Jeff Swope, Champion Partners
Founding member of The Real Estate Council
The following interview is a condensed excerpt from our Legends of Commercial Real Estate podcast series. You may listen to the full interview here.
What inspired you to get into commercial real estate?
I worked in construction, so I was exposed to the industry when I was in high school and college. I needed to make money because I was paying my way through school. I was fascinated by construction, by the customized nature of it. It intrigued my curiosity and everything came from that. I got my bachelor’s and was interviewing for jobs out of UT-Austin, and all the job opportunities I got were for big companies and residential real estate. Nobody wanted commercial real estate back then and it was very non-entrepreneurial.
I had two professors, younger guys who at the time ended up climbing huge mountains themselves and they suggested getting into the MBA program. Go learn and find out what you want to do. I ended up grading for one and was a TA for the other and I started the MBA program. I immediately gravitated toward real estate.
Where was your first job?
My first job was at Trammell Crow Company. At the time, Trammell Crow was still so small. They were hiring two to three MBAs a year, starting about 1968-69, one from Stanford, one from Texas, and one from Harvard. I was one of them from Texas. I look back, I’m so blessed. I went in with the interview, and you start with Mr. Crow. You interview with Trammell Crow. I walk in 11 o’clock one Saturday morning in June and 10 minutes into the interview he said I’m going to hire you. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I didn’t know it at the time, but a couple of guys that had been at Trammell Crow had met me when they were coming down to visit the MBA students and they talked to these two mentors I had, these professors, and they highly recommended me. I didn’t know it. I was nervous to get in there, but Mr. Crow hired me. I didn’t know where I was going to be or what I was going to do, but I was going to go work for Trammell Crow. I started leasing warehouses, based here in Dallas. They could have sent me to Chicago or San Francisco or Houston or wherever. It just had to be Dallas.
How would you describe your approach to business? What is your philosophy?
I don’t think I would ever be accused of not being proactive. There has just never been a time where I had to worry about getting up in the morning or worrying about giving an effort. My mother was West Texas through and through. You work, and you go do it even if you hate having to do it. So productivity was one, and then for some reason, the idea of beginning with the end in mind, which Steve Covey came up with in the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I already had that belief system but reading that in that book was so inspirational to me because I found that was just so important with everything, with your relationships, with your family, with your wife, with your company, with Jesus, with whatever it is. That’s just hugely important for me. Then finally I think just treating people like you’d want to be treated. Be respectful, come in excited, show some energy.
what do you think good leadership looks like?
That’s a tough one. The first thing that comes to mind is to admit your mistakes. Sometimes it is your fault and it has to be your fault. That is the role you as a leader should play there. Another is to have a vision you share with the team. Set the vision, communicate it, and reinforce it. People love to be led by people they can look at and say, ‘this is where we’re going.’ People will follow people that have a perspective and the energy to head in that direction.
If you could give advice to anybody about to enter the industry, someone coming out of school, what would it be?
I would have said this 30 years ago, but this again is part of what you learn about the business and we are so broken and so needy and the constant thought that goes through my mind these last 10 years and has helped me through so much is that we all need people. I’ve needed people. Apologize for things, ask forgiveness for things, love one another, encourage one another. It’s tough out there.
For those just getting in, get in right now. Get in. Get in the game. Whatever the company, the title, get in the game. It’s a great business. I cannot imagine not being in this business.