David Whan’s Human Impact

As insulation giant TopBuild continues to thrive, CHRO David Whan unifies and engages all 290 branches through humanitarian strategies

Consider the challenges David Whan faces as TopBuild Corporation’s chief human resources officer given the nation’s largest installer and distributor of insulation has 10,600 employees working in 290 branches.

But the experienced Whan is up to the task via close communication with a team that includes direct reports and regional HR managers who in turn support branch managers.

Based at the Branch Support Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, Whan maintains contact by utilizing all the tech tools available to keep branches unified and engaged. “We’re distributed across the country so it’s early mornings and sometimes late evenings we’re connecting,” he says, “but it’s not intrusive.”

Having a reliable pipeline of branch managers is key. Besides handling financials, these managers must know the insulation business and how to engage their employees by listening, understanding, and offering support.

“Day in and day out, how do [regional HR managers] keep those people motivated, enthused, excited, and—most importantly—safe,” he says, “so they’ll be here tomorrow morning and be able to go out to a couple of different job sites to do what they need to do to support our clients.”

During a recent meeting in Orlando of branch managers and leadership from the Branch Support Center, there was great focus on a plan of action to attract talent for the company’s installers through a community-based network. That means making connections with church and civic groups, workforce development boards, even high schools and colleges.

About 44 percent of hires, notably the installers and warehouse workers, also come from referrals. “It’s not uncommon in a branch to find cousins and brothers and fathers and sons and daughters who are working at these locations because they find out this is a good place to work,” he notes, adding that he’s very familiar with the scenario, as he worked in his family’s businesses at a young age while growing up in the Midwest.

Whan has been with TopBuild for 18 months. Previously, he worked 20 years at John Deere, where he held several HR-related jobs, an admittedly rewarding experience. Still he says, “Ultimately from a career aspiration standpoint I had the desire to move into the head of HR, to lead an entire function.”

A number of factors made TopBuild the right choice, one being that the company had just spun off from Masco Corporation and in that short period, its stock price had doubled.

During his first conversation with its head officers, he also found the leadership team to be transparent, lean, and approachable—a definite plus. “I wanted to be involved in an organization that could quickly and dynamically make decisions that could impact the entire [company],” he says.

Initially, Whan’s interest career-wise was in the public sector. His degrees, which include a BA in international management from Augustana College and an MPA in public administration from University of Kansas­, reflect that. (He later earned an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.)

His shift to the private sector came when he and his wife, Mary, began their family. It was an opportunity to step away from governmental bureaucracy and be directly involved in an organization’s culture, which he found at John Deere and now TopBuild.

“I wanted to be involved in an organization that could quickly and dynamically make decisions that could impact the entire organization.”

At TopBuild, Whan oversees the full package of human capital processes. He explains that HR is not just an enabling function but an active part of the business that includes setting strategy. “We don’t simply wait for the handoff,” he says. “I’m involved on a regular basis with the C suite folks here in setting that strategy, regularly getting updates. And then in turn, I work with my team to make sure that our processes are aligned to enable the strategy.”

Whan has a handful of projects on his radar for 2019, which include developing a multiyear strategy for benefits, and integrating newly acquired companies in an efficient manner. An initiative he’s especially excited about is the implementation of Workday, a leading platform for HR systems that will offer a full spectrum of online services to managers and employees. For example, installers who are paid by a piece rate will have a mobile device showing them what they could make potentially that day and at the end, how well they did.

“It saves us on efficiency to enable managers more time to do what they need to do, that is, sell the services that we have and make sure their teams are aligned with what they need to achieve and to make sure everybody is safe,” he says.

Whan takes his mission to ensure the wellbeing of people beyond just human resources for his company. TopBuild is also actively involved in philanthropy, which was triggered by cementing their top industry position after acquiring United Subcontractors, Inc. in 2018. This success allowed them to share the wealth by having employees choose a charity to support. Last year, the selected organization was Habitat for Humanity, for which TopBuild donated $50,000.

As CHRO, Whan has the overall responsibility for charitable giving, but one can also find him running in a 5K event or flipping burgers at a cookout. “It’s one thing to talk about employee engagement,” he explains, “but another to act on it by supporting causes important to them.”

“As an innovative employee benefits leader, AssuredPartners congratulates David Whan and TopBuild on the well-deserved recognition.  Sharing in a vision to provide valuable personal and professional enhancements to promote the recruitment and retention of top talent, we are proud to work with TopBuild on the design and management of modern employee benefit programs.” – Billy Grossmiller, SVP, AP Benefit Advisors