The Dallas real estate community has mixed feelings about Roger Staubach’s 3-year-old brokerage company. Sure, he’s a nice guy, a football hero and all that. He brings an air of wholesomeness to an industry known for fast talkers and wheeler-dealers.
But he’s staked out office leasing-a side of the real estate business that’s been lucrative and immune from economic slumps for years. And he’s picking apart the competition the way he used to destroy a defensive secondary during his quarterbacking days with the Dallas Cowboys. His brokers don’t hesitate to use the Staubach name to get in doors that have been slammed shut to other brokers.
The Staubach Co. is a “full-service” firm: one that buys and sells real estate both for itself and clients, builds on property, lines up investors and negotiates office leases. But the current thrust of Staubach’s enthusiasm is representing tenants who are looking for office space.
When Rolm Corp., the huge telecommunications company, needed office space in Dallas, they went with Roger. When Sweden’s Ericsson Information Systems began a series of expansions in the Metroplex, Staubach agents lined up space for them.
His competitors take it all with as much grace as possible. One, Jerry Fults, congratulated him on his nomination to the Football Hall of Fame and suggested that Staubach take his brokerage team to Canton, Ohio, for the induction ceremony and leave them there. Another, Bob Edge of Cushman & Wakefield, tells anyone within earshot that he will head a committee to persuade Staubach to enter into politics “just to get him out of my hair. We’ve gone against him in recent months, and come away with a bloody nose.”
Echoes Fults: “It’s good to have him in the business, but enough’s enough.”
Staubach’s leasing agents counter that there’s nothing wrong with using a well-known name to gain entrée. They say that any corporate president can open a door with a well-timed phone call. On the other hand, their clients’ bosses, at corporate headquarters back East, may wonder what on earth their relocation teams are doing hiring a jock to look for office space.
Staubach has a respected team of brokers to back up his name. “Once you’re in, you still have to perform,” says Ka (pronounced Kay) Cotter, a former residential real estate agent who sold Staubach’s house 36 hours after getting the listing. When she decided to enter the commercial brokerage business six years ago, Staubach hired her.
Cotter is one of those stars in office leasing that Staubach’s competitors would love to woo away. It’s obvious by the compliments they lavish on her. Edge calls her “Dallas’ first lady of leasing.”
She and Staubach’s other 22 brokers in office leasing and commercial investment say they’re with Staubach for two reasons. Cold-calling is the hardest, most frustrating part of brokerage, and the passkey magic of the Staubach name gets them in doors while the competition waits outside. But more importantly, many of them are devout Christians. They are attracted to Staubach’s understated but equally strong Catholic faith. For them, it translates into a congenial work place, reasonable hours and a camaraderie and integrity they say is missing from the boiler-room atmospheres at some other brokerages. “We don’t wear it on our sleeves,” says financial vice president Jim Leslie, a Catholic. “We don’t sit around the table and say, ’Let’s do things the Christian way.”
“And when real strong Christians come in and say that we’ll be able to work together because we’re all Christians, we laugh. And when we sit down and they say, ’let’s pray,’ that’s when we grab for our wallets.”
The Staubach Co.’s emphasis on leasing office space for tenants makes sense, given Dallas’ current glut of office space all over the city. Tenants have lots of choices about where they’ll hang their shingles. They call most of the shots, and the successful leasing agents are the ones who cut the best deals.
Right now, The Staubach Co. has 10 leasing agents. Staubach’s lease-brokerage division earned about $1.5 million in commissions on $32 million in deals in 1984.
Combined with Staubach’s land brokerage team, which produced $2.6 million for the company last year, and other income, the company grossed $4.8 million for the year. The goal for 1985 is $8 million.
STAUBACH CAME INTO real estate partly by fortune and partly by design. Between the playoffs (the Super Bowl in 1976 and ’78) and spring training, he worked at Henry S. Miller Co., selling insurance the first year and learning real estate the second. His job those first years was simply opening doors. Making the social rounds at one of the early Super Bowls, he met a relocation manager for Xerox. A few years later, he heard that Xerox Corp. was looking for 200,000 square feet of office space. Staubach called his friend and put him in touch with Wayne Swearingen, who ran Miller’s office leasing division. Swearingen negotiated space for Xerox in Mockingbird Towers at Stemmons Freeway and Mockingbird. The total lease was for $5 million, which meant a six-figure commission for The Miller Co.
