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Briton Adapts to 'Colonist' Style : Head of Building Firm Also Leads Orange County BIA

June 12, 1988|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

When Gordon Tippell came to California a decade ago to head a West Coast subsidiary of the London-based Taylor Woodrow Group, his major challenge was to initiate the first "colonization" effort by British home builders in the Southland.

Today, the president of Taylor Woodrow Homes California Ltd., who also serves as president of the Orange County region of the Building Industry Assn., is a "well-rooted settler" with a strong voice on behalf of fellow members in the industry.

As BIA president, Tippell is trying to foster greater industry responsiveness to local concerns. "We have a responsibility to our neighbors as well as to the land. None of us wants to be criticized for failing to successfully integrate into a community."

Tippell describes his BIA role as an extension of his firm's support of trade organizations.

Local Organization

"When our parent firm first entered the American market 52 years ago in Eastern states, we imported staff from the United Kingdom.

"But in the Southland, we decided to build our organization from the ground up and not to buy out existing firms or enter into joint ventures with others. We wanted to develop a solid team with our California connection--one that would reflect the local vernacular."

The tremendous disparity among BIA's 850-member companies in Orange County is a healthy mix, Tippell said. "On one end of the spectrum we have some of the country's largest builders, on the other, we have the one- or two-person firms. But, basically, in matters that affect the building industry, we're all in the same boat, " Tippell said.

In the past few months, Tippell was actively involved with fellow developers to help defeat the slow-growth measure which was rejected in last Tuesday's elections by Orange County voters opposed to the idea of linking future growth in unincorporated areas to the ability to provide additional public services to new developments.

"Orange County's population is bound to increase," Tippell said, "irrespective of whether developments are in place or not. The demand is clearly there for housing."

Tippell, who is from London, joined the British parent firm as a site engineer in 1968, transferring to the Southland in 1977.

"During my first scouting trip to California, I was so impressed by the vastness, affluence and vitality of the region, that I immediately bought three parcels of land for Taylor Woodrow's initial investment here."

Tippell returns to London once a year, but he now feels more like a foreigner there.

Rent Control

"Prior to my leaving England in 1977, the government was far more socialistic," he said. "There was very little opportunity then for free enterprise and there was even a push to nationalize Britain's five major builders, including our own company. All of this stemmed from the Rental Act of 1957, which imposed severe controls on all rental housing.

"The effect of 30 years of rent control was devastating, allowing the government to move in and virtually take over, leaving developers with little incentive. Since (Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher came to power, there has been a gradual change toward free enterprise. In fact, there is currently a housing bill in Parliament encouraging private rental housing," Tippell said.

"The differences in the approach to real estate in Britain and the United States are not quite as

marked as before, although the sale of property (in England) is still done through a solicitor and not a real estate agent. In Britain, they don't have title insurance, loans are for 25 years and not tax-deductible for sums exceeding $30,000 pounds (about $56,000)," he added.

The California branch of Taylor Woodrow Ltd. built its first 300 homes and a shopping center in Visalia. At Rancho Mirage, acquisition of land resulted in Casas de Seville, a single-family resort and retirement community. Tippell then acquired 350 acres in Laguna Niguel, which became known as the Beacon Hill planned community.

The firm's most current project is Marina Hills, a 700-acre development planned for 2,315 homes, also in Laguna Niguel. About 60% of the acreage will have Taylor Woodrow-built homes and the remainder will be developed by other builders.

The firm's activities account for annual average revenue of $50 million in housing in Southern California, with $2 billion per year reported as the total revenue for the Taylor Woodrow Group in its collective residential and commercial ventures.

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