Del Webb’s construction career spanned 45 years. When he moved to Phoenix with his wife Hazel in 1928, he worked for AJ Bayless and got his first break when the contractor left town and AJ asked Del to finish the project. He did a great job and was hired to do all of his stores. He opened a small office where Hazel worked and together they built one of the most impressive construction empires the nation has ever seen. In the 30’s he established himself in Arizona; the 40’s brought lots of federal projects his way along with ownership of the Yankees. His brief foray with the Flamingo Hotel in Vegas in 1946 opened the door to the 50’s becoming his Vegas years and of course the 60’s started his run with the Sun Cities properties.
Del died July 4th, 1974 at Rochester Mayo Hospital in Minnesota. During those golden years of building, anyone following his public relations people would have been inclined to tear open his shirt to see if there was a giant red and yellow S beneath his suit and tie. They did a marvelous job of portraying him in ways that were bigger than life. It was part of the mystique. Truth be known, Del was a humble man able to converse with presidents or every day people with little differentiation. He loved to work, but there was no way he could have done a quarter of things that were attributed to him.
His greatest strength was he hired exceptionally gifted people (pictured from left to right is John Meeker, Bob Johnson and Del). What was even more impressive was he let them do their job, giving them creative freedom to succeed or fail (most often they succeeded) and was willing to help them if they ran into problems. The Del Webb Sun Cities Museum has 37 years of the company’s history via the monthly magazine called the Webb Spinner. They are proof positive Del Webb recognized and honored the remarkable people who worked for him…who made him as successful as he was. As a footnote, we will be scanning them and have them as a searchable pdf file on the museum’s website in the next month or so.
Of late, there has been more than a small amount of angst in this country. We seem to be missing the one attribute that made Webb most successful…he held his people accountable. There is no better proof than in the making of Sun City. Three men convinced him to build it: LC Jacobson, Tom Breen and Joe Ashton. They were the genius behind the original planning. Without them, it never would have seen the light of day. In 1964, all three of the Webb Sun City’s (Kern County CA, Sun City Florida and Sun City AZ) were on the verge of collapse. Webb trusted his team but asked them to change the target market (low to middle-income retirees), but they refused. In what was wholly uncharacteristic for him, he let them go. He brought in John Meeker and the rest is history.
The point is, accountability always has been and always should be a way of life. For some reason we have drifted from it. From politics to business, from our personal endeavors to our acceptance of failure being okay has changed the landscape of our country and our society. We watch as corporations pay CEO’s millions for producing nothing and politicians promising us solutions that never materialize. Is it any wonder that average people walk away from upside mortgages with no remorse? Who is accountable these days? Why should they be?
I suspect that is why i love Sun City’s history. Webb had the foresight to take a chance. He put up his money (along with Jim Boswell) and defied logic. He went against the odds the “experts” gave it and turned it into a goldmine. While the profits he made were obviously significant, Del was far more excited by the fact he gave seniors a way of life that hadn’t existed before his gamble. While Mr. Webb gets the accolades for Sun City’s success, the reality is it was his employees, the ones he held accountable, that were the true builders of this incredible setting.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could begin to hold people, politicians and corporations, churches and organizations accountable for the outcomes we are seeing these days?