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Robert Toll, co-founder of Toll Brothers, dies at 81

He served as chairman and CEO until 2010

Robert Irwin Toll, co-founder of Toll Brothers who also served as its former chairman and CEO, died Friday at his home in New York. Toll, who co-founded the large nationwide development firm alongside brother Bruce in 1967, was 81 and had Parkinson’s disease.

Toll started the company after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania law school in the mid-1960s and time spent working at Philadelphia law firm Wolf Block. He earned his undergraduate degree at Cornell, where he majored in political science.

After starting with two model colonial-style homes in suburban Philadelphia, Toll Brothers (TOL) would expand across the country under Robert Toll, who served as the company’s chairman and CEO until 2010. The company went public in 1986.

The company now operates in 24 states and is expected to deliver about 10,000 homes in its current fiscal year (ending this month), generating $9.7 billion in sales and more than $1 billion in net income. When Toll Brothers went public, it had completed less than 1,000 homes, had $124 million of sales and $12 million in profits, according to Barrons.

Born Dec. 30, 1940, in the Elkins Park suburb of Philadelphia, Toll was known for keeping a pitchfork in the corner of his office, intended to remind people to be careful when buying land, Toll Brothers acting chairman and CEO Doug Yearley told Commercial Observer.

Toll led the company through many housing cycles, including the 2008 financial crisis, partially due to a focus on luxury homes.

“By far the worst. In terms of having to contract and let people go and watch the slide in business volume and profits, it’s the worst that our company has seen,” Toll said following the housing market collapse, in a 2010 interview with the New York Times. “But then again, we’ve got like $1.8 billion of cash in the bank so it’s hard to cry for yourself.

“You stop development, stop buying product, stop buying ground and just bring in money from houses you put out there and already contracted. The debt level is near an all-time low, like 7 to 8 percent,” he added at that time, describing how the company managed to succeed despite the recession.

The brothers’ first homes were priced at approximately $17,500, Bruce Toll said, but the two were advised to build fancier models by their father Albert Toll, who previously worked as a real-estate broker and owned apartment buildings.

“Those houses today sell for a million dollars,” Bruce Toll said.

Forbes estimated Toll’s net worth at $1.1 billion. He is survived by his wife Jane, brother Bruce, five children and 12 grandchildren.

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