Trammell Crow Alumni Flock to Dallas for 100th Birthday Bash

Trammell Crow would have turned 100 on June 10.
Trammell Crow would have turned 100 on June 10.

It’s hard to measure the impact the late Trammell Crow has had on real estate, and the professionals who worked for and with him. But looking around the room at a party celebrating his 100th birthday would give you an idea. The June 10 event attracted more than 300 Crow alumni from around the country, and even one from Germany. (Scroll down for photos.)

Well known for the company he ran and the many iconic buildings he developed, Crow also was instrumental in establishing real estate as a profession worldwide. “He was able to aggregate the finest minds in real estate from across the country, bring them to Dallas and train them, then send them out all over the world,” said Holt Lunsford, CEO of Holt Lunsford Commercial. “Everywhere you go, you run into Crow alumni, and they’re always the top-shelf people in every market. Who else has ever done that? It’s unprecedented.”

A daylong celebration hosted by Trammell’s son Harlan, chairman and CEO of Crow Holdings, the reunion began Tuesday with a lunch at Old Parkland, followed by a reception at Harlan’s home, and capped by a cocktail event and dinner that evening at the Hilton Anatole.

“There are quite a lot of different businesses that sprung out of my dad’s activities, and many of those successor companies are still active today,” Harlan said. “Several months ago, I began thinking about my dad’s 100th birthday, and how fun it would be to have a reunion. One thing led to another, and we tracked down several hundred people.”

Of the more than 300 attending, about 80 percent flew in from across the country, Harlan said, joining locals like Don Williams, Jeff Swope, and Marc Myers. Trammell S. Crow was there, but sibling Lucy Crow Billingsley couldn’t make it. She was out of town—way out of town—on an trek to the North Pole. (Developer Craig Hall of Hall Financial Group was among others who joined her on the polar expedition.)

Harlan said his his father, who passed away in early 2009 at the age of 94, was a “proud Texan but not one of those loud Texans.” One of his favorite sayings was, “Work is more fun than fun.” His father, Harlan said, “liked the notion of everyone getting behind something and working hard, and believed that, as much as possible, the people who helped achieve business goals ought to participate in that success.”

According to Lunsford, who worked for Crow for about six years before launching his own firm, it was more than that. “Trammell Crow trained you to be an owner,” he said. “The whole model was built around owning real estate, which differs from the service model of today. Crow took it from developing buildings to managing them to leasing them and to owning them long-term. The value-creation model is what attracted all of this talent. I don’t know of any other model in the country since then that has been as productive.”

The evening event at the Anatole featured a performance by the Capitol Steps, a musical political satire group from Washington, D.C., and an enormous chocolate cake and sculpture depicting various Crow buildings and wrapped by a row of trees (a nod to Crow’s famous saying, “Trees are the answer”). There was a special tribute to 92-year-old Elsa Miller, Trammell Crow’s longtime executive assistant/gatekeeper, and a welcome by emcee Tom Teague, which included a lot of company-insider jokes.

'Trammell Crow' speaks to his son Harlan in a special tribute video.
‘Trammell Crow’ speaks to his son Harlan in a special tribute video.

Another highlight of the evening was a 15-minute tribute video that was both touching and hysterically funny. Produced by Sleeper Productions, it began with a shot of Harlan, dressed in a hooded robe in the wee hours at Old Parkland, seeking advice from the “great Crow in the sky.” His father appeared in a green-lit crystal ball, and they began bantering. In a scene that drew loud laughs from the crowd, ‘Trammell’ tells Harlan: “Your biggest mistake is, you don’t listen to Lucy!”

He then goes on to tell his son: “Real estate. That’s where the money is.” Harlan says, “Dad, today the operative word is diversification. Wealth preservation is the key.” His father shoots back: “Harlan. Find a good partner, and build some buildings.”

