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Posted: September 01, 2012

Executive edge: Pat Hamill

Oakwood Homes founder welcomes uptick in the market

Lynn Bronikowski

Every morning Pat Hamill rises at 4 and heads to the gym. He puts in more than a full day’s work at his homebuilding business while also helping various nonprofits and serving on the board of trustees of the University of Denver, his alma mater.

"I’ll kick back and rest when I’m dead," says the president and CEO of Oakwood Homes, Colorado’s largest privately owned homebuilder, which has an 11 percent market share.

A native of Grand Ledge, Mich., Hamill grew up skiing, including ski racing. His father operated a small construction company that built everything from picnic tables to vacation homes.

"He was always focused on excellence and quality," Hamill said. "He didn’t care about being the biggest but always wanted to be the best, and I think that always stuck with me."

Hamill earned a degree in real estate and construction management in 1981 from the University of Denver.

"I always thought I’d go back and work with my dad, but once you get to Colorado, there’s no place like it," said Hamill, who would go on to start a consulting business for homebuilders across the country.

By 1990, he was done being a coach to others and founded Oakwood, which last year closed on its 10,000th home.

"It seemed like a good time to start my own business," said Hamill. "I always loved the industry and I’m very passionate about it."

He admits that the past several years have been the worst ever in the housing market but he’s weathered the epic downturn by paying off bank debt, downsizing his workforce to meet demand and adjusting his product line to what is selling in the marketplace.

"We’ve sold products for pricing that went back 15 years," said Hamill. "We’ve sold houses for $140,000 and focused more on cash versus profitability. Margins don’t pay the bills but cash does, so we went into a survival mode for a period of time."

At its peak, Oakwood closed on 850 homes annually, which dropped to 250 a year during the recession. Oakwood employment went from 185 to 85.

"It’s always difficult to lay people off," he said. "In many cases you spend more time with your work family than you do your home family, and it‘s unfortunate that a lot of those jobs will never come back."

This year Hamill expects total sales and new orders to number 500, and he’s hired back a handful of people.

"We’re still way off but at least we have momentum, and the housing industry is starting to pick up," said Hamill, who this summer closed on the purchase of the 2,700-acre Banning Lewis Ranch in Colorado Springs.

"Banning Lewis Ranch is probably the one true master plan in Colorado Springs. I always liked it and felt it was a great place," said Hamill, noting that one in four homeowners in Colorado Springs will buy at Banning Lewis, which will house 9,000 homes. "We think we can add our vision to it and our focus on schools and education and make it THE place for families to live in."

His company this summer also built the St. Jude’s 2012 Dream Home in Castle Rock to raise funds for the research hospital.

"There’s a lot of good causes, but St. Jude’s is just amazing in what they do," Hamill said. "Our vendors made donations, and we made some significant donations. We like to give back and St. Jude’s research comes back to help other children’s hospitals throughout the country. They treat the toughest of the toughest cases, and it’s all free to the patient. That appealed to us."

Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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