They say life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Don’t tell that to Bill Kimberley. It’s precisely because he made plans and took a long-term approach that his life has taken the paths it has—and also why Kimberley Development celebrates 40 years in business this year.
That same long-term approach is laying the groundwork for many more decades in the construction industry. “Young guys coming into the business look at successful companies and think, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Kimberley says. “But what they don’t see is the years and long hours that went into getting to this point. And very few of them are willing to pay what it costs.”
Kimberley himself may not have realized exactly what he was getting himself into when he took out that loan in 1978 to build his first spec home. But what he did know was that the home-building process fascinated him and that he was willing to work. “I knew I didn’t know everything, and I knew there were guys out there that had more experience and more money,” he explains. “But I was determined that nobody was going to outwork me; no one was going to work harder than I did.”
He sold that spec home and had his first custom project before the spec home was done. And that experience piqued his curiosity about other aspects of the business. “I wanted to understand the market and what buyers were looking for, so I got my real estate license. And I was fortunate to have older guys who mentored me and were willing to show me the ropes because I wanted to learn,” Kimberley says.
That love for learning and willingness to put in the long hours is at the heart of the company’s growth and one of the primary reasons Kimberley Development not just survived the ups and downs of the market but has expanded and grown into one of Iowa’s largest builders. “I think it helped that I was just getting started when the ’80s downturn hit,” Kimberley says. “I saw the market drying up, and I had to branch out into other kinds of construction. So that’s always been a part of our business. It’s just not the part most people see.”
Being a young builder during one of the worst housing markets in recent history turned out to be a blessing. Not only did Kimberley learn early the value of diversifying, but he recognized the importance of investing wisely. “A lot of young builders get all excited when things are going well, and they take on more and bigger projects, assuming things are always going to be that great. Then the market changes, and all their money is sunk in a project they can’t finish or can’t sell,” he says. “I was in my early 20s during the housing crisis of the ’80s, and I saw what can happen if you rob Peter to pay Paul. That’s one of the reasons we’re still here today—we pay our bills, we keep our word, we don’t take on what we can’t afford.”
Some businesspeople see their company as simply a way to make money. Kimberley has never approached his work that way. “This business is who I am,” he says. “I’ll never retire. But I don’t want to keep the same pace I’ve kept for the past 40 years. And the construction business is changing, so we need to be changing with it.”
Perhaps one of the hardest “sells” he’s ever had to do was convincing Jenna, his daughter, to return to Iowa and learn the family business. “She had a great job. I had to convince her that Iowa was the place she wanted to be long-term,” Kimberley says.
Jenna agrees. “I had my dream job, but in a lot of ways, it was a struggle. I was in a field where I knew the job would eventually take a toll on me and a family, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to live that way. Dad called at the right time. But it was a trial by fire,” she laughs. “The first two years in this job I felt like a punching bag most days.”
Although she and her brother, Justin, had grown up knowing what their dad did, Jenna says it wasn’t until she came to work at Kimberley Development that she really understood the complexity of the job. “As kids, we knew the company built houses,” she explains. “But he made it a priority to create a family life, too. We had dinner as a family every night. But after dinner, a lot of times he was back at the office till midnight.”
Her background in a fast-paced, high-stress field paid off when Kimberley brought her in as Vice President in 2014. “They just threw me in from day one and cycled me through every aspect of the business. I rode around with supervisors all day, followed Bill around, worked with the spec team, did estimating. And we have such great people, great contractors, and subs. They really made it possible for me to learn and weren’t afraid to answer questions or guide me through what I didn’t know,” Jenna says.
She spent those first few years learning the business, honoring the company her dad had built. But she’s brought some new ideas with her, too, making her own mark on the business.
Sounding much like her father, she says, “I know my skill set, but I know where there are gaps in that skill set, too. I had to build a team around me that knew their jobs and could bring their own expertise to fill in those gaps. Bill has always done that, too. The people here at Kimberley Development are just the best to work with.”
Since joining Kimberley Development, Jenna has helped spearhead changes in the day-to-day management of the company, from communications to scheduling. And recognizing the challenges facing the industry, especially at the lower price points, she and Justin and Bill have started their own company, Built Right Homes, to focus on entry-level homes for first-time or move-up buyers.
“She’s brought in a great group of talented young people that are excited about the work and are bringing fresh ideas,” says Bill Kimberley. “You know, when you’ve been around 40 years, there’s a danger of getting stuck doing things the same old way. You can’t survive like that. This business is changing fast. I’ve got the experience and the background, and I tend to take a big-picture approach. Jenna’s great at managing the details and developing a team of people to make things happen.”
Kimberley Development has grown dramatically since those first two lots in 1978. The company has 290 lots in development this year and recently sold the largest multifamily project in the history of the State of Iowa—a 434-unit apartment complex in Waukee that sold for $58 million. And just this summer, it officially branched out into the remodeling field with Kimberley Construction, the remodeling division.
None of this happened by accident. It took a long-term approach and careful management of the day-to-day details, Kimberley family traits that will continue to serve the company in the years ahead.