Living home building legend Jim Ryan put it this way: “You have to be brave to be good.” Another of home building's legends, Joel Rassman, lived and died by that simple truth.
Joel Rassman doesn't need to be on anybody's pedestal. We just remember him for the way he lived, the way he fought for life, and the way he reminds us of what's good about home building: The people who do it.
Joel never gave up. Six days before he died, we were in Horsham, Pa., to visit with Toll Brothers founder Bob Toll and new CEO Doug Yearley to talk about the future of the company. Part of the vision for that future involves Toll Brothers' exploration of home building in China. The morning of our visit, Bob and Doug met with their China representative to review their prospects. Joining them in that meeting was Joel Rassman.
Certainly, the able-footed steps of Toll Brothers' past and some part of the No. 1 luxury home builder's future will have Joel Rassman in it. Too, some part of the future of home building enterprises everywhere, and home building itself, will have men and women who bravely decide never to give up.
We wanted to remember Joel through some of his own words. We interviewed him in the spring of 2007. In 1975, he'd been in business a little over a decade, making good as an accountant and financial advisor, with several clients in residential real estate at Kenneth Leventhal & Co., which is now part of Ernst & Young. Here is how he came to be a Toll brother.
“I met Bruce Toll at a conference where I made a presentation on tax and accounting issues. Bruce told me he went back to Bob and said, ‘I made $60,000 by listening to them.' This was 1975. So I came down with one of my partners, and we got engaged to do some consulting work, and some accounting work, and some tax issues. And that's what started the relationship with the [Tolls].
“My view of what [put] Toll Brothers, when you look back 30 years ago, where they are today … is the willingness and desire of Bob Toll and Bruce Toll to surround themselves with people who would dare to think out of the box and look at the world and constantly question the world … not be afraid to surround themselves with smart people.
“Buying stock vs. not buying stock. Allocation of resources. Bob and I discuss that in friendly but heated discussions often. You'll hear Bob say, when someone asks him periodically [on a conference call], why didn't you buy more stock? And he says, ‘Because Rassman won't let me.' ”
Toll Brothers announced Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010, that Joel H. Rassman passed away early that morning.
Robert Toll stated, “We are heartbroken that Joel has left us. For three decades he has been a friend, counselor, and advisor to all of us both professionally and personally. As we announced in December of 2008, he faced serious illness. He struggled mightily and was a model of determination for all of us. He personally planned for the next generation of financial leaders of the Company.
“As brilliant as Joel was, his heart exceeded his intellect. He will be forever missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time.”
We were able to spend time with Joel. He cared about Toll Brothers, and the home building business, and he took time to teach us some of what we did not know about the home building business so that we could report more accurately about it. Not only the finance issues, but the people and management sphere, as well.
We will miss his passion for getting things right.
In remembering Joel Rassman, we salute you all. All of you know you have to be brave to be good.