Henry Hillman, Who Helped Fund KKR, Kleiner Perkins, Dies at 98

  • Pittsburgh billionaire expanded the family’s industrial base
  • He was among the ‘least-known powerful individuals in America’

Henry Hillman, a billionaire who diversified his family’s Pittsburgh-based coal and coke fortune and provided startup funding for private-equity firm KKR & Co. and Silicon Valley venture-capital company Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has died. He was 98.

He died Friday at Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh, Audrey Hillman Fisher, his daughter, said in a statement.

Henry Hillman and Elsie Hillman.

Photographer: Scott Rudd/PMc via Getty Images

Hillman amassed an estimated net worth of $2.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine, making him Pittsburgh’s richest person. He generally shunned publicity, explaining, “It’s the spouting whale that gets harpooned.”

Through the Hillman Co., where he was chairman until 2004, Hillman steered the industrial fortune made by his father and grandfather into real estate, venture capital and private equity.

He was one of the “best-known passive investors” in New York-based KKR from its founding as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. in 1976, George Anders wrote in “Merchants of Debt,” his 2002 book on the firm. On the other coast, Hillman’s $4 million investment provided half the startup money in 1972 for Kleiner Perkins, the Menlo Park, California-based venture capital firm that invested in some of the most successful U.S. technology companies, including America Online Inc., Netscape Communications Corp. and Amazon.com Inc.

747 Jets

“Henry is among the richest and, by careful design, least-known powerful individuals in America,” Thomas Perkins, one of the founding partners of Kleiner Perkins, wrote in his 2007 memoir.

Hillman “took pride in the fact that the Hillman companies were invested in virtually everything in the U.S. industrial index -- missing only high-tech venture industries,” Perkins wrote of their early meetings. “He owned, I recall, a large percentage of all the 747 jets in the world, leased to numerous airlines, and some of the largest real-estate investments in America. Tracts of downtown Boston belonged to Henry. But venture capital was a void in his portfolio.”

In 1994, Goldman, Sachs & Co.’s Whitehall Real Estate partnership agreed to pay $450 million for part of Hillman’s commercial real-estate holdings, consisting of 39 income-producing properties with about 5.3 million square feet of industrial, office and retail space. Hillman had tried without success to create a real estate investment trust.

Hillman remained active in real estate. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in 1999 that the Hillman Co.’s acquisition of PPG Place, a 1.6 million-square-foot office and retail center, was the largest transaction involving downtown Pittsburgh real estate in the 1990s.

Active Philanthropist

With his wife, Elsie, who died in 2015, Hillman was among Pittsburgh’s most active philanthropists. The Hillman Family Foundations mainly support Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities. The 18 affiliated charitable-giving organizations distributed about $29 million in grants in 2014, according to a tax filing.

Hillman’s major gifts over the years, with his family and their foundations, included $20 million to establish the Hillman Fellows Program for Innovative Cancer Research at the University of Pittsburgh, $10 million for a computer-sciences building at Carnegie Mellon University and $10 million to support pediatric transplantation at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Henry Lea Hillman was born Dec. 25, 1918, in Pittsburgh, to John Hillman Jr. and the former Juliet Cummins Lea.

Family Business

His grandfather, John Hillman Sr., had founded J.H. Hillman & Sons, which began as a brokerage and by the 20th century had become a manufacturer of coke, the coal residue used to fuel blast furnaces in the production of iron. His father expanded the family’s business footprint into steel companies and banks.

Hillman graduated from Princeton University in 1941 and spent three years as an aviator in the U.S. Navy, according to a 1990 biography in the Pittsburgh Business Times. After World War II he joined Pittsburgh Coke & Chemical Co., part of the family’s holdings, and became its president in 1955.

Following his father’s death in 1959, Hillman took the helm of the Hillman Co.

In 1945 he married the former Elsie Hilliard, who served as a member of the Republican National Committee for about two decades. His survivors include the couple’s four children -- Lea Simonds, Audrey Fisher, Henry Hillman Jr. and Bill Hillman -- 10 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, according to a statement from the company.

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