The video then segued into tributes from about a dozen Crow partners and key players over the years, including Jim Carreker, Charlie Brindell, and Jon Hammes, who shared amusing stories of their experiences with the real estate icon. Ned Spieker told of a time when he was on a sailing adventure with Crow when a bad storm hit. After the ship’s skipper sought shelter in the cabin, Crow insisted on taking the wheel and battling the storm. “It was a metaphor for Trammell’s life,” Spieker said. “When presented with a challenge, he wanted to rise to it.”

D Real Estate Daily talked with several local execs at the event to get their perspectives on Trammell Crow:

Marc Meyers, co-founder, Myers & Crow Co.: “If you think about it, the impact is so enormous. Just look around this room. These guys have been talking nonstop for six hours. The decibel level, the energy, the affection, the interest … there’s a remarkable sense of enthusiasm. The Trammell Crow era was a remarkable time in history that’s probably not repeatable. The dynamics of capital and information have changed so much. The business used to be so inefficient. Trammell used to say the reason he could build so much was because nobody else had any information. Now everyone knows everything, and you have to make money on the margins. Trammell Crow taught people how to make money and have fun. He had an ability and willingness to take risks and get rewarded for it. Nobody was more ambitions than Trammell. He was a lot of fun, and also incredibly bright.”

Mike Lafitte, global president, CBRE Services: “Look around this room. The companies that spun out of Trammell Crow Co., his spirit of partnership, his belief in people—you can feel it. It’s unbelievable, and it’s all because of one man. He’s looking down and he’s smiling, I’m sure. Trammell Crow inspired people. There are people here from all over the country, from up and down the East Coast, Chicago—all over. I’m not one of the old-timers; it has only been 17 years. Some people here go back 50 or 60 years.”

Matt Craft, executive vice president at Lincoln Property Co.: “Mr. Crow changed the landscape of the way the real estate business is done, not only in Dallas but across the country. He was an innovator and a thought leader, and he was a businessman—he wasn’t just a real estate man. If you look at all of the people who grew from within his organization and all of the companies they went on to create—that’s another way he had impact. Mr. Crow supported people and promoted them and helped them succeed. You can also look at all of the buildings in Dallas and around the country and around the world that he built. He created a culture that you’ll probably ever see again. It was very unique and something that may never be able to be replicated. I spent more than 11 years at Crow, and it totally changed my career. It was an incredible culture for me to be a part of, and I was very fortunate to have had the experience.”

Holt Lunsford, founder and CEO, Holt Lunsford Commercial: “If you carry a Trammell Crow card, it gets you in any door in the country. It is the greatest asset he gave everyone in this room … that name. When you carry a Crow card, people automatically think you’re smart, that you know what you’re doing, and that you have the highest integrity—just because of that Crow name. It’s a wonderful heritage, and that’s why so many people are here, from all over.”

Here are from photos from the daylong celebration, taken by Kristina Bowman and Steve Foxall. (Click on images for larger view.)

Trammell S. Crow, Itzel and Natalie Crow, Julie and Carter Crow
Trammell S. Crow, Itzel and Nathan Crow, Julie and Carter Crow
A giant cake and chocolate sculpture depicted several Trammell Crow projects.
A giant cake and chocolate sculpture depicted several Trammell Crow projects.
A pre-dinner reception at the Hilton Anatole.
A pre-dinner reception at the Hilton Anatole.
Making a toast to Trammell Crow: Harlan Crow, Tom Bailey, Jeff Swope, Randy Pace, Phil Norwood, Dick Michaux, Don Williams, and George Lippe.
Making a toast to Trammell Crow (from left): Harlan Crow, Tom Bailey, Jeff Swope, Randy Pace, Phil Norwood, Dick Michaux, Don Williams, and George Lippe.
Guests received a directory of attendees and a Trammell Crow medallion.
Guests received a directory of attendees and a Trammell Crow medallion paperweight.
Ann Raymond and Bill Crombie, at a luncheon at Old Parkland.
Anne Raymond and Bill Crombie, at Old Parkland.
Attendees at an afternoon event at Old Parkland.
Attendees at an afternoon event at Old Parkland.