Industry Mourns Loss of Toll's Keith Fell

Industry News,

Originally Published by: SBCA Magazine, written by Joe Kannapell — October 10, 2023
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After a distinguished career in plant operations, Keith Fell was ready to do something different until Bob Toll called. Mr. Toll convinced Keith to take on the task of remaking the manufacturing arm of his luxury home building company. Keith was a rare find for Toll Brothers, Inc., having spent equal amounts of time on plant floors in and out of the component business. And he quickly rose to the occasion, rebuilding and expanding Toll Integrated Systems (TIS).    

Keith had a remarkably diverse manufacturing background, putting his industrial engineering degree to good use in plants ranging from footwear to playground equipment to windows and doors to high tech equipment. Keith learned the hard way to pare down costs and improve efficiencies, as these plants fought for their survival against cheap foreign competitors. When one of these facilities were downsized or discontinued, Keith moved on to another, and eventually to Germany, working a six year stint as Managing Director of an automotive parts plant. 

Keith finally found his forte in component manufacturing during the startup of NVR’s Darlington, Pennsylvania’s, truss, panel, and supply yard North of Pittsburgh. There he was able to learn the highly effective systems that had been developed by Ryan Homes, the nation’s premier integrated home builder.  Later, Keith was challenged to startup and run NVR’s much larger Delanco plant outside Philadelphia, where he continued to innovate. There his statistical skills came to the forefront, as he developed tools to analyze and improve output. And he assembled a highly competent team, devoted to the business. 

Keith arrived at Toll in 2008, in the turbulent waters of the great housing recession. He faced a yard packed with mountains of excess inventory, including complete orders of components that were shrink-wrapped, and mildewing on trailers. He  inherited several sets of highly automated European wall panel lines that were plagued with problems, and truss equipment that was behind the times. And he also faced recruitment challenges at his flagship plant, that was located between tough Trenton and tougher Philadelphia. Yet Keith rolled up his sleeves, brought in some of his proven managers, and began setting up impressive systems to right the ship.  

Mustering all his skills, his even-tempered management style, and his great intellect, Keith corrected Toll’s course, revamping and repurposing their plants and equipment to optimize the fabrication of their intricately detailed houses to deliver them just-in-time, all while reducing finished inventories by millions of dollars. Yet, during much of his tenure, Keith was plagued with very nearly fatal illnesses, causing him to miss work by up to six months at a time.  During these times, though, through the team he mentored, Toll’s plants didn’t miss a beat, following the example and the direction he had set.