"Ted ran with our [policies] and stretched them to the absolute limits," Mr. Ryan said. "It was good. I played it too conservative, and he let it out more than a notch."
Among Mr. Peck's biggest strategic moves was pushing Ryland into the California housing market with the 1986 acquisition of M. J. Brock Corp. of Los Angeles. Aside from the fact that the acquisition cost $82 million, it also forced Ryland to dabble in the land investing it had shunned because the California market was so hot that land speculators demanded cash payment from builders, rather than the lower-risk option deals Ryland uses in other markets.
"Because homebuilding is a series of local businesses, we wanted to be in different regions to get better overall stability," especially the ability to spread out the risk of local economic downturns, Mr. Peck said. "For California, [Brock] had a conservative approach to land acquisition."
But Ryland still had the discipline to stay out of land deals in now-cooled markets that once looked as hot as California's. One example was Northern Virginia.
"Instead of hanging in there and paying cash at higher and higher prices, we let our position slip," Mr. Peck said. "We're willing to give up profits in the good times to be comfortable in the bad times, to survive."
Mr. Peck offset the growth in the risk of the homebuilding operations, caused mostly by the push into California, by encouraging the growth of the company's mortgage subsidiary.
Other builders made similar moves, counting on the less cyclical mortgage business to provide a base of profits even during recessions.
"They've built one hell of a finance business," Mr. Rouse said. "A lot of other builders have done this, but none with the competence and imagination they have."
The last eight years haven't been entirely wine and roses, however. Ryland's profits are sharply down as Mr. Peck leaves, thanks to the recession in the building industry. Earnings per share fell more than 50 percent in the first three quarters of 1990, and the company has already said that profits will be weak through mid-1991.
The company's modular-home business has struggled, which Ms. Allen blames on problems in generating sales consistent enough to support the manufacturing operation that modular-home building demands.
Mr. Peck said the modular business might still pay off and that he looks at it as at worst a research and development program, teaching the company ways to make its field building process more efficient and to prepare Ryland to cope with labor shortages anticipated when the "baby bust" generation reaches adulthood in the 1990s.
The company also has suffered from the early problems of a real estate investment trust that it spun off in 1988, RAC Mortgage Investment Corp. A wrong bet on interest rates caused big early losses, though RAC has since recovered.
Finally, the company's stock price is lagging as the chairman leaves. From more than $20 a share earlier this year, the stock fell below $10 a share before recovering to close at $15.50 Monday.
"There are no regrets," said Mr. Peck, who will continue to live outside Columbia and keep a home on the Eastern Shore when he leaves his $622,000-a-year job Dec. 31.
Mr. Peck's replacement as Ryland's chairman is Roger Schipke, a former General Electric Co. executive. When his appointment was announced last spring, Mr. Peck said that Mr. Schipke's charge is to continue turning Ryland into a big company with big-company management styles, integration of different operations in the style of a big company and economies of scale.