photography by Joshua Martin

Meet The CEO: John F. Crawford

A veteran business executive with a background in the legal, financial services, insurance, and real estate-development realms, John F. Crawford has been president and CEO since 2007 of DowntownDallas, a private, nonprofit group that promotes the center city. The group’s top priority for 2009: public safety. Before joining DowntownDallas, which recently relocated its offices to Chase Tower, Crawford was a senior executive with four Fortune 500 firms and a longtime leader in the North Texas community. A native of Memphis, Tenn., he previously served as board chairman for such organizations as the Greater Dallas Chamber, the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association. Crawford has a particular passion for this last group, as his father-in-law J. Curtis Sanford—the father of Crawford’s wife, Betty—founded the Cotton Bowl Classic in 1937.

Age 66

Biggest Challenge Probably time, more than anything. We have to continue movement on our vision for downtown at a very fast pace, and I’m not a very patient person. I’ve been impatient—to be involved, to see things happen quickly—ever since I was young. I am getting better, though.

Management Style I have an open-door policy, and I believe in management by walking around. I don’t micro-manage anybody. I have a two-rule approach to leadership: 1. Keep everything as simple as possible; and 2. Don’t violate rule No. 1.

Typical Day I’m at the office by 7:30 a.m., and I get home between 6 and 6:30 at night. During the day I’m out on the street, interacting with people, or on the phone, talking about all our ‘unsolved opportunities,’ trying to communicate what we’re doing to make a difference, and how people can help. I also spend a lot of time at City Hall.

Family My wife Betty and I have four grandchildren and three daughters living in Dallas: Courtney, who’s in the title-insurance business; Kristin, who’s in sales; and Elizabeth, a schoolteacher.

First Job After having a paper route and sacking groceries, my first real job was working for the Illinois Central railroad. I worked as a secretary, taking shorthand and typing 120 words a minute, and the administrative experience I gained there was absolutely invaluable.

Worst Job Working for a construction company in Memphis, doing manual labor.

Most Valuable Lessons Learned Both came from serving in the Marine Corps from 1963 to 1970, including several years in the Reserves. I learned that I didn’t want to be in the Marine Corps the rest of my life, and I learned to appreciate the discipline I learned there—and how important discipline is.

TV 24, 60 Minutes, and Boston Legal. Betty and I also watch Desperate Housewives as a no-brainer.

Hobbies Golf—at the Dallas Country Club, primarily. My handicap is 16.

Interesting Possession I have a list on my desk at home titled, ‘I really do miss …’ with these names: Johnny Carson, John Wayne, Elvis, Happy Days, Ronald Reagan, Howard Cosell, Jackie Gleason, “The Rat Pack,” Lucille Ball, and Margaret Thatcher.

Advice You get what you inspect, not what you expect. You never get a second chance to make a good impression. Sometimes no deal is better than making a bad deal. It’s important to know when to lead and when to get in line.

Biggest Regret That I didn’t maximize the time I had for education. I’m from the school of hard knocks. But experience, common sense, and hard work all are vitally important for leadership, too.

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