ADVANTAGE BUILDER: WILLIAM HILL
William Hill has always had a gift for connecting with people – whether it was his coaches and teammates on the Duke Blue Devils football team; his 95-year-old neighbor back home in Detroit, who he still calls regularly; or the cardiothoracic surgeon who helped Hill advance a novel technology that he developed during his senior year in Duke’s mechanical engineering program.
“I’ve always had the ability to connect with folks on a personal level and work with different types of people,” says Hill.
As Senior Vice President and a senior member of CBRE Federal Lessor Advisory Group, Hill continues to forge those relationships, even as the business has become more institutional. “It makes the job more meaningful when you can win and execute for people you’re connected with,” he said.
“I’ve always had the ability to connect with folks on a personal level and work with different types of people.”
PILLARS OF STRENGTH
Hill grew up in a close-knit community in Detroit with his parents and older sister. His father was a food service manager and renowned high school football coach; Hill’s mother taught English for nearly 40 years. His father’s parents lived across the street. “It was so great, like having two sets of parents – and as a growing boy I could have two dinners every day,” Hill laughed.
Hill attended a public magnet school for gifted and talented students from pre-school through eighth grade and later Detroit Renaissance High School. “The teachers really poured everything into us. I give them a lot of credit,” he said. “School and church were at the forefront of my upbringing. Sports was another pillar, especially for folks who didn’t have many other positive communities. It was definitely a place where people of all social and economic backgrounds came together as one.”
“We were always involved in each other’s activities and triumphs, whether it was my sister in choir, me in sports or Academic Games, going to my dad’s games or helping my mom decorate and paint her school room before the new school year.”
Some of his fondest childhood memories took place at the kitchen table. “We all had active schedules but sat down and had dinner together almost every day of the week,” he recalled. “We were always involved in each other’s activities and triumphs, whether it was my sister in choir, me in sports or Academic Games, going to my dad’s games or helping my mom decorate and paint her school room before the new school year.” He spent summers visiting family in the Carolinas, where his mother grew up and his parents met at College, and at his grandparents’ lake house, an hour from Detroit.
An entrepreneurial kid, Hill launched a landscaping business at age 12. His grandfather, a middle school principal and a real estate broker and investor, was his first -- and most profitable -- client. “If my grandfather was selling a property, I’d go over there and maintain the lawns – repeatedly,” Hill said laughing. “It would be a Thursday and he’d say, ‘boy, didn’t you do that Monday?’ and I’d say, ‘yeah, it needed a little freshening up.’”
Hill’s other childhood foray into business was acting as an agent in second grade for his friend Brian, a precocious artist with a knack for cartoon characters. Hill started selling Brian’s art work to other kids. “I don’t think it was a fair cut – I probably took too much of the proceeds,” Hill said. “But it was fun and I really believed in him.”
In second grade, Hill took up the violin, at one point playing first chair in the high school orchestra. “Our symphony instructor, Dave Berry, was phenomenal,” he said. “Mr. Berry had Motown kids, so we didn’t just do ‘Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major’ we also did ‘Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard it Through The Grapevine.’”
Recruited to play running back and defensive back at Duke University, Hill earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and materials science and received a certification in management and marketing. Hill’s mother and father attended every one of his home games and many of the away games. His father would finish coaching his game Friday night in Detroit and drive straight through for 11 hours to his son’s game on Saturday afternoon; sometimes Hill’s grandparents attended as well.
As a freshman, Hill was named an All-American Honorable Mention, while setting what was then the Duke freshman rushing record. But he tore his knee sophomore year, ending his NFL ambitions. “I think most college athletes who have a decent amount of success start to envision playing at the next level, especially when it’s something they love to do -- and I love everything about the sport,” he said.
After the injury, Hill trained his focus on academics and business ventures, one including a recurring summer vending business in a joint venture with Blue Devil Concessions. He also achieved the highest score in his senior design class for a technology -- integrated into football shoulder pads – that measures players’ vital signs to prevent heat stroke and other injuries. His professor encouraged him to pursue a patent, which he worked on in the offices of a private company before and immediately after graduation. “After I made my career choice I wasn’t able to see it through to fruition,” he said. “But it was a great learning opportunity, and it was rewarding to have someone believe in me and my idea.”
At the Hall of Fame induction for Joe DeLamielleure, the former Bills and Browns guard who had recruited Hill to play at Duke, Hill’s ability to connect came into play again. He was seated near Roger Staubach, the former NFL quarterback and real estate mogul. “We started chatting and he gave me the name of a few folks to reach out to,” Hill recalled. Together with the help of others, that led to a position with a top firm in Washington, D.C.
Today, Hill’s seven-person team at CBRE specializes in negotiating for landlords and owners in lease procurements and build-to-suit efforts for federal tenants, with about 30 percent of his work in the Washington D.C. area and 70 percent elsewhere. “The government is a very attractive tenant because of its credit-worthiness, and the stability of its leases and cash flows,” Hill noted. “But there are nuances to government leases that can decrease an asset’s value without proper protection, which is where we add value.”
“My father and grandfather -- who they were as men, in their careers, as leaders of their families and as pillars of the community – that motivates me to be better in everything that I do.”
Outside of work, Hill spends time with his wife and three kids, who are age 5, 3 and 19 months. He spent four years on the board of the Washington Jesuit Academy and has been involved with the school for more than eight years fundraising and mentoring students. After his father’s death in 2004, he founded the William Douglas Hill Scholarship Foundation, a nonprofit that awarded 7 scholarships to students demonstrating excellence in sports, academics and community service. (The high school renamed the football field in honor of Hill’s father.)
“My father and grandfather -- who they were as men, in their careers, as leaders of their families and as pillars of the community – that motivates me to be better in everything that I do,” Hill said. “They both loaned me their name so I have to do a good job taking care of it.”