An emerging leader in commercial real estate, Dupree Scovell has spent the past few years working behind the scenes with his brother King to grow and diversify Woodbine Development Corp. The company was founded by his father, John Scovell, and oil icon Ray Hunt in 1973. With projects across the country, mostly in the hospitality space, it’s best known locally for changing the Dallas skyline with the Reunion Tower and Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion.
Its portfolio, valued at about $1.75 billion, includes more than 8,000 hotel rooms, 4.3 million square feet of office space, and more than 1 million square feet of special event venues, plus numerous spa, golf, and fitness projects. The brothers’ new approach has set up Woodbine to weather a downturn spurred by a global pandemic and secured capital for struggling assets.
Now, Scovell is focusing on an issue he believes will set the tone for the next generation: systemic racism. Dismayed by what he calls a lack of unity surrounding the May 25 murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed, Scovell says it became apparent that there was much work to be done.
Understanding that corporations can be significant drivers of change, Scovell looked to his influential network of business leaders to start a conversation.
“I can at least be a river guide, which is me saying I can get the right people in the room to ask, and I will put it in a non-PC way: How do you take an old white industry and wake it up a little bit?”
In early August, Scovell gathered a diverse group of real estate influencers. Attendees ranged from the old guard—think John Scovell, Fred Perpall, Tom Leppert—and next-gen leaders of varying ethnicities. The criteria: Can you influence hiring, and do you have the ability or responsibility to shape your organization’s culture? As tight as the Dallas real estate community is perceived to be, Scovell says many White people in the room were surprised to discover that so many people of color were working in the industry.
“Depending on where you live and what school you go to, what your company looks like, and whether you’re a member of some kind of social club, there’s a good chance within that bubble there is not much diversity,” he says. “That is just the way Dallas is organized.”
Not one to shy away from tough conversations, Scovell says he asked those in attendance to share both their earliest racism experience and the most recent.
“You could almost hear the air going out of the room when someone shared that their [Black] son was pulled over last week in an all-White neighborhood, searched, and told to get out of the car when he was driving home from St. Marks,” Scovell says. “That is the definition of White privilege. We don’t know. We don’t see it. So, it must not exist because we don’t have those personal testimonies.”
Although still in its infancy, Scovell says his vision for the new group is two-fold. The first goal is to build friendships and connections.
“Once those are formed, then transactions start to happen,” he says.
The second is to highlight the firms that are leading the way.
“We are putting together some of the brightest minds in Dallas who happen to be on their diversity councils for their companies and are looking if there is a set of criteria, a set of standards we can all subscribe to and help change to happen. That is hiring, that is board representation, that’s executive committee representation—that’s brass tacks.”