David K. Hill, 67, chairman and former CEO of Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based Kimball Hill Homes, lost his battle with cancer early Saturday, July 26.
Hill, widely considered to be a passionate and honorable force in the home building industry, led the company that was established by his father for nearly 40 years.
Former Lennar and U.S. Home executive Isaac Heimbinder worked closely with Hill after joining the company in 2002. "David had a very special place among the large builders," said Heimbinder. "Not only was he working in an organization that he personally grew, but he was unique for his role in bringing the large builders together to work with the NAHB through the [High Production Home Builders] Council.
Heimbinder noted Hill's facile command of mortgage instruments and his commitment to affordable housing. "He was a great sharer. There was nothing he wouldn't do for others in the industry, even if it came to providing insight about things we were doing at Kimball Hill. There is never any real comfort in these times, but the memories of David will last longer and his impact was greater because of his dedication to the industry and the help he provided to so many people."
Born in Evanston, Ill., Hill graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University and from Northwestern University Law School with honors. He practiced law in both Chicago and Washington, D.C., where he served as a special assistant to the Navy Secretariat for strategic planning. In 1969, he returned to the Chicago area and assumed the presidency of his father's business, which had been established in order to provide housing for returning war veterans.
During Hill's tenure, Kimball Hill grew from a local, entry-level home builder to a privately-held production powerhouse that, at its peak, was building roughly 4,000 houses and was active in nine states and 15 individual markets. Despite its growing footprint, the organization maintained a distinctive culture with a dedication to multigenerational developments and affordable housing.
"The company is not about acquisition and rapid growth," Hill told Big Builder in a 2005 interview. "We have patience and skills. I'm known as idiosyncratic--I'm differently focused and directed."
Hill believed that his company had a unique understanding of what made connected communities successful and planned to put his formula to work across the country.
"If you look at 'Good to Great,'" Hill said, "you'll see that companies need to focus, particularly in periods of rapid change, on what they do best. We're finding that we have a real focus on, passion for, and capability in doing complex, multi-use, multi-product, multigenerational housing. And we're pursuing that."
Despite his family's heritage in the business, Hill's succession planning strategy relied on a seasoned executive team and included "a wonderful set of new talent whose last names are not going to be Hill."
Anxious to benefit from his management experience with publicly-traded companies, Hill convinced Ken Love to leave his position as a senior-level partner at Deloitte & Touche. Love joined Kimball Hill as vice chairman in June 2005. In an interview with Big Builder just prior to Love's official start with the organization, Hill referred to Love as a "distinguished new player."
Last year, in the midst of his illness, Hill stepped down as CEO but retained his position as chairman of the board, and it was Love who stepped into the CEO role as the economic conditions of the housing market began to nosedive.
Hill's passion for creating lifestyle communities spurred the company to secure large parcels of lands, some in far-flung suburban areas that are plagued by slow sales in today's environment. With revenue trickling in much slower than projected, the company made strides to improve operating performance, reduce inventory, and redeploy assets in its strongest communities and markets, while exiting others.
Despite the efforts, the instability in sales and revenue took a toll on the company's ability to service debt. On April 23 of this year, Kimball Hill filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Northern District of Illinois.
At that time, Love was quick to note that the company's problems were financial and not operational. "The next step is to strengthen our capital structure," he said. Citing significant discussions with potential plan sponsors and senior lenders, the company's goal was to agree on a reorganization plan within 90 days.
The 90-day period ended just prior to Hill's death last week on July 24.
Though no agreement has been formally reached, sources close to the company confirm that the process is continuing to evolve, and an announcement is expected in the near term. In a new video message that appears on the company's Web site, Love stated, "Over the past 90 days, great progress has been made towards that end. I believe we will exit from Chapter 11 under an approved plan of reorganization, continue with our operations in tact as a top-performing home builder with a strengthened capital structure that is appropriate to today's marketplace."
In 2005, Hill shared his "great professional fear" with Big Builder: "[My fear] is that the inevitable consolidation of our industry will reduce our collective creative responses to the evolving and vibrant needs of U.S. home buyers," he said. "If we [as builders] aren't more considerate, we can build communities or projects that deny and even defeat community life."
In a note to the company's associates announcing the news of Hill's passing on Saturday, Love pledged his "energy and efforts" to navigating the company through its current challenges and "building an even stronger company that leads our industry for the next 40 years."
Regarding services, visitation will be from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 30, at Ahlgrim Family Funeral Home, 201 N. Northwest Highway, Palatine, Ill.. The funeral services will be held on Thursday at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Arlington Heights. In-state viewing will be held from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. with the funeral services following.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are appreciated to the Harper College David K. Hill Memorial Fund, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine, Ill., 60067.