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Pioneer Women of Commercial Real Estate

Michelle Hudson and Janice Peters shake off their small-town Kansas roots to become formidable players in the Dallas scene.
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photography by Vanessa Gavalya

It didn’t take long for Janice Peters to realize that her business partner, Michelle Hudson, was a big thinker. It was 1994, and Hudson was a new co-worker at Kelley, Lundeen and Crawford, which was being absorbed into Henry S. Miller Commercial. “We had just moved into Miller’s office in Providence Towers,” Peters says. “I remember Michelle looking out the window at all of the other buildings and saying, ‘We are going to make so much money in this city.’ ”

Hudson had recently moved to Dallas from Wichita, Kan., where she had lived her entire life. She enjoyed modest success in commercial real estate there, but the potential was limited.

“I made a good living, especially by Wichita standards, but I couldn’t figure out how I was going to make more money, unless I became a developer,” Hudson says. “When I came to Dallas and saw that there was 700 million square feet of industrial space, with 20 percent of that expiring every year, at $3 a foot, I thought, ‘I only have to get a little bit of that, and I’ll make a damn good living.’ It was very empowering.’”

She got into real estate after three years of working for a local bank she had joined right out of college. When Hudson learned that a man she had trained was earning a much higher salary, she asked her boss about it. “He said, “Well, he has a family, and you have a husband. Of course we pay him more.’ So I quit.”

She got a job in property management, then joined Pizza Hut, which was based in Wichita at the time, serving as director of facilities. After being laid off a few years later, connections and spunk helped her convince Rent-A-Center to hire her to oversee development of its new Wichita headquarters. Once the project wrapped up, Hudson hired a broker to sell the old corporate facility.

“I started looking at how much money he was going to make after the sale,” she says. “I also thought about how I had helped a friend with her real estate lease. The broker on the deal got a commission; I got a scarf.”

Wanting in on the action, Hudson opened her own brokerage and convinced Rent-A-Center to give her the sales listing for its former corporate building. Her real estate business was just gaining traction when her husband, whom she had met in college, lost his job. Unable to find a comparable position in Wichita, he accepted an offer from a company in Dallas. Shortly thereafter, Hudson sold her firm and joined him in Texas.

She spent the first five months earning her CCIM certification and “interviewing  all over the place.” The best fit, she decided, was Kelley, Lundeen, and Crawford (as in John Crawford, who now heads up Downtown Dallas Inc.).

Before making the hire, one of the firm’s partners, Howard Lundeen, consulted Peters about the decision.

“He wanted me to talk with Michelle, but I had no time, between work and my daughters,” Peters says. “I asked him to tell me about her, and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘She’s from Kansas.’ I stopped him and said, ‘Hire her. She knows how to work.’ ”

Peters is a Kansas native, too, growing up on a farm in Salina, about 20 miles away from where one of her role models, Ebby Halliday, was born.  Unlike Hudson, Peters couldn’t wait to escape small-town life. After college, she developed a training program for K-Mart in Lincoln, Neb., then returned to Salina to work in retail. She hated both jobs. A trip to visit a friend in Dallas changed everything. “It was what I had always been looking for,” Peters says. “I couldn’t figure out at first what I loved about it, but the minute I got back to Kansas, I knew—it was the attitude. The people in Dallas just thought they could do anything. And so did I.”

Peters moved to North Texas and got a job selling goods to grocery stores, then peddling photocopiers. In 1983, one of her customers suggested that she get into the commercial real estate business.She became a tenant representative, specializing in office and light industrial projects in the Richardson submarket. Her outgoing personality, tenacity, and fearlessness helped her quickly find success.

Hudson, meanwhile, zoned in on the industrial sector, starting in Valwood, close to her home in Coppell. “I just began going door to door, calling on tenants, and I swear to God, every one of them had just signed a new five-year lease. I was starving. So I just kept moving south, into Harry Hines, Brookhollow, and South Dallas. A couple of years into it, I was humming along.”

At one point, Peters picked up a listing for a 20,000-square-foot building, and asked her new co-worker Hudson to help. “We had a seller and I was trying to figure out how to make the transaction work,” Peters says. “All of a sudden, Michelle comes in with the financing. I thought, “Wow, not only is she from Kansas, she’s really smart, too.”

That first deal led to others, and the two women became close friends. They also began regularly meeting to share individual goals and keep each other accountable.

“It helped us become more organized with prospect lists, stay on track, and stay motivated,” Peters says. “We’d check up on each other; it became a friendly competition.”

In 2000, Peters was named Henry S. Miller’s No. 1 producer. During her acceptance speech she said, “I may be the first woman top producer, but I know I won’t be the last.” The following year, Hudson earned the honor.

Around this same time, Hudson began talking with Peters about going out on their own. Peters put her off, afraid it would take too much time away from her children. But in 2005, when Burr & Temkin, a national brokerage that specializes in transportation clients, asked the duo to open a Dallas office, they decided to go for it.

Two years later, realizing that their clients were significantly contributing to the firm’s growth, Hudson and Peters asked for an ownership in Burr & Temkin. When the request was denied, the women bought out the partners and, in January 2008, rebranded their brokerage as Hudson Peters Commercial.

The full-service firm works in every sector except multifamily and hospitality. About 65 percent of its 2011 revenue came from tenant rep and investment sales assignments, with the balance coming from project leasing.

In recognition of its support for women real estate professionals, CREW gave Hudson Peters its 2011 Career Advancement for Women
Award. Of the firm’s 10 brokers, nearly all or women or minorities—or both.

“We are a diverse group, with a mix of gender and ethnic backgrounds, but that was not a conscious decision by us,” Peters says. “We selected the agents based on their abilities, not on their ancestry.”

She and Hudson say they strive to create a collaborative and supportive work environment. They developed a robust training program, hired a coach to regularly consult with employees, and each year budget marketing money not just for the firm, but for individual brokers to support the professional organizations to which they belong (e.g., sponosoring a group’s golf tournament).

Most commercial real estate firms don’t invest in training, Peters says. They just give brokers a desk and a phone and tell them to sink or swim. They’re reluctant to spend a lot of money on training, only to have the brokers leave and take that knowledge to other companies.

“I can’t tell you how many people we trained at Miller, and then they left,” Peters says. (Oddly, two of the brokers they trained went on to
become reality TV stars: Tara Harper of Most Eligible Dallas and Rhonda Rittenhouse of The Bachelor.)

Hudson Peters’ nurturing environment benefited the co-founders in 2010, when Peters went through a divorce and Hudson battled cancer. After the economic struggles of 2009 and the personal challenges of 2010, things brightened in 2011, with the firm seeing a 27 percent increase in transaction volume.

“We may not be exactly where we want to be yet, but the fear has finally gone away,” Peters says. “We know we’re on the right path.”

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