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Commercial Real Estate

The Beautiful Career of Leon Backes

Alongside the formidable Ray Hunt, the two real estate pioneers were inducted into the NTCAR Hall of Fame.
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Leon Backes, NTCAR Hall of Fame

The Beautiful Career of Leon Backes

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Leon Backes (pronounced BACK-us) has the sort of real estate career that would make for a good movie. Envision the oldest of nine children from a small town in Missouri driving into Dallas in the late ’80s in a Panama Brown Volkswagen Rabbit with no air conditioning—did I tell you it was the summer?

“This must have been the beginning of global warming because we had 45 days in a row of 100-degree weather,” he recalled. “It was so hot that I stripped down to running shorts and running shoes, and about every 30 to 45 minutes, I was pulling off the highway to get some Gatorade.”

Backes had just completed a training program with Coldwell Banker (now CBRE) in Houston and moved to North Texas without the sort of connections that would open doors for him. Instead, he came with a clean slate and made it the hard way—an example of the can-do spirit that runs throughout the region’s business community.

Forty-some years later, Backes can still remember the excitement he felt coming to Dallas to break into commercial real estate. “I was gonna come here and make my mark,” he said.

Backes and real estate and oil visionary Ray Hunt were recently inducted into the North Texas Commercial Real Estate (NTCAR) Hall of Fame. Combined, the duo has done billions in projects.

Created in 1987 as a vehicle to boost the morale of members who were in what was considered a grave depression period, the NTCAR Hall of Fame has welcomed a long list of inductees, ranging from the late Trammell Crow to Gerald Hines, who passed away in 2020.

How it all began
The program was the vision of real estate veterans Robert Grunnah, Darrell Hurmis, and Chris Teesdale, and has become an integral part of the local commercial real estate industry. It is also the only program in the United States that recognizes the stalwarts of the industry.

In its 34th year, the affair brought together an impressive group of North Texas business leaders, including Roger Staubach, Trevor Rees- Jones, Ka Cotter, Mike Berry, and Jack Matthews—to name a few.

Hosted at the Dallas Country Club, the evening also honored change-agent Diane Butler, co-founder and former executive chairman and CEO of Butler Burgher Group, with the Michael F. McAuley Lifetime Achievement Award–named after its first recipient. Butler was the first woman to receive the prestigious honor, which was first unveiled in 2006. She wrote on LinkedIn that it was the “honor of my lifetime to be included in this with Ray Hunt. I am sure Leon would concur!!”

When Leon Backes built his home three years ago, an art studio was a must. The room holds a nearly 10-foot-tall custom easel. Photography by Jill Broussard


If you caught a glimpse of Backes at home, eating dinner with his family, he’d likely be strumming up an idea for a new project with a sharpie and some paper.

An artist, he lives for the creative side of the business. As event co-chair Lynn Dowdle beautifully put it, “At the easel, he paints with oil and compares his art to real estate, saying that ‘both work together, you have to conceive of ideas for buildings, so they look good. Both take a keen eye and a vision, determination to execute, and one would imagine a huge sense of accomplishment when the work of art is complete.'”

Those who know Backes call him a Renaissance man, driven to succeed, a little bit late all the time, and full of big ideas. He grew up working at his father’s gas station, put himself through college, gives back to those in need, and is a big problem solver—a skill he developed very early in his life. His son shared one of his dad’s “crazy” stories at the event about a young Backes who, as the oldest of nine children, wanted his own bedroom and built one as an attachment to his parent’s home. It is still there.

“Leon’s record of success and commercial real estate speaks for itself,” said real estate attorney Kevin Cherry while introducing Backes at the event. “What sets Leon apart? From my experience? The answer is that people like to work with him. He has an amazing nose for a deal. Having worked with him for almost 20 years, I’d put it this way: People like to work with Leon because if Leon says he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it. It’s that simple.”

That innovation and confident attitude have paid off in his commercial real estate career.

Preston Hollow Village
Preston Hollow Village is a 42-acre mixed-use development located at Walnut Hill and US 75 in Dallas, anchored by Trader Joe’s.

The Idea Man

Backes is the type of real estate pro who will take on a deal that 100 others would pass on because he sees the bigger picture. This was evident early in his career when the real estate business was terrible in North Texas, but Leon used his “Midas touch” to stay as busy as possible.

He launched Provident Realty in 1991—after 12 years working at other firms—with an initial focus on the opportunistic acquisition of real estate assets from failed financial institutions. During the early 1990s, Backes acquired a land portfolio of more than 85 land and other assets at the trough of the market.

When those opportunities ended, Provident, broadened its interests beyond land to focus on other projects that offered the potential for risk-adjusted, above-market returns, according to his bio. Following this model, Backes has formed and led partnerships to invest in or develop real estate with a market value of in excess of $3 billion.

Today, his firm is involved in land acquisition and development, the acquisition, development, leasing and management, and construction of retail, office, apartment, and self-storage projects. His portfolio includes Preston Hollow Village and Midtown Park in North Dallas and the new mixed-use Twin Creeks Crossing development in Allen.

Provident has developed or acquired more than $500 million of retail developments, 30-plus self-storage projects, 1.5 million square feet of office, more than 15,000 apartment units, several thousand residential lots, and currently manages a land portfolio exceeding 8,000 acres (inclusive of active development projects).

Additionally, Backes is an opportunistic purchaser of distressed notes on real estate and other assets and has substantial oil and gas holdings and majority ownerships in an institutional pharmacy business, commercial lighting distributor, and several free-standing emergency rooms.

Joined at the event by his parents, Bill and Nancy Backes, and immediate family, Backes remarked that he accepted the award with great gratitude.

“I think of the others that have received this award before me; as most of you guys know, the Dallas area has produced many great real estate leaders, not just here, but nationally. These are men and women who have built major companies and changed the skyline in many American cities,” he said. “Thinking that I could be considered in their company, is truly humbling.”

Pivotal Career Moments

“When I think back on the last 40 years now in this business, a lot of it becomes a blur,” Backes continued “But there are still a few pivotal moments where I can still remember every detail. One of these times was when I was still back in college at Mizzou. I had taken a couple of real estate classes as an elective; it was one of those filler classes that I thought I could make an easy B in.

“One day toward the end of the semester, there was a career day. A young real estate developer from Kansas City spoke to the class and in an hour, he laid out how he developed a Kroger-anchored shopping center. And I thought, ‘Wow, no one ever told me how this was done before. This is amazing. I can do that. It’s a heck of a lot better than selling agricultural chemicals, or farm equipment, or whatever else I might be doing coming out of Mizzou.

“So from that day, I had made it my singular focus to get in the commercial real estate business and be a success. I am grateful to that young developer—I can’t remember his name—and that my alarm clock actually went off that morning and I didn’t turn it off and roll back over and go back to bed. I showed up and went to that class, and it changed my whole life.”

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