1961 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"To succeed you've got to have a certain amount of luck, you've got to do a certain amount of hard work, and it takes perseverance."
Jim Walter was born in Lewes, Delaware, in 1922, but his family moved to Tampa, Florida, when he was six months old. In 1946, as a 23-year-old Navy veteran working as a truck driver for his father's citrus business, Walter happened across a two-line classified ad in a local newspaper for a "nice, unfinished house." The house price was $895. With $400 savings and the rest borrowed from his father, he bought the house, moved it to a small lot, and a few days later sold it for a profit. Within days, he and the original owner of the home had struck up a partnership. During their first week in business, they took orders for 27 homes, startling evidence of the tremendous post-war demand for affordable housing. Two years later, Walter and his partner parted amicably, with Walter agreeing to keep the business after his partner opted for $50,000 cash. Fewer than 15 years later, the company had assets of more than $100 million and had built nearly 75,000 houses. In 1955, the company went public as Jim Walter Corporation, and by the early 1960s had begun an ambitious program of diversification and internal expansion. It broadened its product line to include building materials, a full line of pressure pipe and fittings for water and waste water transmission systems, products for commercial and industrial markets and natural resources such as coal and marble, and a California savings and loan operation.
Recently, the company was purchased for $2.4 billion by an investment group led by Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts and Co., resulting in the formation of the current two companies, Hillsborough Holdings and Walter Industries, which last year had annual sales and revenues of over $1.3 billion. Today, the company maintains leading interests in homebuilding and financing, natural resources, and industrial manufacturing, and employs approximately 8,200 people throughout the country.* Deceased