Henry is son of Pittsburgh steel mogul John Hartwell Hillman Jr., who built Pittsburgh Coke & Chemical. Joined the company after earning geology degree from Princeton, took charge in 1959. Changed focus to light industry, real estate, venture capital. Along with wife, Elsie, set a standard of civic involvement in Pittsburgh. Active in the arts, with an emphasis on the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Supports a wide variety of local organizations with personal money and through the Hillman Foundation, the Hillman Co. and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. The Hillman Library at the University of Pittsburgh was a result of Hillman largesse, as are the Hillman Cancer Center at Shadyside Hospital and the Hillman Pediatric Transplantation Institute at Children's Hospital. Often cited for his quotes, particularly, "A whale is harpooned only when it spouts."
Elsie Hillman is known for her political influence, helped elect John Heinz to the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, Richard Thornburgh and Tom Ridge as Pennsylvania governors and George H.W. Bush as president. She has been involved in a number of charitable and civic organizations, including WQED Pittsburgh.