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Sport Leadership.

He also once received a job offer from current VCU basketball coach Mike Rhoades. At the time, Rhoades was coach at Randolph-Macon College; he offered Burnette an assistant coaching job. Having set his sights on coaching in Division I, Burnette turned down the offer.

It was the start of Burnette’s pivot away from sports. The summer before he was supposed to start working on his master’s at VCU, his stepfather, Mike Chaney, moved him into the office at James River. To his surprise, Burnette suddenly fell in love with construction.

“That’s how I ended up in the industry,” Burnette says. “There is, believe it or not, a lot of similarities between coaching and being a manager at a company.”

While remaining a vice president at James River, Burnette joined forces with colleague Brian Perkinson and formed Perkinson Homes in 2008 as a way to survive the economic downturn. Their business’ early days would have Burnette recalling the can-do attitude he learned as a teenager, handling almost every project that came their way.

“Brian Perkinson and I were willing to do anything,” he says. “We’ve painted the insides of additions ourselves, we did all the cleaning inside.”

Burnette was perfectly happy working for both businesses, but a kismet meeting with Schell Brothers changed the trajectory of his career.

While attending a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses conference in Boston, Burnette heard a lecturer who recommended he and his classmates contact people they aspired to be like. Recalling that Tom Page, Magnolia Green’s general manager, had once told him that he and his business partner reminded him of Schell Brothers, Burnette reached out to the company.

Following an email exchange, Burnette and Perkinson visited Schell’s headquarters in Delaware. Burnette says they were surprised by the company’s transparency; he was told no question was off limits, including how much each employee made. When he mentioned a challenge his company was facing, Schell Brothers employees explained that they’d had a similar problem, and handed over a packet of information on how to deal with it.

“They were just giving us stuff, which was profound in its own right,” Burnette says.

On a subsequent visit, Schell Brothers co-founder and CEO Chris Schell told Burnette and Perkinson he wanted to figure out a way to work together and commission a market study of the Richmond area. Later, Schell outlined a variety of ways they could collaborate, including hiring Burnette and Perkinson.

While Perkinson decided to continue operating his business, Burnette was intrigued by Schell’s offer. Schell Brothers bought Burnette out of Perkinson Homes in 2016, and Schell has had a presence in Chesterfield ever since.

This year, Schell has sold roughly 50 homes, opened three model homes and plans to open a fourth early next year. The company also has plans to open a new office and 4,500-square-foot design center on Huguenot Road in early 2018.

“This design center is going to be cutting edge for our industry, and certainly for our area,” Burnette says.

Tricia Smith, who is also Richmond division president for Schell Brothers, says Burnette is a quick problem solver with a “work hard, play hard” mentality.

“Shane is a great visionary,” Smith says. “He is really a big-picture thinker, so he’s easily able to analyze a problem.”

Jeanie Bode, a longtime HBAR member, says she hopes Burnette will bring a new energy to the trade association.

“He brings a new enthusiasm to the organization,” she says, adding that Burnette’s experience with both small family companies and larger companies like Schell Brothers is a boon. “He’s been exposed to all sides of the business. … I think he’s going to do a great job.” ¦

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