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Dallas 500

Meet the Dallas 500: Danny Lovell

The president and CEO for The Rainier Cos. talks about breaking industry norms, his professional golf journey, the toughest business challenge he has faced, and more.
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Illustration by Hamilton Hedrick

Danny Lovell came to North Texas in 2003 in search of earning his PGA Tour card. After two-and-a-half years of playing mini tours, Lovell put away his dream and launched a career in commercial real estate. “I talked one of my friends into giving me a chance,” he said. “I knew nothing about real estate or finance, so I was a sponge when I started going into the office.”

Today, Lovell leads The Rainier Cos., a commercial real estate investment firm with more than $1.6 billion in assets under management.

In his extended 2023 Dallas 500 Q&A, Lovell talks about his golf career, what he would change about the commercial real estate industry, and more:

Birthplace: Carson City, Michigan

Education: Oklahoma Christian University (BS-Communications)

First Job: “My first job was at McDonald’s in Henryetta, Oklahoma, when I was 15. This owner was extremely hands-on and always worked the fry station during lunch hour. From there, he could monitor the entire operational process and jump in wherever anyone needed help to ensure perfect customer service and efficiency. I learned that ‘the boss/owner’ does not always sit in the corner office behind the scenes delegating. Our boss led by example and taught us how to learn from our mistakes. Never in front of people or customers, but once things slowed down, he could dissect and explain the problem and best solution so his employees could learn and improve.”

Best Advice: “Communicate, and do what you say you’re going to do, even if it costs you money. Your reputation and how people view you are the most important things you can control.”

Dinner Party: “I would have loved to have dinner with Lamar Hunt and Bob Folsom. I was not lucky enough to meet either of these individuals, but I have gotten to know some of their family members and friends. From what I understand and can read, they were both high-quality individuals and influential DFW business leaders. Mr. Hunt was a pioneer in sports and entertainment, and it would be great to pick his brain and discuss his views on what has transpired over the last 50 years in sports nationally. Mr. Folsom was once the Mayor of Dallas and a prolific real estate developer/investor with the foresight to see DFW growth well beyond most. People say he was effective but fair, no matter what ‘the document’ said, and always wanted a deal to be win-win for all parties. I’m confident I could have learned from him and would enjoy a meal and the opportunity to discuss current and future real estate perspectives.”

Destinations of Choice: “Carmel, California; Cabo, Mexico; and anywhere in Italy”

Nonprofit Cause: “Cane Rosso Rescue. My wife and I are huge dog people and have two vizsla’s, Wrigley and Winston. CRR’s goal is to find homes for dogs that have been abandoned at shelters or for owners who can no longer care for them. It all started when their pizza restaurants took off, and we have been supporters of their food and mission as long as we’ve known about it.”

Hobby/Passion: “Traveling with my wife. I also like to play golf and have a reasonably extensive wine collection.”

Industry Change: “I would change what seems to be industry-standard timing expectations to get things accomplished. Deals closed, documents negotiated, etc. We could achieve a lot more if we didn’t use historical expectations as a crutch but instead operated to the best of our given ability to manage goals. Just because it usually takes 30 days to close a deal doesn’t mean you can’t do it faster.”

Local Fare: “Pappas Brothers—mainly because of the award-winning wine list, we always order the wagyu carpaccio appetizer, which is served on a salt rock. It’s amazing.”

Do-over: “I would go back to college and spend more time learning real estate fundamentals at a younger age. If you know my story, I started in the business in late 2005 with zero real estate or finance experience. I was lucky to have some great mentors who helped me learn and grow into the person I am today.”

Fun Fact: “I won the Oklahoma State Tennis Championship in high school, got tennis and basketball scholarships to Oklahoma Christian University and turned them down to walk onto the golf team. Subsequently, I became a two-time All-American in golf.”

Toughest Business Challenge: “Being responsible for 29 employees and $1.6 billion of investment assets during the initial stages of the pandemic in 2020. I made myself sick trying to strategize and prepare for what was coming next, literally hourly. We have approximately 5 million square feet of retail property and having 95 percent of our tenants all stop paying rent at the same time was a very challenging experience. Our team did a great job pulling together data, staying calm and solving each issue while communicating obstacles and solutions. We fared very well, but it was by far the biggest struggle for me personally.”

First Car: “A 1995 used Ford Ranger. My parents said they would match what I saved, which was $3500, as I recall. I got the single cab on purpose, so I didn’t have to drive my brother and sister and their friends around all the time.”

Proud Moment: “I’m proud that we’ve spent the last 12-18 months building a retail property management, accounting, and leasing company from scratch. My predecessors were never really interested in going this route, and they were right that it was expensive and a ton of work. Now that it is up and running, it has been very beneficial and made us more efficient at solving problems as they arise and communicating with our partners.”

A Better DFW: “Dallas is a great city, and I think it could be easier to get around, although I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the population growth explosion over the last 20 years. Hopefully, our current leadership will realize it’s not slowing down and plan for new infrastructure and ways for people to move in the future, including public transportation.”

Pivotal Moment: “When I first moved to Dallas, I aspired to play golf on the PGA Tour. I turned professional in 2003 and had a rude awakening to how many great golfers are out there. After 2.5 years of grinding it out on mini-tours, I realized I was not good enough and needed to figure out a way to get a real job. Some friends I had met were in the commercial real estate business, and I talked one of them into giving me a chance. I knew nothing about real estate or finance, so I was a sponge when I started going into the office. I studied nights and weekends to determine what people were talking about in meetings, phrases, acronyms, etc.”

Walk-up Song: “Nevermind by Dennis Lloyd. It’s upbeat but mellow with a good vibe and gets me started in the mornings.”

Must-read: Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker focuses on investments in yourself and understanding your strengths and pushes individuals to manage their time where it can be most valuable to them. We can always use some self-reflection; it has helped me.”

Spirit Animal: “Octopus. I’m always on the move and juggling things—I am a multitasker.”

Alternate Reality: “I would be an entrepreneur of some sort. I don’t do well in a 9 to 5 structured environment; I’m always striving to build a better mouse trap or make things more efficient.”

Key Leadership Strategy: “Communication is key. Making sure your team knows the plan and why it’s the plan is super important. Humility is also important. If you’re the star and you need everyone to know you’re the star or how smart you are, then you’re likely not doing a good job leading or team building. I also value teaching. CEOs can give orders and delegate strategy all day. But if people don’t understand why that is the best thing to do, they aren’t going to learn without help next time. The biggest obstacle some small companies have is that everything needs to go through one to two people. When this happens, employees stop thinking for themselves because they know that boss will always have the answer. I don’t want our team to always come to me; I want that to happen once, maybe twice, then for them to figure it out independently because I’ve helped them with the process. Companies that don’t do this make it difficult to grow beyond those one to two individuals making decisions.”

Future Forecast: “I’m excited about where our company is headed; we have a great team up and down the roster. The sky is the limit on what we can accomplish in the next few years.”

Author

Ben Swanger

Ben Swanger

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Ben Swanger is the managing editor for D CEO, the business title for D Magazine. Ben manages the Dallas 500, monthly…

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