Who’s the man behind all those signs? You will smile when you see that it’s “Tom Hill 3” - by Chuck Sink

December 09, 2016 - Front Section
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If you know the Waterbury-Naugatuck, Connecticut area, you probably have two commercial real estate brands emblazoned on your consciousness: “The Big D” (Drubner Commercial) and Tom Hill Realty & Investments. This would be thanks to one man’s work over the last 34 years. A major reason you’re aware of these companies is his steadfast belief that, in the commercial real estate business, you can never really have enough signs in the market. Signs advertise not only your clients’ properties, but also your own business. Putting this idea into practice has resulted in a storied and successful career for one Mr. Thomas Aloysius Hill III.

Meet “Tom Hill 3” as he is affectionately known throughout much of Connecticut. Tom dove head first into the commercial real estate (CRE) business when he was taken under the wing of attorney and real estate expert Norm Drubner back in 1982. Norm founded the CRE firm Drubner Industrials, now Drubner Commercial, in 1980. He needed a man like Tom who had the energy to sell commercial real estate even during slow economic cycles and in lower velocity markets. A match was made, a career was launched and Tom Hill 3 hasn’t looked back since… except of course with fond memories and gratitude toward his old friend Norm Drubner who since sold the CRE business but is still practicing law.

Growing wings and flying free…

Tom’s immediate success at Drubner Industrials resulted largely from his belief in building a brand and the prominent use of signs on every single piece of commercial real estate available for sale or lease. That tactic combined with his boundless energy helped make Drubner the leading commercial real estate company in the market during his tenure there. Tom’s early success at Drubner became a catalyst for his shift toward eventual independence.

During an interview conducted earlier this year, Norm Drubner spoke fondly about how Tom helped position his Drubner Industrials brand at the top of the market. He recalls, “I think it was the late 80s and there was a big nurse’s strike at Waterbury Hospital and there was some big newspaper article about it saying that ‘if this strike doesn’t get settled soon, we’re going to see a for sale sign on the hospital with a big D on it.’ That impressed me because we had a special letter D on our sign that Tom helped us with, and I remember saying to him at the time ‘that’s how you know we’ve arrived, because whoever wrote that article figured that everyone knows what the big D sign means!’”

Now 34 years after his start with Drubner Industrials, followed by a stint with Coldwell Banker in Parsippany, N.J., Tom Hill 3 has steadily risen in the CRE industry under the banner of his own firm. For the last 13 years, Tom and his wife Sandi have built a successful real estate business with a stellar reputation; Tom Hill Real Estate & Investments.

To further distinguish him among his peers, Tom is one of only about 600 real estate professionals in the world to hold dual designations of CCIM and SIOR. This is like having a “PhD in Commercial Real Estate” combined with certifications for maintaining the highest standards for ethics and professionalism in this field.

Tom Hill Tom Hill

As gregarious and fun-loving as Tom can be, he takes his job very seriously. He understands and respects the investment risks inherent in his industry and must maintain complete integrity in his business practices as well as best-in-class value delivery to his clients. Okay, now the author is cringing a little here because this may be getting dangerously close to a sales pitch and that’s not the point of our story. In fact, there’s more interesting stuff in Tom’s life that color the well-recognized regional personality of Tom Hill III.

Business and Life Integration

The nature of Tom’s business – commercial real estate brokerage - requires him to work on “straight commission.” How many sales professionals today are even willing to take on a new job that compensates only by straight commission? Not many! Why? Too much stress when sales are in a slump! So does Tom Hill work under stress? You bet, that’s why he’s trained for and competed in 75 triathlons and over 500 road races. He says it “relieves the stress of being on commission!”

Give Tom the mic!

Much of Tom’s life has been a long, tough race but he’s crossed each finish line of the goals he’s set for himself whether in business, athletics or life interests. Tom puts not only his body through the paces but enjoys gauging the performance of cars and competitors on the race track.

Tom Hill III has been the color commentator & track reporter at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn. for the last six seasons. Tom loves vintage and high performance cars and considers himself among the most avid sports car enthusiasts in the world! Rick Roso, press, PR & editorial director at Lime Rock Park sums up Tom’s passion for the sport of auto racing: “The heart of Lime Rock Park’s success over its six decades of making racing history is its passionate, knowledgeable fans -- which describes Tom Hill to a “T!” Tom’s natural broadcasting style combined with his track knowledge and racing expertise make him the ideal commentator and emcee of racing and vintage sports car events at Lime Rock Park.

