They say timing is everything, and Don Mills’ timing when he switched careers from general contracting to development could have been better. The year was 1989, and new real estate construction had almost completely dried up in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
“I picked the worst possible time to get into the development business,” he recalls. “If there was a worse time, I can’t think of one.”
Despite the timing, Don flourished in his new career path. Currently, he serves as an executive vice president with KDC where he manages design and construction projects.
“It took me a while to get here, but I love what I’m doing,” Don says. “It really is my dream job.”
Don’s career path wasn’t clearly marked from childhood. Influenced by the Gemini and Apollo space missions, he wanted to be an astronaut when he was a little boy. When he headed off to Texas A&M University, he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He stumbled into engineering, thanks to his affinity for math and cousin who also studied engineering.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, Don wanted to return to Dallas-Fort Worth. But the oil boom lured him to Houston where he took a position with Brown & Root, one of the world’s largest engineering firms.
As a civil engineer, Don worked on a variety of large project including dams, bridges, and mines. When the oil boom turned to bust in the early 1980s, he decided to return to Dallas-Fort Worth, where the economy had ignited.
For the next several years, Don was involved with a number of high-profile projects with two large GC firms, Avery Mays Construction Co. and Hensel Phelps Construction. Shortly after completing the Frank Crowley Courts Building, Mills decided he wanted to work for a company that developed buildings.
Joining Prentiss Properties marked the beginning of Don’s development career—and the beginning of the cyclical downturn that lasted through the early 1990s. When he saw an opportunity to work on the client side, he took it, joining national brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield.
Don crossed paths with KDC while working at Cushman & Wakefield. He was part of the client-service team that represented Nokia, which had tapped KDC to develop its new office campus. After working with various KDC people, Don was invited to join the KDC team.
Don started out at KDC in a project management role, helping the company by providing senior oversight for multiple projects. Today, he focuses on resource allocation—making sure KDC projects are staffed with the right people and the right mix of expertise. These are ingredients to the main goal of ensuring total client satisfaction.
Don, who is a LEED accredited professional, has learned something new from every KDC project. But the one that stands out is FedEx’s 156,000-square-foot office building in Colorado Springs.
“It was one of those projects that I wish I could do again with the same group of people,” Don says. “We had a great team.”
Outside of work, Don spends most of his free time with his wife, Lisa. They’re recent empty-nesters—their only child, Clay, attends Northwestern University—and they marked this new chapter of their lives by buying a new house.
When they’re not busy unpacking, Don and Lisa enjoy dining out. Though he doesn’t describe himself as a “foodie” he likes to try new cuisine and new restaurants.
A long held dream of, Don’s is to put his development expertise to good use by developing a high-end golf resort. Until then, he’s happy to work with companies to help them solve their real estate problems.