By Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki
At age 18, in 1950, Bill Pulte built his first house by hand on Detroit’s Christy Street on land donated by a relative using plans purchased from the local newspaper and with tools given to him as high school graduation gifts. It was a five-room bungalow that he built with a group of friends and sold for $10,000. A true Horatio Alger story, from such humble beginnings grew one of America’s greatest homebuilding companies that has delivered over 750,000 homes. On January 22, 2020, Bill Pulte was inducted into the Best in American Living™ Hall of Fame, recognizing both his groundbreaking industry contributions and the incredible man he was.
Known for his humble manner, Bill Pulte decided to forgo a college scholarship to build a home, and then a company. Pulte passed away in March 2018, and leaves a legacy described in an email by Eli Broad, a founder of KB Home and one of Pulte’s contemporaries, who wrote, “Bill Pulte’s energy and dedication to home building helped transform the industry and helped more than half a million families across the country find a place to call their own,” New York Times, March 9, 2018.
Bill Pulte had a keen mind that was always seeking new ways to build higher quality homes more efficiently. From plant production, value engineering, and the use of SIPs to designing entirely new building products, Pulte created a culture that embraced change as he sought to make the company better. He grew up around the auto industry and was inspired by factory and large-scale production as effective ways to lower the cost of homeownership, critical to the post-war growth of the American middle class.
He was one of the first homebuilders to truly put the customer first, allowing their preferences to influence home design. Pulte was famous for building three-bedroom homes with an unfinished fourth bedroom for first-time buyers who may not be able to finish the fourth bedroom immediately but were confident they would make it suit their needs when they could. Pulte Homes grew from their Detroit roots, going national in 1960, and becoming public in 1969. In 1995 the company was the largest builder in the nation, in 1999 it became a Fortune 500 company, and in 2001 it acquired Del Webb Corporation, following Baby Boomers into their retirement years.
Mr. Pulte was a man of high values and integrity who loved his God, his family and his Pulte family. Throughout a career that spanned more than six decades, he would always say, “I never went to work a day in my life. I just loved what I was doing.” He was an anonymous philanthropist many times over. Today his legacy lives on in his large and extended family, and the families who’ve had a chance to build a secure future as a result of his vision.
Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki is the principal of tst ink, bringing a customer-focused “how might we?” approach to creating communities and brands that connect and engage with how people want to live their lives.