Radio broadcasting is another profession in which Tom Hill excels part time. He hosts a Saturday business talk show on WATR 1320 AM in Connecticut and has for the past few decades. Rolly Hopkins, founder of New England Real Estate Journal is frequently an on-air guest. Tom Chute, general manager of WATR Radio in Waterbury offers us some inside about ‘working’ in radio with Tom over the years: “Tom Hill is the energizer bunny. He’s been my friend, supporter and on-air personality at WATR Radio for 30 years. He’s funny, fresh, (as in the bratty way), and sometimes very witty!”

To really give you an idea of Tom Hill’s playful side WATR’s Chute describes some antics. “Tom likes to call my morning program using a bunch of different crazy names, including my “ex-wife Mona.”  Most of his call-in characters are women with very funny names. They all sound like “Mona” and many of our listeners have figured out that it is probably Tom Hill 3. But Tom doesn’t quite believe this. He thinks he is still fooling them and sometimes he is actually funny, so we let him harass us. He has at times dressed up in costume for us at remote broadcasts. One year he was a roller skating banana. Honest.” We believe you Mr. Chute!

Winning the Really Challenging Battles!

Tom has had many professional and career challenges from which he has struggled, endured and come out stronger on the other side. He likes to point out, “I’ve reinvented myself 18 times to stay relevant and make a profit.” But the one challenge no one can simply reinvent and work themselves out of is facing a life-threatening illness like cancer. That’s one battle that takes everything a person has – and a lot more – to fight, endure, keep fighting and win if only by the grace of God.

If you didn’t happen to know that Tom was undergoing chemotherapy to treat cancer a while back, you may not have even expected it as he continued to work hard stay cheerful and keep his business going.

Larry Rifkin, local celebrity and host of Talk of the Town on WATR Radio, provides a brief but intimate glimpse into the character of a man who does not give up. “To those of us who know Tom Hill, the mention of his name brings a smile and a hundred incredible stories… Yet, I learned more about Tom recently as he went through a medical ordeal, than any of the ‘good-time Tom’ tales. Consistently throughout, I saw a man who shed the patina of the showman and expert salesman and who showed a remarkable resolve to face adversity head on. He never left the scene, never retreated to a place of self-pity and kept his small business alive as he pursued treatment, the outcome of which was never certain. In such a moment, all masks come off and the true man is revealed. His approach during this dark time was an example for us all.” And today the good news is that Tom, his business and other pursuits are alive and doing fine!

Another of Tom’s many business associates and friends is Nicholas Gazetos, EVP at Savings Bank of Danbury. Gazetos describes Tom’s unmistakable knack for shining the edges of serious business discussions with both experienced insights and wit. “Tom Hill has been a good friend to the Savings Bank of Danbury and to me personally. There have been a number of occasions when Tom has lent much needed levity to otherwise mundane business meetings or events – and the attendees who know Tom have come to anticipate and appreciate his remarks – specifically at the Bank’s quarterly Waterbury Advisory Board meetings where Tom acts as the expediter/master of ceremony while asking some very insightful and serious questions of the business people in attendance. Equally important, his quick wit and friendly mannerisms (even when he was undergoing chemotherapy) keep all relaxed. His rapid-fire remarks coupled with humorous comments are (for the most part) appropriate – he is just a fun person to be around – but he is all business too.”

Business Booster Extraordinaire

Tom Hill 3 loves the commercial real estate business because it’s all about helping other businesses thrive by providing places for them to grow. But having access to inventories of great properties doesn’t mean businesses will find you. A country or region that boasts good quality of life and solid infrastructure will not automatically attract people and companies to settle and do business there. Tom knows you need to promote the authentic value inherent in these areas. Economic development requires strong marketing and dedicated, loyal salesmanship.

Ron Pugliese, president of Naugatuck Economic Development Corp. shows his appreciation for Tom Hill’s sincere efforts at boosting the local economy and attracting new business growth to the Naugatuck region. “Tom Hill is an incredible resource and valued partner in my efforts to revitalize the economic viability of Naugatuck. We work together extremely well. He is diligent in his efforts, and always available to discuss projects. I consider him a close friend, a hard worker and a great person.”

“When I got into the business in late 1987, Tom Hill was a life size icon, with full page added in the real estate journals depicting a head-to-toe shot of “Tom Hill, CCIM” in every ad; larger than life, at least that’s what I remember. Over the years I matured in the profession, achieving the CCIM Designation in 1996 and ultimately serving as chairman/president of CCIM Institute (the Global Organization) in 2013. Although never before willing to admit it in print, Tom is one of the few people I’ve met with whom I’ve developed a genuine friendship along with doing a few deals along the way.”

