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Donald R. Horton, founder of nation’s largest homebuilder, dies at 74

Donald R. Horton, founder of D.R. Horton, died Thursday.
Courtesy photo
D.R. Horton
Donald R. Horton, founder of D.R. Horton, died Thursday.

Donald R. Horton, founder and chairman of the board for D.R. Horton Inc., died suddenly Thursday night, the company announced.

Horton, 74, grew the publicly traded company into a homebuilding powerhouse since building his first home in Fort Worth in 1978. Now headquartered in Arlington, the company has built over 1 million homes since it was founded in 1978 and has been ranked as the largest U.S. homebuilder by volume since 2002. D.R. Horton operates in 33 states and employs over 13,000 workers nationwide.

“From the first house he built in 1978 in Fort Worth, Texas as a local homebuilder, he led the business to unprecedented growth regionally and then nationally,” said David V. Auld, executive vice chairman, in a statement. “Under D.R.’s leadership, we have had the privilege of helping more than one million American individuals and families achieve homeownership.”

Auld was appointed by the board to serve as executive chairman, effective immediately.

Brian Yarbrough, a senior analyst with Edward Jones, said D.R. Horton has a solid team of executives with plenty of experience.

“The top leadership have been in there for 25 to 30 years, so it’s a deep bench,” he said.

Yarbrough said the company has learned to “stick to its knitting” in building homes.

“Like a lot of builders, they overbuilt prior to the Great Recession, but they came out of it and learned their lessons,” he said. “They’ve had solid results.”

Horton maintained a strategy of decentralized operational decision making, which was considered unorthodox by many industry observers. The company’s local leadership teams can make many local business decisions, such as product offerings, price points and home features. That is a key tenet the company considers to be a critical ingredient to past and future success.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of D.R. Horton, the founder of the nation’s largest homebuilder,” said Steve Montgomery, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “D.R. Horton was a visionary whose work since the 1970s has been instrumental in making Fort Worth a great place to live. His contributions to the real estate industry and our community have shaped vibrant neighborhoods and a thriving economy.”

D.R. Horton started in Fort Worth, but moved its headquarters several times over the years. Its most high-profile location was at the top of the D.R. Horton Tower in Sundance Square. After the housing crisis in 2009, the company cut several thousand workers and eventually moved to Arlington at Interstate 30 and State Highway 157.

“Mr. Horton was a well-respected business leader whose homebuilding business, headquartered right here in Arlington, has helped so many people achieve their American dream,” said Arlington Mayor Jim Ross, in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his family, friends and others in our community who were touched by his drive to make homeownership more affordable.”

Horton championed several initiatives for the benefit of D.R. Horton employees and their families, including a summer camp and the D.R. Horton Inc. Foundation to provide financial and other assistance to employees and their families who are victims of natural disasters.

Horton served as chairman of D.R. Horton Inc., since it was formed in July 1991, and held the roles of president and CEO from July 1991 until November 1998. He was involved in the real estate and homebuilding industries since 1972, and was the founder, sole or principal stockholder, director and president of each of D.R. Horton’s predecessor companies, which date from 1978 to 1990.

Horton is survived by his wife, Marty, their children Ryan and Reagan, and four grandchildren: Douglas, Madeline, Derek and Shelby. Details on a public memorial event will be made available at a later date.

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policyhere.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.