It’s not always easy joining a close-knit family business. Fortunately for Bill Pettit, the descendants of 1890s timber baron Richard Dwight Merrill embraced him and his management skills.
In the 25 years since, Pettit helped the established family firm diversify its business into real estate, developing senior and multifamily housing across the nation. Pettit credits the family and Chairman Charles Wright with having the vision for change. “We weren’t dealing with a broken company,” Pettit says, “and had the support and backing to take the company in a new direction.” Coming to the job after an 18-year career in banking, Pettit brought familiarity with the senior housing industry and was eager to apply it.
From a single Seattle retirement community in 1993, Merrill Gardens now operates 30 communities in six states, with more to come. Pettit launched a sister company for multifamily development, Pillar Properties, soon after rising to become the company’s president. Pillar now operates 1,500 high-end apartment units.
That passion for new ventures may be why Pettit has cultivated young talent, leading a consortium to help Washington State University establish the country’s only course in senior living hospitality. It’s an opportunity, Pettit says, “to take young people and open their eyes to the career opportunities and uniqueness of the business.” Pettit is thankful that the Merrill family leadership has been cohesive in its support of helping the company prosper.
“Today I own the vision,” he says, “and think I try to manage commitment to excellence in what we do.”