Donald P. Kennedy never planned to join the company founded by his grandfather, C.E. Parker; no one ever asked him if he wanted to. But, while awaiting the results of his bar exam, he began helping out and then stayed on to work for his father and uncle at the company that would later become First American.
Don Kennedy was a textbook example of how innovative thinking, combined with grit and longevity, can revolutionize not only a company, but an entire industry. During a career that spanned more than 60 years, Kennedy’s work to build First American also helped usher in many of the advancements and practices that are commonplace in the title industry today.
Kennedy’s legacy is one of going beyond traditional boundaries to meet client demand for faster, better, and less expensive services. Not surprisingly, many title companies have followed the trail blazed by First American under Kennedy’s leadership—a true testament to his contributions.
During his 30 years as president of Orange County Title and later First American Title, Kennedy’s strength was not only in recognizing opportunity, but also in his ability to execute strategy. In doing so, he devised ways to improve traditional processes that helped to streamline the Company’s services. He also executed strategies to grow the Company when others thought it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done.
For example, in 1957, after First American had established itself as the largest title insurer in Orange County, Kennedy decided that the Company should expand into surrounding areas. This move would be of benefit to its customers who were crossing county and state lines. He convinced the board of directors to acquire operations in adjacent Riverside and San Bernardino counties, which led to an aggressive expansion campaign to establish additional title operations—first in neighboring states, then throughout the nation. Kennedy later helped to pioneer First American’s international presence with the introduction of title insurance in Canada and the world’s first international title insurance policy. Today, thanks in large part to his vision, First American has operations in dozens of countries and has diversified into complementary businesses such as home warranty and property and casualty insurance.
Kennedy was often thought of as being ahead of his time. More than 50 years ago, when he proposed that it was possible to begin searching and preparing to issue a title insurance policy on the very same day the order came in, his colleagues didn’t believe it could be done. At the time, there was typically a two-week period between the time an order was opened and the processing work began. But Kennedy was confident and went on to streamline the process and prove his plan. It is that spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that led our Company to become a technology leader.
While technology has helped the Company to realize Kennedy’s vision, this gracious and humble man always recognized the true key to our Company’s success. “The real strength behind First American is our people,” he once said. “We’ve made it through some tough times and came out stronger for it. I am consistently amazed by the talent and dedication of the great people we have in our Company.”
Kennedy built a reputation for knowing how to attract the right people. And, his concern for those who worked for First American was evident in everything that he did. In a 2004 Title News article, Roger Bell, former president of Security Abstract and Title in Wichita, Kan., recalled: “When Don flew out to meet with me to buy my company, one of his utmost concerns was for our employees—not only the transition, but also wanting to assure them that their benefits wouldn’t change. That really impressed me.”
Kennedy’s word was his bond and people could trust that he would follow through on it. This earned him the highest respect among his peers, who also appreciated his jovial personality. “With Don, you always knew that business was business, but he tempered that with a great sense of humor,” Jack Rattikin, Jr., chairman of Rattikin Title Company in Fort Worth, Texas, shared in the Title News article. “He [was] knowledgeable, smart, very genuine, and an all-around great guy.”
Kennedy’s respect for his employees and his insistence on always operating with integrity have left a lasting impression on First American. He ended his career in 2008, although he continued on as chairman emeritus—a title that honored his dedication to building our Company. He leaves behind a legacy of creativity, innovation, and integrity that will keep our Company positioned as an industry leader. And for that, we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.