James Warren Hill

President and CEO
Hill Mechanical Group
BSME ’63

For his outstanding achievement in engineering and management in the mechanical aspects of the construction industry, and for his service to Purdue University, the College of Engineering is proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to James Warren Hill.

Purr-fect Loyalty

James “Warren” Hill is known not only as an excellent engineer and businessman but also as a loyal supporter of Purdue University.

Hill’s dedication to Purdue extends even to his home life and to the Hill Mechanical Group’s
official animal—“Purrdue,” his gold and black calico cat.

“We were coming back from a Notre Dame game,” remembers Hill. “Rolling Prairie had the streets blocked off for the annual Farmers Festival. We detoured through some side streets where a lady was trying to get rid of her kittens out of a basket.”

Purrdue’s coloring was what drew the Hills to her. “Of course, those little creatures are just programmed to put their heads on your shoulder and purr,” he says, laughing. “So we drove away with the darn thing.”

Before long, Hill’s wife snuck a picture of the cat onto the company’s web site (, and Purrdue became “The Official Animal of Hill Mechanical” and a symbol of Hill’s dedication to Purdue.

It’s a Family Tradition

The Hill family boasts four generations of mechanical engineers and three generations of Purdue graduates. Warren Hill’s father, James B. Hill, obtained his degree from Purdue and continued supporting the University at football games.

“He took me to all of the Purdue football games when I was young, and he knew lots of people at Purdue,” Hill says. “As far back as I can remember, Purdue was the university I someday wanted to attend.”

It was through his family’s influence that Hill gained his interest in engineering. “My dad was an engineer’s engineer,” Hill explains. “If I got stuck on something, Dad would go back to real basic tools—like thermodynamics—that you wouldn’t normally use. He had a firm grasp of the fundamentals. I was interested in the same field exactly.”

When Hill graduated from Purdue, he went home to Chicago to work as an assistant engineer in his father’s firm, then known as L. C. Kohlman Inc. “We were a much smaller firm then,” Hill says. “I was helping my dad and helping other people.”

The Business of Engineering

Hill attributes much of his success to his training in engineering and to his business philosophies.

“My dad had a philosophy on how to run a company, and much of it turned out to be right on,” Hill explains. “We’re a company that takes two-thirds of our profits and divides it up among our employees.”
When Hill became president and CEO of the firm in 1980, he continued his father’s philosophy and used his training in engineering to help the business expand.

“Engineering helped me focus on goals and approach things logically and in an organized manner,” Hill says.

“Our company is hired to manage all the details of the jobs, so we are very detailed-oriented,” he continues. “I drive the folks here nuts. I force them to come to conclusions based on something rational.”

Hill’s diligence in both business and engineering has helped his company expand. “We would rather have a long-term client than make the money on just one job. And a lot of our clients are the same people over and over again.”

Hill Mechanical is now the largest HVAC contractor in the state of Illinois and retains over 760 employees. The firm has handled landmark projects such as Soldier Field, the Field Museum, and O’Hare International Airport. More recently, Hill Mechanical stationed representatives in Hawaii to build plants that will use seawater to air-condition buildings. Today, the company’s focus is not only on construction but also includes service and facility operations.

Passing On the Tradition

Hill Mechanical consistently hires Purdue graduates. “They are all well prepared,” Hill says, “and they have a superior work ethic. They grasp new information right away.”

These graduates also provide a new perspective on the work. “They really help to push the company,” Hill explains. “There are always new ways of doing things and new codes and requirements. Some people are really resistant to change, but we are not. We always believe we can improve every activity.”

In addition to supporting Purdue alumni, Hill donates extensively to the University itself.

“Alumni should support Purdue. A lot of my friends get involved in supporting things like art museums, and that’s great,” Hill says. “But what could be better than supporting a university and trying to help improve the future by improving people’s lives? I would suggest everyone try to get involved in supporting education if they have the opportunity.”

Career Highlights

2000– Chairman, Hill Mechanical Group
2000 President’s Lifetime Award, Purdue
1994 Outstanding Mechanical Engineer Award, Purdue
1993– Founder, President, and CEO, Hill Environmental Operations Inc.
1989 Hill Mechanical Group established
1980 Founder, President, and CEO, Hill/Wendt Corp.
1980 President and CEO, Kohlman-Hill Inc.
1973 Vice President, L. C. Kohlman Inc.
1963 Draftsman, Assistant Engineer, Project Engineer, L. C. Kohlman Inc.

BSME ’63, Purdue University