Never Always Mix Business with Pleasure

Perhaps by now you get the idea that Tom Hill 3 is a businessman who lives large whether his bank statements are large or maybe not so large. “Living large” has nothing to do with spending lavishly but rather how you spend what you have – time or resources. Another of Tom’s dear friends and business associates, Wayne D’Amico, senior advisor, valuation analyst & broker Conn. and N.Y., helps us close our short story here as the happy ending will continue to unfold.

“I’ve appeared on Tom’s radio shows over the years and produced a few shows with him for my YouTube channel:  https://www.youtube.com/user/PropertyPolitics

“Over the years I’ve met all sorts of people in the commercial real estate space. As president of the CCIM Institute, I’ve travelled the country and have friends and business associates from Seattle to Miami, From San Diego to Maine from Chicago to Dallas. Many are good people that are easy to like and some you grow to love. Tom is one of those and is like a brother to me and brothers are always family!

“Tom and I share being musicians with our fellow CCIM’s Jack Lynch and Trevor Davis. Tom is a drummer and I’m a guitar player, but Trevor is a better drummer. Both of us being consummate promoters, we finally had the chance to put together an all-star CCIM Band as a part of a CCIM Meeting program in Middletown back in March 2015. Not sure if Tom played the wine glass or a Conga, but he’ll always be a part of the band!”

From Tom about Tom…

Tom Wilkas, race director for the Pat Griskus Triathlon Series, speaks ever fondly about Tom Hill, not only as his brother-in-law, friend and business mentor but also his “best Triathlon recruit!” Please allow Tom Wilkas to take the pen for a moment as his words flow straight from his heart:

“As a business professional, I look up to Tom. The fact that he has spent so much of his time and resources to further his education and elevate himself over his competition to procure the coveted CCIM and SIOR designations, was not lost on me. It inspired me to do much the same in securing the ChFC designation, Charted Financial Consultant to further my own career…

“In my spare time, I’m a competitive triathlete, and a race director of a few triathlons. Tom Hill III is my first “recruit” into the sport. To this day he is my best recruit! He watched me competing in one of my first races, the Pat Griskus Triathlon at Quassy, circa 1998. He and my sister Sandi were right there, on the sidelines, cheering me on. Later, Tom commented that he thought he could do a triathlon but I’d heard that comment a lot. It was mostly hopes and wishes, backed by no real commitment, but I encouraged Tom to go for it if he wanted to.

“Well, he wasn’t kidding. He bought a bike and other items required to do a triathlon and set off on his quest, tapping me for knowledge and guidance and coaching. It’s a special thing to watch that process unfold since you never know who will see it through to its conclusion, but Tom Hill sure did! Months and months of preparation ensued, most of it I never really heard about, he just went out and did it. A half mile swim, an 11 mile bike race and a 3.1 mile run later at Quassy in 2001, and Tom was able to declare himself, officially, a triathlete! I was very proud.  I’ve heard so many say they’d do it and they would dissolve somewhere in the process. Tom stuck with it and completed the race; and truly, completed the process of being a triathete, not just completing a race, proving that when he sets out to complete something, look out, because he will get it done! His actions prove it.

“After his first triathlon, Tom went on to train for and complete the Pat Griskus Olympic distance triathlon which is a 1 mile swim, 25 mile bike race, and a 6.2 mile run, on a very tough and hilly course. I rode the bike course with him pre-race and we had a near death experience, having to out-ride a very angry (and loose) German Shepard! This was on a steep downhill no less, and if you’ve ever gone over the handlebars of a bike, you’ll understand, “near death experience” isn’t hyperbole. We got through ok on that day, b-a-r-e-l-y. And Tom ended up getting through the Olympic distance triathlon in fine fashion. And that’s one long, tough race!”

The beat goes on…

With his continually renewed leases on life, Tom Hill III, CCIM/SIOR provides brokerage and advisory services to business and industry. Over 30 years of experience in the commercial and industrial real estate field informs his expertise. As earlier mentioned, Tom holds the prestigious CCIM designation of the commercial investment real estate Institute as well as the coveted SIOR designation from the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors, one of only several hundred real estate professionals in the entire world to hold this rare dual designation. You’re always in friendly, safe and smart territory if you’re working with Tom Hill 3.

Chuck Sink is president of Chuck Sink Link in Contoocook, N.H.

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