The Nov. 7 death of Robert J. Strudler, 64, was more than a loss to Lennar Corp., where he served as chairman of the board. With his passing, many building industry executives lost their long-time mentor; the industry lost the institutional memory of a leader who was a force in the growth of home building as a national business; and the broader community lost a benefactor whose generosity was deep and wide.
“I wish the world could get the colors and the flavors that defined this unique human being,” says Stuart A. Miller, president and CEO of Lennar, who counted Strudler as a friend. “He was an inspiration.”
A graduate of Cornell University and Columbia University School of Law, Strudler spent seven years as an attorney in private practice before beginning his home building career at the young U.S. Home Corp. in 1972. He nurtured the careers of others in the industry. Those who benefited from his guidance are now spread throughout the industry.
“Bob Strudler … was a great industry leader and also was generous with his time in the industry with people like me. I think we all learned lessons from [the difficulties he went through in the early '90s], and it's going to serve us well in this downturn,” says Beazer Homes USA CEO Ian McCarthy.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.–born Strudler spent his entire home building career at U.S. Home, where he served as chairman and CEO beginning in 1986, and Lennar, which acquired U.S. Home in 2000.
Isaac Heimbinder, who worked closely with Strudler for many years at U.S. Home, even sharing the co-CEO title with him, says Strudler always took a special interest in employees' career development and was a master of matching the right people to the right jobs.
“A lot of people say people are their most important assets, but they don't follow up on it. He did,” says Heimbinder, who recently retired from Kimball Hill Homes. Childhood polio left scars that caused health problems later in Strudler's life. During an operation, a nerve was cut that affected his ability to use his legs and, to some extent, his hands and arms, says Miller.
Instead of retreating to a quiet life, Strudler used a motorized cart to get around. And, unable to easily fly, he traversed the country in a company bus for business.
“He never let his physical setbacks deter him from making the very, very best of life,” says Miller. “I would sit back and watch him sometimes and just marvel at the way he could turn what might seem like a disastrous situation into an opportunity.”
As astute a business man as Strudler was, he was far from having a narrow focus on that world, says Marshall Ames, Lennar's head of investor relations. “He was very spiritual, and he was extremely warm,” says Ames. “I think that what most people would say that, while he was very accomplished in the business world, what made him even more special is that he dedicated his efforts to help all people become all they could become.”
In 1997, Strudler received the Golda Meir Senior Humanitarian Award, recognizing his contributions to the Golda Meir/Kent Jewish Center. Among his contributions to the community, Strudler founded the School for Young Children in Houston, oversaw the construction of the new facilities for Congregation Or Ami in Houston, helped found the Institute for Living Judaism in Brooklyn, and helped create a diagnostic center for children with special needs, which will open in 2007.
His many professional awards include induction in the National Housing Hall of Fame, Legend in Marketing Award for the National Sales and Marketing Council of the NAHB, Hearthstone BUILDER Lifetime Public Service Award, and Man of the Year by the Houston Habitat for Humanity.
He is survived by Ruth, his wife of 41 years, three sons, and a daughter-in-law.