A year ago,> with the markets and the economy in meltdown, the SmartMoney Power 30 was full of the usual cast of government giants and Wall Street heavyweights: Bernanke, Geithner, Buffett. But as we move to a new phase, a time of slow but seemingly steady recovery, some of the biggest players might seem more on the fringe academics, advisers, even a lobbyist. What follows is a mix of the famous and not-so-famous, all trying to make sure in their own way that the Great Recession turns into the Great Recovery.>
Barton's Zillow.com Web site rattled real estate brokers when it launched in 2006 with automated home-price estimates. Now it has a mortgage-shopping service that lets consumers evaluate the true cost of loans, as well as iPhone apps that make it easier to shop for homes on the go. Barton rendered travel agents nearly obsolete with his last company, Expedia, and the powers-that-be in real estate fear he could be doing the same to them.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Donovan summoned the heads of the nation's largest mortgage service firms to Washington this summer to deliver a stern message: Get with the program. A former commissioner of New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Donovan desperately needs the companies to pick up the pace on mortgage modifications and prevent foreclosures-just one task he's juggling in the quest for a sustained housing recovery. At 43, the youngest Cabinet member also must monitor the glut of mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration-now 23 percent of all mortgages, up from about 3 percent just three years ago-and the bill taxpayers will get if those loans go bad. As if that weren't enough, he'll have a big say in what to do with government-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whether to extend the first-time-homebuyer tax credit and when to retreat from government intervention in the housing market. While some wonder if Donovan has helped build yet another house of cards, he argues that recent positive reports indicate his philosophy of "targeted support" for the private sector is working. "We've pulled back from the precipice," he says. Millions of homeowners hope he's right.
CEO, Pulte Homes
When housing news was at its most dismal this past spring, Dugas snatched up rival Centex Corp. to create a home-building behemoth. Time will tell if the move put the company at the head of its class or merely the top of a trash heap. The acquisition gives Pulte an inventory of lower-priced homes-the sector's strongest category of late-as well as a foothold in relatively stable markets in Texas and the Carolinas. It now offers a brand for every buyer: Centex for first-timers, Pulte for the well-to-do and Del Webb for seniors. The company is expected to complete 40 percent more homes than its nearest competitor this year, but prices and margins are being squeezed as the company competes with foreclosures.
Raymond James analyst Buck Horne expects it will be 2011 at the earliest before Pulte is profitable again. Dugas, known as a big-picture guy, "will have to shift his focus to blocking and tackling," Horne says. Dugas, 44, admits as much and vows that he has learned from the mistakes of recent years. "We will be more disciplined," he says. "Home building led us into this [recession]. It will lead us out of it."
CEO, Vornado Realty Trust
Talk about a baptism by fire. The son of a tailor (and first in his family to attend college,) Fascitelli, 53, took over the corner office from industry titan Steven Roth in May-just as the recession's full impact was being felt in commercial real estate. As the longtime No. 2, Fascitelli became known for his prolific deal making in recent years and transformed Vornado from a modest shopping-mall owner into a massive collector of office and retail properties. "They have bets all over the table," says Michael Knott, an analyst with Green Street Advisors. The REIT remains well leveraged, but Fascitelli says he is already eyeing the bargain bin. His biggest test may be managing Vornado's sizable portfolio in the struggling Manhattan office market, but he insists there will be few vacancies. "The better landlords always do better in environments like this," he says.
The SmartMoney 2009 Power 30