Bruce Ashwill, a real estate executive and entrepreneur who built two leading commercial property firms in California, died Sept. 16 of Parkinson's disease, his family said. He was 76.
Mr. Ashwill was a dynamic businessman who rose from humble roots to be a leader in commercial real estate. He started in the industry at a firm in Long Beach in 1968 and a year later co-founded Ashwill-Burke & Co., which expanded statewide.
He opened the company's office in Santa Clara in 1976 before the high-tech boom transformed thousands of acres of orchards and ranches into Silicon Valley.
"Bruce had vision and could foresee things," said John Travis, a longtime colleague. "He was a true entrepreneur, a great recruiter and a tremendous teacher."
By 1980, Mr. Ashwill settled in the Sacramento area and started another commercial real estate firm, Bishop Hawk. With an eye for talent, he recruited brokers out of college and encouraged them to be independent and entrepreneurial. The company grew to more than 70 agents in Sacramento, Roseville and the Bay Area before he sold it to Grubb & Ellis Co. in 1998.
Although near retirement age, he went on to start a residential firm, Aborn-Powers. In 2001, he bought another startup, Bishop Powers.
"I kind of missed the competition and the camaraderie of the business," he told The Bee. "Besides, I don't play golf."
Mr. Ashwill also developed retail centers and office buildings. He dabbled outside real estate and started other ventures, including an ice cream parlor, a deli and an antiques business.
A Republican Party activist, he hosted fundraisers for GOP politicians at his 600-acre ranch in Shingle Springs, including George Deukmejian and John Doolittle. He contributed to pro-development campaigns on El Dorado County ballot measures related to growth issues.
He was born Norman Bruce Ashwill in 1935 in Lyndon, Kan. His father ran service stations and delivered ice, and his mother worked for Sears, Roebuck. The couple moved with their three sons to Southern California, where he earned money shining shoes for sailors and working in a bed-spring factory and gas station.
He joined the Army after high school and ran a regimental post office. He went to school on the GI Bill to study business, graduated from UCLA and sold insurance before going into real estate.
Mr. Ashwill had three children with his wife of 50 years, Barbara. His family and friends recalled an outgoing man with a fun sense of humor who collected whimsical art pieces, including dinosaurs made of auto parts and a giant, pink goat sculpture.
He was remembered as a business leader who launched the careers of many real estate brokers in California. The Sacramento Association of Commercial Real Estate honored him with a distinguished service award in 1999.
"He had a passion for what he did," said his son Cabot Ashwill. "One of the things he really, really cared about was the people he worked with, and wanted them to do well."