Nash Phillips, legendary Texas builder and co-founder of both Nash Phillips/Copus Builders Inc. and Wilshire Homes, died on Monday in Austin, the city he built so much of. He was 90.
Phillips began his career in home building in 1945 with the founding of Nash Phillips/Copus Builders (NPC), which grew to become the largest privately held home builder in the U.S. in 1984. According to the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin, NPC constructed 25% of all homes built in Austin between 1945 and 1986. More than 50,000 homes in the Austin area alone have been attributed to NPC, which at its peak held more than 65% of Austin’s single-family home market and 80% of its multifamily market. The company also built in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and Phoenix.
Phillips brought an entrepreneurial spirit to post-WWII home building, constantly looking for ways to improve and innovate. “They were one of the first to have a sister mortgage company, to have a sister insurance company,” says Mark Sprague, director of business development at Mission Mortgage in Austin and a former employee of Phillips’. “They started building frames for their houses inside a warehouse then moved them to the site. … These are things that the industry takes for granted now, but these guys were really on the forefront.”
Phillips was also known to have an encyclopedic understanding of land, its value, and its importance in the home building equation. “He knew every piece of land in Austin, San Antonio, and Houston—who owned it, how much they paid for it, and what the value was,” recalls Thomas Buffington, a long-time employee of Phillips’ and chairman of Austin-based Buffington Capital Holdings.
“He always was a big believer not only in the home building industry but especially how it related to the land,” says Wes Peoples, co-founder with Phillips of Wilshire Homes. “He would always say you always made or lost your money when you bought the land.”
While as a businessman he was known for being knowledgeable, he was also known for being unfailingly honest and fair in deals. Peoples recalled advice Phillips gave him after one particularly difficult negotiation with a developer, saying, “Wes, I want you to remember one thing. … If you will deal fairly with people and leave something on the table, they’ll want to come back and deal with you again.”
However, what Phillips seems best remembered for is as a mentor and friend to countless builders who benefited from his experience and talent.
“He taught me how to think, how to approach the home building business and particularly land development,” recalls Buffington. “He really taught me the business.”
Over the years, Phillips played the mentoring role for many builders, eventually earning his company the nickname NPC University. According to Peoples, more than 50 home builders who have gone on to start companies across the nation got their start at NPC with Phillips as their mentor.
Peoples also attributes the founding of many contracting companies in the Austin area to the work they were able to do for NPC. Their gratitude to Phillips was apparent when the housing bust of the late-80s pushed NPC into bankruptcy, but many of NPC’s creditors refused to claim their money from the company. “They would call Phillips up and say, ‘You have done so much for me and my family over the past 30 years,’” Buffington recalls.
In 1991, Phillips partnered with Peoples and his son-in-law and former employee J. Edward Horne to found Wilshire Homes, for which Horne continues to serve as president.
“Mr. Phillips was a true people person. He enjoyed people. He enjoyed helping people. He took great pride in people living in his homes and being happy with them,” says Peoples.
Phillips married the late Eloise Kauffman in 1950, and the couple had two daughters.
Claire Easley is senior editor, online, at Builder.