Since then, Xerox has moved to Las Col-inas, and Staubach found a tenant to occupy the Mockingbird Tower space. Swearingen now is probably the biggest office lease broker in Dallas. In 1977, Staubach left Miller-with Robert Holloway, another Miller alum-to form the Holloway-Staubach Co.
Holloway was more aggressive and development-oriented than Staubach, and he ran the company day to day while Staubach played his last three seasons with the Cowboys. Their first project was on a piece of real estate Trammell Crow owned on the southwest corner of Hillcrest and LBJ Freeway in North Dallas. Holloway wanted to buy it, and he called Roger up in the middle of the season, interrupting an intense analysis of a Pittsburgh Steelers game film. Staubach cut short Holloway’s sales pitch, “I’ve got to get back to the film. Do whatever you want,” was his last comment.
That was all Holloway needed to hear. He drew up the papers and presented them to Roger, who signed them, shaking his head. “He didn’t have the chance to spend 15 minutes at a time on the company during football season,” Holloway recalls.
They built three sleek, smoked-glass buildings along a wooded ravine on the property. Then the company bought adjacent land and put up two more buildings. They bought land across Hillcrest to do the same, but sold it when they ran into a hornet’s nest of angry homeowners, who blocked the required zoning change. Holloway-Staubach bought part of Lambert’s nursery, across LBJ Freeway. Holloway had development plans, but Staubach had had his fill of homeowner opposition. “He lived just off Hillcrest,” says Holloway. “He was afraid he’d be run out of the neighborhood.”
It was Staubach’s conservative bent, which favored lease and land brokerage, and maybe his distaste for the public controversy that developers face in zoning battles that caused the two to split in 1982.
Most of the brokers stayed with Staubach, but because of a slow start, the fledgling Staubach Co. went into the red by $500,000. Roger was still winding up his sportscasting contract with CBS and phasing out TV commercials except the ones with Rolaids, which ended later. Looking back, he admits that he wondered what he was doing buttonholing pedestrians on winter streets to find out how they spelled “relief.” “Financially, though, it was a heck of a deal,” Staubach says, “and kind of fun, traveling to all the different locations. But I’m a businessman now.”
EVER THE SAVVY publicist, Roger Staubach makes a point to spend time with visiting journalists. He is surprisingly slender in build, but he has the trim waist and relaxed poise of an athlete still very much in shape. His modest pompadour has a few gray flecks, and his characteristic at-tentiveness to your questions falls just short of a concentrated stare. He is polite, but quiet and reserved in his comments. Two years ago, he cleared out the football mementos from his office. Basketball replaced the gridiron as his passion. He offers coffee or soft drinks to visitors, sips water from a sty-rofoam cup as he talks about his business.
“The big growth areas for us are land brokerage and lease brokerage. With development, there’s a tremendous amount of risk. I’m adverse to a lot of risk when you don’t need it,” he says.
His work day starts around 8 a.m., after a 4-mile jog. It ends at 6:15 p.m., when he goes home to his wife and five children, ages 7 to 18. He rarely works on Saturdays. It’s a pretty normal life, if you don’t count the 30 to 40 speaking requests he gets per week, of which he accepts only one or two.
Down the hall, in a hushed atmosphere that would do a library proud, is Staubach’s financial staff, along with Cotter and his other top leasing brokers. They also tend to sip water from styrofoam cups in the afternoon, and they speak glowingly of their boss.
Leasing broker John Armand met Staubach several years ago when Staubach was endorsing a product of the company for which Armand worked. Later, Armand ran across Staubach in a barbershop. They talked, and Staubach invited him to drop by. “It took me three months to think of a reason. I must have been divinely guided. He’s the greatest guy in the world to work with, and I emphasize with,” Armand says. “The man’s leadership is uncanny.”
Armand, an energetic, restless man, keeps a painting of two buffaloes locked in combat behind his desk. He points to the painting. “You see that big buffalo on the right? That’s Wayne Swearingen. That little buffalo on the left is the Staubach Co., and look what’s he doing. He’s goring the big buffalo.”