While studying at the University of Pennsylvania, Tamela Thornton focused on urban redevelopment and thought she’d become a civil engineer. Instead, she got into real estate development for global companies like Yum! Brands and Starbucks. It was through her work for the coffee conglomerate that she got to know Emmitt Smith, who was making the segue from football to commercial real estate. She joined him as a partner in E Smith Legacy LLC, which leverages relationships and expertise to finance and develop commercial projects. Lately, Thornton has been concentrating on community redevelopment, going full circle back to her days at Penn. “It’s social impact investing—profit, but also purpose for the community,” she says.
How would you describe your leadership style?
“I tend to be a bit reserved. I like to listen and take in information and then respond. I won’t be your hard-charging first person out; I will be the one who will ask you hard questions and be a little confrontational and won’t let you off the hook.”
What’s one of your go-to strategies?
“I realized early on that I couldn’t do everything by myself or think of everything by myself. Having a good squad beside you, both professionally and personally, is key.”
What are some important lessons you’ve learned?
“Build networks, do your research, and travel to see other markets. Also, don’t be afraid to take chances. A manager at Yum! Brands once gave me a task specifically to pull me out of my comfort zone. And that stayed with me as I worked. If you can overcome your fears, the learning opportunity will force you to become better.
How would you rate Dallas as a business environment?
“Dallas is a place where you can be thinking about becoming an entrepreneur and go for it. It is an environment that fosters that creativity and supports you as you chart your own path.”
What has you most excited about the future?
“I’m excited about the reenergizing of downtown Dallas and the renewed focus on neighborhoods. It’s about embracing the entire city, versus just watching us growth north. It’s important to me, and we have to be very intentional about it.”