By the early 2000s, things were really taking off. Cawley had a number of new development projects under way, including the 1.1 million-square-foot JPMorgan International Plaza along the Dallas North Tollway. Former CBRE exec Ran Holman joined the company as president, to run the brokerage group.
“In my 25 years in commercial real estate, I have not seen a better salesman,” says Holman, who now oversees North Texas operations for Hines. “Bill and I had a lot of success together. Some of the best times were on the road, making three or four pitches a day. It got to where we could finish each other’s sentences. Occasionally, I would throw in some big words, and he would counter by changing his storytelling to throw me off my cadence.
“We won more than our fair share, and I think a lot of that was because of chemistry and Bill’s innate closing ability,” Holman says. “He’s a guy who doesn’t take his eyes off the ball. If you believe this business is art and science, Bill hangs out on the art side.”
Learning to Let Go
As time went on, however, Cawley became less enamored with work, especially on the brokerage side. The accident had changed him. He was no longer consumed with business. He “way over-married” in 1999, and wanted to spend more time at his Willow Bend home with Keely and their twins, Hunter and Kailee, who were born in 2003.
There were other conflicts.
“Bill is a natural leader, but not a natural manager, which is not atypical for a salesman,” Holman says. “The challenges that he faced as his company grew stemmed from him being a player and a coach. I believe it was hard for him to let go of either role, as he was always his own top producer.”
When Holman left the company in 2007, Cawley says it was a wake-up call.
“I had watched others stay with their companies too long and become a little bitter,” he says. “My business stopped growing because I wasn’t focused on it. When Ran left, I realized it was time to sell the business. If I didn’t, it was going to die.”
He sold his brokerage company in 2008 to two of his top execs, John Conger and Tom Sutherland, who now operate their company as CASE Commercial Real Estate Partners. Cawley focused on his personal life and investments, most of which were in other markets.
Today he’s targeting opportunistic buys in Dallas and throughout Texas. First up is One Hanover, a 200,000-square-foot office building off the tollway—and, ironically, Cawley’s first development project. The deal should close in September; three or four other acquisitions are in the works.
===“In my 25 years in commercial real estate, I have not seen a better salesman,” says Holman.!==
Cawley is exclusively targeting office assets of about 150,000 square feet and 50 percent leased. “I got somewhat sidetracked in the last cycle, where I invested in several other asset classes,” he says. “But when there was a problem, I didn’t have the answer. I decided I was never going to put myself in that position again. With an office building, I know what to do and how to do it. So today, I am buying office buildings—and that’s it.”
He’s also looking for a development site in Fort Worth—he still owns Wilcox Development—and is ramping up Cawley Partners, his brokerage concern. The group now leases and manages Cawley’s holdings—assets that were previously handled by CASE—and will take third-party work on, too.
“CASE was doing a great job, but I wanted to be more involved with the tenants, and I felt the only way to do that was to get back into the management and leasing business,” Cawley says. “I also think we’re pretty good at it.”
He had to wait until his non-compete with CASE expired, and says he gave Conger and company a year’s notice. “It hurts them,” Cawley acknowledges, “but I think John understands why I’m doing it. Not everything has been smooth, but everything has been rational. We’ve worked to maintain our relationship; we really care about each other. He didn’t like it, but he understood it.”
Cawley says he intends to keep his revived organization “lean and flat.” He has about a dozen employees—including Brian Neitzel, who serves as president, and longtime Cawley colleague Todd Ashbrook, chief operating officer. He’s also working on visibility.
“Getting out there and letting people know what we’re doing and what we’re about will help attract talent,” Cawley says. “The main thing for me is, I’m just grateful. Dallas has a great business climate. I’m grateful to be healthy and excited about where we’re headed. It’s fun again.”