ROGER’S NO CODGER: Staubach’s personal integrity gave The Staubach Company a good reputation. The culture there made it even better. photography by Elizabeth Lavin

Culture Club

Why commercial real estate heavy-hitters take pay cuts to join Roger Staubach’s team.

It wasn’t the money that caught Larry McCorkle’s eye. If anything, he’d be taking a step back in terms of compensation, at least in the short term. Oh, the splits in the investment sales that The Staubach Company wanted him to work were comparable to the structure he had at Bradford Companies and CB Richard Ellis before that, but more people would be divvying up the commissions. Moreover, he’d be starting up an entirely new investment sales group for Staubach, which meant a potentially long period ramping up the pipeline of new deals with nothing in the meantime.

In spite of all that, McCorkle jumped at the chance to work at The Staubach Company. It wasn’t about the money—it was about the company’s culture.

“What I really liked is that I knew I could call any Staubach office in the country and know that the caliber of people working there would be the same as anyone else within the organization I’ve worked with,” says McCorkle, sitting in his Dallas offices where he serves as a senior vice president over the fast-growing sales group he started. “And the team orientation we have is like nothing else I’ve seen at any other firm. Clients like the way we work.”

With 22 years of experience and more than $2.1 billion in investment sales transactions under his belt, McCorkle is one of the heavy-hitter recruiting success stories that The Staubach Company is known for. As with many of those success stories, dollar signs had little to do with his decision to climb aboard.

“Compensation isn’t really that important an issue,” says Rick Gillham, principal with Dallas-based Gillham, Golbeck & Associates. His executive search firm has been focused exclusively on commercial real estate and construction since 1982. “Splits and commission structures aren’t very different from company to company. The key in hiring one of these big guns is having a strong corporate culture and finding the right people who fit with it. Staubach has a very defined culture, and it’s why they get who they want.”

On a typical weekday afternoon at the corporate headquarters of The Staubach Company, located on the Dallas North Tollway just north of Arapaho, more than half the brokers who office here aren’t currently “officing”—they’re out doing the broker thing: calling on prospects, taking clients on property tours, networking, golfing, power lunching. This is the nerve center for a national company with more than 1,300 real estate professionals, 2,200 clients, and $21 billion in annual transactions for fiscal year 2005. At the surface level, there’s nothing you wouldn’t see at any other large commercial real estate brokerage, from the 12- to 15-hour days typical of the A-type personalities who thrive in this industry to the general application office banter that lubricates social interaction offline.

Steve Thelen, a senior vice president who’s been winning industry recognition since his rookie years in the early 1990s, gives his guest a peek at what makes The Staubach Company unique. At his desk, Thelen pulls up information from the company’s proprietary, Web-based Intranet database. With a few clicks, he can scan up-to-the-minute details on any prospect or client that any of the firm’s 1,300 brokers nationwide has ever dealt with or plans to deal with.

“It’s a way we share information so that we don’t have a dozen brokers acting as independent contractors calling on one prospect. Or I can let a team dealing with a prospect know that I have a relationship with some company they are working with,” Thelen says. “If I’m approaching a new prospect in an industry I’m not familiar with, I can find out from these histories what has worked and find out who I need to bring in on a meeting with a prospect so that we have the expertise in place.”

And it’s not just to The Staubach Company’s benefit, says Thelen, who was recruited from Cushman & Wakefield of Texas almost five years ago. “This information sharing gives a huge advantage to our clients in that they receive the benefit of market intelligence of dozens of professionals rather than an individual broker.”

For some industries, this kind of information sharing may sound like nothing special. In the “fee and me” world of commercial real estate brokering, where top producers are usually lone wolves and their secrets more jealously guarded than a White House energy task force memo, collaboration is rare. But it’s one of the pillars of the Staubach corporate culture.

The team approach and information sharing that The Staubach Company practices can, in the short-term, cut into the commission that individual brokers earn. But such myopia is not the concern of Staubach—neither the company nor the man himself. The iconic founder of the company, a former Navy officer and champion Dallas Cowboys quarterback, built his life around the concepts of teamwork, principle, and long-term relationships. Scoring big the first quarter doesn’t mean you’re going to win the game.

“People here understand that we work as a team. They understand that they’ll have an opportunity here to be successful, but they’re not going to make it all on one transaction,” Roger Staubach says. Affable to a fault and fit enough in his early 60s to have recently bested Troy Aikman in a charity touch football game, the company’s chairman and CEO moves as fast today behind the scenes as he ever did behind the scrimmage line. He’s taking just a few minutes for an interview between meetings with clients, who are always his first priority.

“Brokers here are going to have to look over a long period of time and understand the service they provide will allow them to have that repeat business, and they can only get that as part of a team effort,” he says. “I say all that because people have longer goals and aspirations, and they might not get as much on a single transaction but will, over a long period of time, be successful and be richly rewarded for it.”

Staubach is candid about the fact that in his early days, and despite his instincts, sometimes he would approach the business from the traditional “fee and me” perspective. In hindsight, it cost him business and hindered his company’s growth.

“You have to look at this as a service business, and if you’re competing with your own teammates, you don’t have that trust internally, and you can’t transfer it to the customer,” he says. “Success is a byproduct of working well with your team. When that happens, you work harder not just for yourself, but for your team. Team players really understand what trust means.”

Todd Burnette is one of Staubach’s senior vice presidents the company recruited from Trammell Crow Co. With more than 19 million square feet of leases, acquisitions, and dispositions, he was another big player the company saw as a good fit.

“The reputation of the company precedes it, and that’s not just Roger’s personal reputation, but the kind of business integrity he’s built behind the name. So of course, that was a draw,” the Fort Worth-based office and industrial broker says. “But the big thing was that here, I feel like everyone is working toward the same goal, instead of feeling like I’m among five individuals each looking out for his own interest. It makes for a better long-run platform, and it’s why we have such a high volume of repeat customers.”

Although the company has a reputation for being able to recruit the top talent from other firms, it’s never really been the numbers individual brokers rack up that were the primary measure, Staubach says. In fact, he’d sacrifice production for the right individual fit without hesitation, because it’s easy to pay lip service to such ideals as teamwork and respect, but living them is what really makes a difference.

“You don’t hire someone just because they’re a big producer of revenue. If they’re not buying into how you do business, then just like an athletic team, you get someone who can spoil it for everyone else,” Staubach says. “It’s not always about revenue. Revenue is definitely a byproduct of success and working hard, and we have people who do very well. You can’t sell your soul to someone just because they’re a revenue generator.”

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