flexiblefullpage - default
Currently Reading

NHQA Hall of Fame: Tom Gillespie

billboard - default
National Housing Quality Award

NHQA Hall of Fame: Tom Gillespie

Tom Gillespie has long believed that a healthy bottom line is the by-product of excellence. Scores of home builders have benefited from his approach

By Amy Albert, Editor-in-Chief October 13, 2015
Tom Gillespie joins NHQA hall of fame
This article first appeared in the PB October 2015 issue of Pro Builder.

The pivotal moment in Tom Gil­lespie’s career was a stunner. Then a project superintendent for The Kennedy Group, he was asked to head a new company, a prospect as daunting as it was exciting. It was 1993, and Kennedy was about to divide itself into three independent entities. Gillespie would be president of Kennedy Community Development (KCD), building homes in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago. He’d pick his own team, an event he likens to the NFL draft. His plan was radical back then: a team approach to building homes. “If I failed, that would be it for my career in home building,” he recalls.

Gillespie believes the offer was based on a field decision he made that exceeded his authority. “I approved a $5,000 retaining wall when my spending limit was $500,” he says. “No one was making decisions. I made it my mission to fix it for our customer.”

“Mission” is a key word for Gillespie because the achievement he’s proudest of is being a Marine. “My relatives instilled values in me, but the Marines burned them into my soul,” he says, listing courage, honor, commitment, integrity, and respect as easily as most of us provide our street address.

Gillespie saw combat in Vietnam, returning home uninjured. He began work as a contractor specializing in concrete, framing, and siding. His father-in-law, a Navy Seabee and master craftsman, got him into it. “There was nothing he couldn’t make or build,” Gillespie says.

Upon becoming president of KCD, Gillespie mapped out the entire building process. “It was 20 feet of paper,” he recalls. He called everyone into the conference room. “What’s that?” asked a team member. “That,” Gillespie replied, “is your life.” The intensive examination scrubbed 70,000 non-value-added steps. “All of a sudden, our lives got a lot better,” Gillespie says. “We empowered people to make decisions.”

In 1997, KCD was awarded an NHQ Gold award in a first-ever unanimous decision. Scott Sedam, a home building consultant and contributing editor for Professional Builder, was an examiner that year. “We were captivated by Tom’s enthusiasm, depth of knowledge, and willingness to pursue improvement no matter what direction it took him,” Sedam says.

In 1999 Kennedy merged three companies into one and Gillespie became a managing partner. He developed an even-flow production system, increasing starts and closings to three per day. He created a survey that measured and bridged the gap between leaders, employees, and customers, boosting customer satisfaction to 95 percent, building Kennedy into an NHQ Gold contender once again. They missed on the second try, a story Gillespie tells with unflinching candor. “We were solid gold but lost it in the boardroom,” he says, describing hard lessons about leadership not being in sync. Kennedy was going gangbusters in the mid 2000s, but after triple bypass surgery in 2006, Gillespie’s priorities changed. “I went in one person and came out another,” he says. “What was important to me then isn’t now.”

Gillespie became an on-site examiner for NHQ in 1998 and has remained active ever since. “Tom has worked in the interest of excellence throughout his entire career,” says building consultant Charlie Scott. “Even in so-called retirement, he has helped countless home building companies focus on quality.”

Gillespie offers wisdom for builders of all stripes: “Look at leading indicators sooner and react more quickly. Make training and education a priority to foster the next generation of leaders and front-line people. Build a strong trade base because if the market comes back too quickly, we’re going to see a replay of the 1970s, when we were building junk.” And finally, “The bottom line is a by-product of excellence and everything an organization does.”

Asked about induction into the NHQ Hall of Fame, Gillespie is visibly moved. “The award isn’t about me, it’s about the people along the way, the people who allowed me to lead them, and the trades who believed in us. Without them, I’m nothing.”  

Written By

Amy Albert is editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine. Previously, she worked as chief editor of Custom Home and design editor at Builder. Amy came to writing about building by way of food journalism, as kitchen design editor at Bon Appetit and before that, at Fine Cooking, where she shot, edited, and wrote stories on kitchen design. She studied art history with an emphasis on architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania, has served on several design juries, and is a recipient of the 2017 Jesse H. Neal Award for excellence in journalism. 

Related Stories

National Housing Quality Award

2023 National Housing Quality Award Winners: A Commitment to Excellence

The 2023 National Housing Quality Award recognizes two exceptional home builders for their continued quest for operational mastery

National Housing Quality Award

National Housing Quality Award Winners and Profiles 1993–2023

An archive of NHQA-winning companies that represent home building's best in Total Quality Management

National Housing Quality Award

Apply for the National Housing Quality Award

NHQA application deadlines and contact information

boombox1 -
native1 - default
halfpage2 -

More in Category

native2 - default
halfpage1 -

Create an account

By creating an account, you agree to Pro Builder's terms of service and privacy policy.

Daily Feed Newsletter

Get Pro Builder in your inbox

Each day, Pro Builder's editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.

Save the stories you care about

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet lorem ipsum dolor sit amet lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.

The bookmark icon allows you to save any story to your account to read it later
Tap it once to save, and tap it again to unsave

It looks like you’re using an ad-blocker!

Pro Builder is an advertisting supported site and we noticed you have ad-blocking enabled in your browser. There are two ways you can keep reading:

Disable your ad-blocker
Disable now
Subscribe to Pro Builder
Already a member? Sign in
Become a Member

Subscribe to Pro Builder for unlimited access

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.