Talk about “a pair to draw to.”
We’d just finished putting together the March issue of D CEO, which includes stories about some of Dallas-Fort Worth’s greatest entrepreneurs, including Realtor Ebby Halliday. About the time we were wrapping up work on these inspiring tales, building-development icon Trammell Crow passed away in East Texas at the age of 94.
And, all this was occurring just as new leaders were assuming power in Washington, D.C.—ones who seem to believe that collectivism and government, not individual enterprise, are the true founts of our national greatness. I’m here to tell you that they couldn’t be more wrong, and that the lives of Ebby Halliday and Trammell Crow prove it.
Ebby, who turns 98 this month, is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. Smart, positive, energetic, and God-fearing, she’s built a huge company with her head and her heart. A trailblazer by nature, she nonetheless has asked to be considered on her merits as a businessperson—not pigeonholed as a female requiring or deserving any special treatment.
Maybe most important, she is and always has been a staunch advocate of free markets. “Learning the principles of free enterprise will be a marvelous beginning,” she once counseled a class of university students. “Our capitalistic system, even with its faults, is the best system in the world. And you have an opportunity and privilege to make it better.”
Like Ebby, Trammell Crow was a pioneer and an optimist, an outsized figure who grew a great Dallas company with wisdom and innovative ideas. He was a common man who developed people as much as he developed buildings, his daughter Lucy Crow Billingsley remembers. By all accounts he was also a religious man of great personal integrity—one who believed, as Billingsley put it, that “love is the key to business success.”
That concept will come as a shock to cynics who, especially today, like to paint businesspeople in broad strokes as greedy egotists, looking out strictly for No. 1. There are some of those, to be sure; we’re human, after all, and we stumble. (Think Bernard Madoff et al.) But the vast majority of people in business most assuredly are not “in it” only for themselves.
Indeed, I believe that it is from free-thinking, hard-working businesspeople like Crow and Halliday that every positive step toward greater innovation, convenience, productivity, wealth, and progress has come in this most blessed nation. Certainly, such advances have not derived from red tape, piles of taxpayer cash, or make-work programs promoted by federal bureaucrats. I fervently hope that Congress and the new administration will come to realize this, and soon.
In a 1985 interview with Esquire magazine, Crow crystalized these thoughts much better than I can. Don’t use the word “visionary” or “vision” talking about business, he told the writer Bob Greene. “Just say ‘idea,’ ” Crow advised. “The heart of any business’ success or nonsuccess rests on how good the ideas are. You know the old line ‘The play’s the thing’? In business the idea is the thing. Don’t make it any more complicated than that. If your ideas are worthy, you will succeed.”
And so too, he might have added, will the country. Are you listening, Washington?