What I Know Now: Ron Kirk

Words of wisdom and pieces of advice from Ron Kirk, Stan Richards, Susan Mead, Ray Nasher, and Ebby Halliday.

No matter what you know now that you didn’t know then, there will always be someone who knew it first. After lifetimes of trials, triumphs, hits, and misses, five legends in Dallas politics, law, advertising, real estate, and fine arts share what they’ve learned.

“A vision without a plan is a hallucination.” 

Ron Kirk was elected to two terms as the mayor of Dallas—the first African-American to hold that title. He served six and a half years before leaving to run for the U.S. Senate. (He lost to John Cornyn.) Prior to his mayoral post, he was appointed Texas Secretary of the State under the late Governor Ann Richards. Kirk, 52, is now a public policy and finance lawyer at Vinson & Elkins L.L.P.

1. Life’s not about being perfect. Life’s learning how to get up from our failures and how to get up faster. And in a corporate world—a world in which there’s more scrutiny, more transparency, higher demands—all of us are going to make mistakes. And the key is to learn from them, but then move on.

2. One of the things that helped me was just having good friends that can say, “You like to talk, and we like to hear you talk, but we like to talk, too. Listen.”

3. You better not not have a dream. You better not not have a vision. But a vision without a plan is a hallucination.

4. I am disappointed I lost [my Senate race] but I wouldn’t have given up that journey for anything. And winning is a hell of a lot more fun, trust me. But we have the capacity to learn so much more about ourselves in defeat than we do victory.

5. We believe the most important thing we’re doing is creating value for our shareholders, and saving our city, so we gotta work 24/7. And your family’s going, “That’s cool, but you missed my recital. And how about dinner with us once in a while?” … These jobs are so big and so demanding, but at some point you learn to say no.

“I really think there’s only one thing in your life you have control over, and that’s your attitude.” 

Susan Mead is a partner in the business transactions section of the law firm of Jackson Walker L.L.P. Her focus is on zoning, planning, and entitlements law. Mead has always had an interest in architecture and urban renewal, which led to her involvement with the City of Dallas Intown Housing Program and her serving as chair of the Central Dallas Association. She has received many distinctions, including “best lawyer” awards from several publications and an honorary membership to the American Institute of Architects, an honor she holds particularly dear.

1. I really think there’s only one thing in your life you have control over, and that’s your attitude. To quote one of the greatest Dallasites I ever knew, Robert Hoffman, one of his favorite National Lampoon sayings was “Keep moving and don’t bunch up.” And that’s basically it. You can either work hard and keep your nose clean and have a good attitude, or you can not do any of that. And I just think that if you do the former, things will work out alright. They may have an odd way of doing it, but typically they work out alright.

2. I’ve always been too impatient. I think that whether it’s in somebody’s professional or personal life, it pays off to be patient. And [the revitalization of] Main Street’s going to take a while. Downtown’s going to take a while.

3. But sometimes patience can backfire, because if you don’t push hard enough to get something done, it takes twice as long. So not having it isn’t necessarily a detriment.

4. You can have it all but not all at once.

5. Honesty is pretty important. I tell people all the time that they just need to shoot straight and tell the truth, and the primary reason is so they don’t run into each other in the hall. It’s really easy to remember what the truth is.

“The only way to defeat paranoia is by not keeping secrets.” 

Stan Richards began his advertising career doing freelance work immediately after graduating from Pratt Institute in New York. He formally founded his prestigious advertising agency, The Richards Group, in 1976. Since then, both Richards, 73, and his agency, whose client list includes Chick-fil-A, Zales, and Fruit of the Loom, have won countless awards and honors from virtually every industry organization.

1. It’s all a matter of recognizing that there are no unimportant people. Every function is important, every individual is important, and no one at any time will ever be treated with a lack of respect. Everything we do reinforces that idea. So everybody here realizes that whatever he or she is doing is significant and is ultimately going to make a difference to us and to our clients.

