Generations of builders

By TC Brown
Photos by Will Shilling

Building as a family affair is by no means a rarity in central Ohio. The area boasts several families in which commercial real estate is now carried on by second generations, and in some cases, third generations. Those organizations include the Robert Weiler Company, Pizzuti Companies, The Daimler Group, Virginia Homes and the Hadler Companies, among others. Some of these organizations' founders envisioned a legacy for their families; in other instances, family participation simply evolved. 

Virginia Homes

Virginia Homes
10104 Brewster Lane, Suite 100
Powell 43065

Employees: 10
Signature projects: Wedgewood Golf and Country Club, Wellington Reserve 
Built more than 15,000 homes in central Ohio 

Virginia Homes is another local real estate development company whose name camouflages the generations behind the curtain. Warren Wittmann started the company in 1953, naming it after his wife.

Charles J. Ruma, who began working for the company in 1969 after moving to Columbus from Philadelphia, bought and took over Virginia Homes in 1975. His oldest son, David, came on board in 1989 and his youngest son, Charles, entered the business in 1995.

“When each of my children got out of college, I offered them an opportunity to come to work for me. It was their choice,” says the elder Ruma, now president and CEO of Davidson Phillips Inc. “I didn’t put any pressure on them to join, but I was pleased they did.”

Both went through a training program after joining the company. David, a former co-owner of Virginia Homes and current owner of DCR Commercial Development, had been mulling over an offer to train in bank management, but opted for real estate instead.

“This would be a meaningful learning process and it would be ten times better working in business close to the guy who ran it than it would be to jump into a management training program and work my way up,” David says. “It’s a lot of fun, but extremely hard. But if you are exposed to someone who can educate you that quickly on it, that’s where we benefitted the most.”

It was a similar experience for the younger Ruma, Virginia Homes owner and president, who examined several career possibilities after he graduated from college in 1993.

“I knew there would be no better opportunity than to go learn from Dad about the business. It would be the best education I could get,” the younger Ruma says. “I didn’t know I’d fall in love with building homes or development, but I knew being around my dad at any level for a period of time would benefit me.”

The elder Ruma’s daughter, Jennifer Bova, has also played a role in the family business, including ownership shares. Her dad believes that more women aren’t in leadership roles now because of the nature of the construction and fieldwork. “It doesn’t mean women can’t do it, and in fact some women are very successful in the residential side,” he says.

The Ruma children are aware of their good fortune, and they also know that outsiders may assume everything is handed to them. “Our dad would give us anything . . . but as an employee, we had to go out and earn it,” David says.

Neither son would argue that benefits exist, but there’s another side to the equation.

“The reality is there is a lot of pressure because of the reputation, because of what your dad has built, you can’t let that fail,” the younger Ruma says. “There’s always that extra drive for me and David to keep things moving forward in a positive manner. This pressure is an interesting dynamic that goes along with the family business.”

That stress could easily lead to a family fracas in any situation, especially in the pressure-filled atmosphere of real estate development.

“We saw some families in the business where they just butt heads,” David says. “The best thing about this situation is that we have a father who never let that be a part of the formula. His No. 1 priority has always been family.”

Indeed, their father divided up the business into separate entities to avoid sibling rivalry. His advice has been simple: be sure that your brother and sister are better off than you.

“If you can maintain that one common trait and make sure the others are as well off as you, then you are going to have a successful relationship in the family business,” he says. The Wedgewood Golf and Country Club is one of the family’s memorable projects.