Cory Halbardier is the CEO of Spacial, a San Francisco Bay Area-based full-service accessory dwelling unit (ADU) company that creates beautiful living spaces without the hassle. With over 20 years of experience, he has helped dozens of small businesses or business units scale, with a focus on the real estate and solar industries.
Halbardier began his career as a structural analyst engineer at the world’s largest aerospace/defense contractor and later moved into sales, where he worked for several national and international firms, including Flex, SunEdison, and Soligent, to name a few. Before joining Spacial, he served as the head of ADU sales at Veev, where he oversaw sales for its backyard home business.
Halbardier holds an MBA in finance from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UC Irvine. He also serves on the board of advisors for BWG Strategy, an invitation-only network for senior executives in technology, media, and telecommunications.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Cory Halbardier: I am the CEO of Spacial, a San Francisco Bay Area full-service accessory dwelling unit (ADU) company. I have led sales and operations in the solar, real estate, telematics and consulting industries for over 17 years, helping dozens of small companies or business units to reach scale. Prior to Spacial, I was head of ADU Sales for Veev, a Bay Area PropTech company.
ADUs contribute to society in a number of ways, including keeping families close. Some people install ADUs for older parents to maintain a close relationship between their children and grandchildren while also providing a separate space. Many parents are installing ADUs for their adult children as they are graduating from college and realize they cannot afford California’s high housing prices. Other people are building ADUs in their backyards to rent. This provides another stream of income for them, helping with bills, supplementing retirement, or just allowing them to live someplace they couldn’t afford otherwise.
I have a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from UC Irvine and an MBA in Finance from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I currently live in the Bay Area with my wife and four kids.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Cory Halbardier: When curve balls hit, it is important to pull in the senior team to reflect on the company’s purpose, values, core competencies and red-hot customers. The purpose, values and core competencies shouldn’t change often, but they can help pivot the target customer.
For example, Veev was in multifamily development prior to and entering 2020. When the pandemic hit, there was a massive shift to working from home and keeping aging parents out of retirement communities, so they pivoted into backyard cottages (ADUs). They maintained the same purpose, values and core competencies, but pivoted their customer to meet the trends.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Cory Halbardier: Businesses need to focus on ensuring that their strategy and execution match the trend and that people are engaged. They should also keep a sharp eye on cash management, which is the lifeblood of any organization. My senior team and I are currently working through Verne Harish’s book Scaling Up now, which is transforming our organization. I would recommend it for any senior team that knows they could probably be doing things better as they grow.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Cory Halbardier: ADUs have exploded in California. From 2020 to 2021, we saw a 53% YoY growth in the demand for ADUs. Why? The main reason is that we have a housing crisis in California. We are short three million homes due to 30 years of underbuilding. The state and federal governments see ADUs as a key method to solving this problem, and as a result, the state has enacted laws allowing ADUs by-right.
This means that millions of homeowners can now get ADUs much easier. Many people are installing them in their own backyards or on rental properties to rent for additional income. In the San Francisco Bay Area, they can net $12-24 thousand per month. Others install them for aging parents to keep them close, or adult children to help them get on their feet after college. And some people just need more space. Overall, the pandemic has been good for the ADU market.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Cory Halbardier: Stay humble and adaptable. I am a Type-A personality, so my wife says these are not my two strongest traits. If I want something, I am fully convinced I can make it happen. I have learned there are some headwinds that are too strong, which humbled me, and I need to change direction. For example, at the start of the pandemic, I was leading sales and operations for a telematics arm of Flex, a global manufacturer.
When China started shutting down factories, I began looking for other ways to service our customers. I should have realized that the wave hadn’t crashed on me yet, but was still growing. We should have moved toward cash preservation until we could see what was going to happen.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Cory Halbardier: To use a term from finance, the reversion to the mean will rule. Although the meaning has shifted, the extreme behaviors will go away in time. For example, there was a time when the headline in the news was about the death of the office. We are seeing more people working from home now, but in many cases, they are not exclusively working from home. Our team meets in the office two times a week to keep relationships strong.
There are some items, like strategy discussions, that are more fruitful in person because nuanced responses are harder to pick up on Zoom. As another example, many of us bought a majority of the things we needed online during the pandemic. And now we are seeing a reversion back to the mean — a hybrid approach to online versus brick-and-mortar shopping. We may see more online shopping than in the past, but there was no death to the supermarket or death to the office.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Cory Halbardier: Each day is different, but I would say roughly 90% of my time is spent in front of a screen. I do in-person leadership and strategy meetings, and most of the one-on-one meetings with my team are face-to-face, with the computer as a reference. I also build relationships by spending time with our team and partners at lunches.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Cory Halbardier: Stories are a great way to add color to data. Spacial does a regular webinar and I often share with prospective customers my experience of living in an ADU for several years.
When speaking with our board about our customers, I frequently share some information about the customer’s story to connect them with the lives that we are changing. On my leadership team every week, we start with “Roses and Thorns” (i.e. “What’s the best and worst part of last week?”). The stories we share help build our team’s bond. Our sales consultants often share the Spacial’s story and the story of the development of the ADU to create the customer’s connection with our product and brand.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Cory Halbardier: Speaking for our business, it has to do with overcoming misinformation with education. In the U.S., most new housing utilizes custom construction, with only a small percentage utilizing offsite construction, or prefab. Our confusion between modular construction and trailer homes is one cause.
While homeowners can get manufactured housing (historically known as mobile or trailer homes), modern modular construction is built to local code and is even more durable and energy efficient than most homeowners’ primary residences. Homeowners often think they have to get a lower-quality house or spend a lot more to get custom construction without understanding there is a third option like the Spacial home.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Cory Halbardier: My two primary interests in 2022 are to answer the following questions: “How can I be a better leader for my organization?” and “How do I raise money effectively?” On the first point, I’m reading the book “CEO Excellence” by McKinsey and Company, which is fantastic. On the second point, I’m utilizing my network, talking to a few folks who have been through the capital raising process.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Cory Halbardier: As leaders, we need to keep a close eye on our employees’ wellbeing. Two of Spacial’s values are Honor and Phileo. An important rule to the first value is that honor goes both ways. For employees to keep their jobs, they must honor their managers and the company they work for.
The opposite is also true; if managers want to keep their employees, they must honor them, speak highly of them, never gossip behind their backs and care about their personal lives, their relationships and their wellbeing. Phileo is a biblical term in Greek that means “brotherly love.” Brotherly love is much richer in meaning than the common definition of love. We are patient, kind, truthful, resilient, sacrificial, obedient, correctable, gracious, hold accountability, and exhibit endurance and perseverance. Having this type of relationship with our people builds commitment and loyalty to our company.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Cory Halbardier: I would pick wisdom as my business superpower. Anyone who has spent more than a minute with business leaders in a strategy meeting knows that no two decisions are ever alike, and oftentimes there is not a clear-cut answer. As we go along in business and life, we learn more general principles, but how we apply them is different depending on the circumstance. To be wise, we need a solid set of principles to guide us. While I think I have a solid set of principles, I would want a longer list.
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Cory Halbardier: Success in 2022 means that I am simultaneously able to honor God in my thoughts and actions, my investors and their capital, my employees and their families, our customers and their families, our suppliers, my wife, and our four kids. Should be easy, huh?
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Cory Halbardier for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Cory Halbardier or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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