2. There’s a force—it exists in every industry, but in advertising agencies, it’s rampant. I think of it as agency paranoia. We’re in a volatile business, and things change rapidly. A new marketing director comes in on a client, it’s going to change the way we do things. A new CEO comes into a client organization, and that, too, is going to change things. So in an agency, if a door is closed, there are people who are wondering what’s going on behind that door. What client are we going to lose? How many people are going to get laid off? Am I one of them? And so there’s this paranoid buzz that just goes on constantly. The only way to defeat that is by not keeping secrets.

3. I’ve always figured that the money would take care of itself. There were times when early in
my marriage [to my wife Betty], we struggled because there wasn’t enough money to go around. We lived on potato soup for extended periods, but I always figured if the work was good enough, then eventually that would take care of itself. That turned out to be right. If I were doing what I do for money, I would have quit doing it a long time ago.

“I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink, and I don’t retire.” 

Ebby Halliday began selling Cloverine salve door to door in 1919 at age eight. She went on to found Ebby Halliday Realtors, one of the largest privately owned residential real estate firms in the country and no. 1 in sales in Texas after 60 years in business. Well-known and loved at 95, Halliday still goes to work daily and is a regular fixture at local social events. She has received many honors related to her business achievements and philanthropic work, including an induction into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans last year.

1. I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink, and I don’t retire. And I keep active up here. And I do think I have good genes and a positive attitude.

2. In 1940, after working in the couture department of the old W.A. Green store, I had been able to save $1,000, which was big money in those days. I had to have my tonsils out, so I went to Dr. John McLauren in the old Medical Arts Building. While I was practically under the knife, I noticed that his nurse was transmitting information to him on the stock market. So when I got my voice back, I said, “Dr. John, I see you’re in the stock market. I’ve saved $1,000, and I want you to advise me where to invest it, because I want to go into business for myself. I want to be an entrepreneur.” I wasn’t sure how to spell it, but I knew I wanted to be one. And he said, “I don’t advise women,” and I said, “Why?” And he said, “Because if they lose, they cry.” And I said, “Well you try me.” So he mentioned Cotton Futures. They parlayed that $1,000 up to $12,000 in quite a short time.

3. I’ve learned in my many years to forget the personal pronoun “I” and to give credit to others. And of course, to practice the golden rule and to give gratitude.

4. I developed my work ethic in the depth of the worst depression the world has ever known. And during the war years, men and women worked, to be sure. The women came out of the homes to work in the war effort, either volunteering at hospitals or doing manual work. So I never felt that it was a handicap to be a woman. I’ve been fortunate, and I think it’s maybe because I haven’t taken advantage of my feminism, so it has worked really as an asset.

“You’re selfish if you don’t utilize your art properly, because it’s something for everyone to share.” 

Raymond Nasher is best known for his gifts to Dallas: retail landmark NorthPark Center and the renowned Nasher Sculpture Center, which opened in October 2003. The 85-year-old Boston-area native and his Dallas-born wife, Patsy, who passed away in 1988, amassed arguably the best private collection of modern and contemporary sculpture in the world and share it through the Sculpture Center and loans to other instituions, such as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University,  as
well as to countless traveling exhibits.

1. You’re selfish if you don’t utilize your art properly, because it’s something for everyone to share. My feeling is that the exposure of art is for everyone. Art is one of the most important educational tools that there are. It’s a question of what you can share and give which is the most important.

2. You only have one time around. If you don’t want to really improve and progress and do the best you can, then you’re wasting your time. Whatever you do, it should really be as good as you can do.

3. Creating a marriage between culture and commerce, I think, is a most important consideration. Many times when you’re just dealing with commerce, you’re just trying to create your profitability. But the ability to tie culture into that and have a partnership between it makes whatever your company is or whatever you’re doing much more meaningful.

 4. Most of the things that you have to do are not that much fun or exciting—you have to do it in order to stay abreast with the nature of your business. But when you can put beauty and intellect into [your work], it just makes life more fun.

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