Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fulton, 80, still building his legacy

The housing market may be sluggish, but homebuilding mogul, philanthropist and Arizona original Ira Fulton is still moving full steam ahead. At 80, the founder and chairman of Tempe-based Fulton Homes is lively, outspoken, determined and busy. He still goes to the office daily and puts in long hours.

Despite being forced into bankruptcy in 2009, Fulton Homes is one of the Valley's top homebuilders. Last year, it out-sold every local competitor in terms of sales per subdivision.

Fulton also is involved in his Fulton Family Foundation, which has made him well-known as a philanthropist and a champion of higher education. The foundation has contributed millions to Arizona State University, Utah's Brigham Young University and several other non-profits.

Fulton recently donated $2.5 million to Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix to create the Gregory W. Fulton ALS and Neuromuscular Disorders Center. Greg Fulton, Ira's son, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, in 2008 and had been a patient at Barrow until his death in November. He was 53.

Ira Fulton sat down with The Republic to offer his views on business, philanthropy, family, faith and legacy.

Q: How actively involved are you in the day-to-day operations of Fulton Homes?

A: Very active. I love it. My wife, the other day, said she's really happy that I'm down to 12 or 14 hours a day.

I have a son who is the chief executive officer. I have a son-in-law who is the chief operating officer. I have a son who is the executive vice president. But if they don't work, they get their butts kicked. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. They're good kids, but this is my wife's and my company, and I want them to earn it. And if they don't earn it, they don't work for Uncle Ira.

Doug Fulton is the chief executive officer. He runs the day-to-day operations. Norm Nicholls does the land buying. One is marketing and one is construction, and it works out very well. And if they don't agree, then I step in.

Q: When and how did philanthropy and charitable giving become such an important part of your life?

A: With my mother. When I was a boy, we had a little hamburger stand in Tempe. I was the dishwasher. I was the youngest. And my mother would not turn away anyone who was hungry. I would say, "We can't afford to do this." But she would say, "Son, they're hungry." And I shut up because she's my mom. I learned the principles of giving, and I didn't even know it. My mother was a very generous lady.

Q: What is the state of philanthropy in the U.S.? Are successful companies and individuals giving away as much as they should?

A: No. I'm on their fanny all the time. I'll tell couples, "When was the last time you saw a Brinks truck at a funeral procession?" I tell them how I said to my mother, before she died, that I figured I'd take it with me. She said, "How?" I said, "Traveler's checks," and she hit me.

I have a real hard time trying to explain to people that you don't just leave it to your kids. Give them a good education if they earn it and deserve it. But don't just give it to them -- you might as well just throw it away. Do something with it. Help them be successful. If they want to go into business, help them be successful. If they want a good education, help them be successful in the areas they want to pursue.

Q: What is the role of family in your life?

A: Family is your cornerstone. Without a family, you really don't get the proper guidance that you need growing up. Did I get my fanny kicked a lot for talking back? Yes. I had strong people helping me achieve where I am today. I didn't make my first million dollars until I was 44. And since then, I've made over a billion dollars. Do you know why? I stopped chasing the dollar, and I learned to use my talents better.

Q: How has your faith influenced you in your personal and professional life?

A: A lot. Because I was raised that there was good and bad, good and evil. When you think evil is good and good is evil, you're in trouble. Why I didn't screw up more is beyond me. My mother always made me go to church on Sunday. I couldn't go out and play. I had to stay in the house. And if they caught me up playing and I didn't go to church, then I didn't get to eat one meal. So they had strict rules. They didn't want me beating the system. I always tried, and I always got caught. And I always paid the consequence.

My church is very, very important to me. I don't care if you're Catholic or Baptist or Jewish. If you live your religion and really abide by what they teach you, you will have a good foundation in life. It just happens to be that I am a Latter-day Saints (member). That's the religion I believe is right. But I sit on this Catholic board -- the only Mormon on it -- and sitting over on that Catholic board I feel comfortable. They're good people. They're God-fearing.

Q: What would you like your legacy to be?

A: The greatest legacy I can leave behind is my students, to help them get an education. There is no greater achievement. I probably, between all my colleges, have fixed 7,000 or 8,000 either with books, dinners, travel or different types of scholarships. ... I have a foundation named after my family, and at the ASU College of Engineering, we have the Fulton Center. Up at BYU, we have $4 or $5 million in scholarships. We want to help people to achieve their dream. If you can dream it, you can create it. You can formulate it and make it happen.

by J. Craig Anderson - Mar. 3, 2012 04:22 PM The Republic|

Fulton, 80, still building his legacy

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