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Bill Shaddock’s Lessons From Orange

Growing up in a small Gulf Coast town, the real estate developer learned how to persevere and prevail against bigger rivals.
By Thomas Korosec |
photography by Scott Womack

William “Bill” Shaddock’s childhood on the Gulf Coast shaped many of his ideas about business, his career, and the way he built three companies rooted in the often-turbulent world of Texas real estate.

Discussing his business philosophy and one of its dominant themes—how to go head-to-head with much larger concerns—the 60-year-old partner in Shaddock Development Co. and owner and CEO of Capital Title of Texas and Willow Bend Mortgage Co. returns time and again to his formative years in Orange, a small Texas town on the Sabine River in the southeast corner of the state.

“My dad was a doctor, and the phone would be ringing off the wall at all hours,” Shaddock recalls. “My friends’ dads were engineers, and they carpooled to the office and got back from work at 3:30 in the afternoon.

“My friends’ dads did fine, but somehow a career as an assistant valve engineer for some big oil company didn’t seem to be me to be that interesting. My dad would be delivering babies and saving lives and working for himself, and that struck me as more significant.

“One of the big things that happened that shaped my thinking came when one of my friends was crying at school,” Shaddock goes on. “When I asked what was wrong, she told me her parents were moving to Saudi Arabia and she was going to have to go. I decided right there I didn’t want anyone moving me to Saudi Arabia. They took my friend, so I started not to like big business.”

Bigger businesses, with their greater access to capital and market dominance, can hardly be avoided as competitors, Shaddock realizes. “They’re in the businesses you want to be in. You’re going to run into Mr. Big. But, how do you go into the appliance business against a Best Buy, or into the department-store business against Dillard’s?”

Or, in Shaddock’s case: How do you take on major financial institutions in the mortgage business, or national insurance companies in the title insurance business?

“People think real estate is a money business, but it isn’t,” says Shaddock, referring to his development, title, and mortgage companies, which together employ about 350. “It’s a relationship business. People do business with people, not with Worldwide Title Co.”

Despite turbulence in the capital markets over the last three years, and with real estate in a historic funk, Shaddock’s Capital Title has continued to expand and is now the largest independent title company in Texas. Shaddock Development, where Shaddock has overseen the residential development and land-investment division, has put up some of the highest-quality custom-residential communities in North

And, from 2002 to 2007, Shaddock’s mortgage company was among the 100 fastest-growing private concerns in the Dallas area, and honored as such by Southern Methodist University’s Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship. It sidestepped the fate of many competitors by avoiding the subprime market, which imploded in 2008, and was tenacious enough to survive the ensuing capital crisis that shuttered three out of every five Texas mortgage lenders.

“We use our relationship skills and try to make people more comfortable with us than larger concerns,” says Shaddock, who can get so animated that he pops up from his desk chair to make a point. “That’s how we compete with Fortune 500 companies that would like nothing more than to put us out of business.”

After a couple of semesters in pre-med math and science classes at Texas Christian University, it became clear that his “good but not excellent” grades made following in his father’s footsteps as a doctor unlikely, Shaddock remembers. Business attracted him as an alternative.

After graduating from TCU with a degree in finance, “I went to SMU and met C. Jackson Grayson, who was then the dean of the business school, and he talked about learning to make deals,” Shaddock says. “That’s what I wanted to do. SMU was one of the few schools in those days that was training people to become real estate or oil and gas entrepreneurs.”

Facing few job prospects when he graduated with an MBA in the middle of the 1973-1975 recession, Shaddock decided to stay in school and get a law degree from Baylor University. After graduation he went to see Mack Strother, a partner in what was then Strother, Davis and Hill, a 15-lawyer firm in Dallas.

“I told him I didn’t have a job for him,” Strother recalls. “He came back with the same pitch two weeks later and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll hire you.’ I figured I’d be seeing him every two weeks if I didn’t.”

After a few years in the practice, Shaddock made some basic work-reward calculations about all the late nights he was putting in, and how big some of his former SMU classmates were getting in real estate development as Dallas heated up in the early 1980s.

“These guys were going places, making a ton of money, while I was thinking, `Here comes another ten years of grinding it out,” Shaddock says.

So, in 1983, he decided to go to work for his brother, Peter Shaddock, a homebuilder who wanted to ramp up the development side of the business. Peter offered Bill twice the salary he was earning at the law office.

“At the time, real estate development was a glamorous business,” Shaddock recalls. “Texas Monthly called it the most glamorous occupation in Texas. People were building wealth. You had people like Roger Staubach, who was a broker, showing you stuff and inviting you over to the house to hang out with the Cowboys. I was like, `Cool. I’ll invite my girlfriend.’”

But what everyone would learn by the end of the decade was that Texas real estate was inflating into a bubble, made possible by loose lending and an upward price spiral that, as Shaddock recalls, “just heated and heated and heated.”

“I was just in it six months when I flipped a piece of property and made half a million dollars,” he says.

The end came painfully, with federal regulators shuttering savings-and-loans and banks and liquidating property for dimes on the dollar.

“You looked up and guess what? Everybody is dead,” Shaddock says. “The banks are all dead. The real estate people are dead. I’d been
through it but I didn’t get killed. I had no skin in the game. So there I was, a clean borrower who had learned the business.

“People were still moving to town, getting jobs, buying houses. What had been a hugely congested field with a lot of high-toned, illustrious people just went away. The bust gave me the opportunity to build my career.”

Shaddock Development, which remains a family partnership, eventually developed communities in Willow Bend, the Villages of Stonelake, Shaddock Creek Estates, and the Stonebriar Country Club area. “It was just the general trend to work up Preston Road, from Legacy Business Park to Stonebriar,” says Shaddock, describing areas in West Plano and Frisco. “There was opportunity and we figured it out.”

Jimmy Jackson, president of Jackson Clayborn Inc., a real estate consulting and appraisal company, says Shaddock made bold moves and developed attractive communities such as Willow Bend, where Shaddock lives today.

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