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Leadership

Conversation With: Civic Leader Bobby Lyle

The longtime SMU exec and founder of Lyco Holdings will be honored at a Feb. 23 St. Philip’s School fundraiser featuring NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.
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Bobby Lyle wasn’t born in Dallas, but he has played a significant role in shaping the city, especially as it relates to Southern Methodist University, where he once served as dean and has been a trustee for more than 30 years. The founder and chairman of Lyco Holdings has been influential in fostering entrepreneurship and taken a hands-on role in many nonprofits, including Boy Scouts of America, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Salvation Army, Texas Trees Foundation, and UTSW Medical Foundation, just to name a few.

Three years ago, he joined Roland Parish and Bill Lively to serve as honorary chair of a campaign to raise funds to support St. Philip’s School and Community Center, a South Dallas institution that recently marked its 75th year.

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In recognition of his many accomplishments, Lyle will receive the school’s Mona and Dave Munson Humanitarian Award at a Feb. 23 event at the Hyatt Regency Dallas. The program also will feature a conversation with NBA star Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal, moderated by Avery Johnson, a former Dallas Mavericks coach who now serves as president and CEO of Avery Capital.

In advance of the event, we talked with Lyle about his career, his perspectives on Dallas, and why C-Suiters should prioritize public service.

D CEO: When did you move to Dallas? 

BOBBY LYLE: I’ve been here since 1963. I was born in East Texas and grew up in Southern Arkansas. I wasn’t born here, but I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of changes. One of my most remarkable experiences on a personal level came about six months after I arrived. I was a structural test engineer for General Dynamics and worked the night shift. One day in November, I was asleep but heard activity outside my apartment. I got up and looked outside, and there was President Kennedy’s motorcade. He was with Mrs. Kennedy and Gov. Connolly and his wife, and they stopped right below my window.

“About 30 minutes later, the phone rang. It was my roommate calling me to tell me the President had been shot and to turn on the TV. I said, “I just saw him.” But, of course, what my roommate said was true. It was a big turning point in the city’s history. That weekend was surreal, not only here in Dallas but around the world. Fifty years later, former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings asked me to serve on a committee to remember and honor President Kennedy. So, those two experiences have been bookends for me.”

D CEO: You’ve long had a heart for public service and civic and nonprofit involvement. Why is this so important to you?

LYLE: “I grew up in a large family—my father had nine brothers and sisters—so I had a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins, and they were all blue-collar workers for the most part. But they also were people who shared and appreciated the importance of giving back to the community in ways they could. So, it just became a part of my DNA.

“After I moved to Dallas, and particularly as I began to get involved with SMU—which was a significant pivot point for me—and had the opportunity to serve in leadership capacities in the business school and get to know the business community, I was able to meet the folks who were making things happen in Dallas at that time. They were very generous with their time and helped me maneuver through that period of getting to know the city.

“And then run into people like Ruth Altshuler. When she called and said, ‘I need you to serve on the board of The Salvation Army,’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about the Salvation Army.’ And she said, ‘Did you not understand what I just said to you? I need to join the board of The Salvation Army.’ That was Ruth’s style. And Jerry Farrington did the same thing with the Boy Scouts—it was almost the same speech. And so, I did.

“I don’t ever want just to put my name on something; if you want me to be on your board, then you better be prepared for me to come and work on your board. So, I tend to join and then stay as long as I’m allowed to, whether it’s the Boy Scouts or SMU or the Texas Trees Foundation and other things.”

D CEO: How do you decide where to spend your time and resources?

“The common thread that runs through a lot of it is education. I’m a firm believer that education is at the foundation of meaningful change in Dallas and other communities. So, the things I most care about involve the development of young people and things that give people a hand up—not a handout, but a hand up to help them become a meaningful part of the community.

“I remember the first time I went to St. Philip’s. It was probably 25 years ago. Trammell Crow was chair of the Texas Trees Foundation, and I was on the board. We went out to plant trees at St. Philip’s. Twenty-five years later, those tiny trees—which line the street next to the school—are big, big trees.

“The school has grown and flourished in the community in much the same way. Dr. Terry Flowers has taken a community and transformed it. You can’t help but want to get involved and help make a difference. Giving back, person to person, with education as a jumping-off place for just about everything that I’m involved in—it’s what has sustained me and makes me want to get up and go do something every single morning.”

D CEO: That’s an interesting parallel between the trees and the school.

LYLE: “Yes, it is—think of the symbolism. When Bill Lively and Roland Parrish asked me to get involved in a fundraising campaign for St. Philip’s—I was an honorary chair—we became the three amigos. What that campaign did was unprecedented. For a little school like that at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to raise $50 million—it’s impressive. It was called the We Believe Campaign. They said, ‘What we believe we can do, we can do.’

“We had a lot of fun working with Terry and darned if we didn’t do it. Of course, there were many people working on the goal before we ever stepped on the playing field. But it was so much fun to help get the ball across the goal line. It’s going to help kids for decades to come.”

D CEO: Do you have advice for CEOs and other leaders about how and why they should get involved?

LYLE: “Corporate America and corporate Dallas thrives and survives and grows based upon the people who are working at those companies. And the people that are coming up through the schools are the vehicles that fuel corporate growth. Corporate Dallas must help and encourage and build a culture that says, ‘We don’t just grow within the walls of our companies, we grow within the boundaries of our city and beyond. And the members of our company need to get out in the community and be engaged and do everything we can to help this community be better than it is today. Because when that happens, our company is better than we were yesterday.

“CEOs in the community need to be building that kind of culture in their companies. There is something for every interest. You can stand in the middle of Dallas City Hall and do a 360-degree turn, and it doesn’t matter what direction your turn, you will find opportunities where you can help make this a better community. The real winner, when you do that, is not the organization that you’re working with—it’s you. You’re going to take more away from that experience, it’s going to mean more to your life than you will possibly imagine.

“That has certainly been true for me. This city has given me such incredible opportunities. I came here with $250 in my pocket that I borrowed from my brother. To have had the opportunities that I’ve had—which have been a result of people in the city and the folks at SMU giving me chances to become involved—I don’t want to ever stop giving back.”

D CEO: So true. Congratulations on the award. It should be quite an event, with Shaq in attendance.

LYLE: “Did I tell you that Shaq and I are going to have a free throw contest? I’m like a kid. I can’t wait to see him.”

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