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Real Estate Lessons from Trammell Crow

Just released by the Urban Land Institute, William Bragg Ewald’s biography of a legendary real estate guru offers some fascinating—and highly relevant—insights on success in business and in life.

When you hear the term “America’s real estate magnate,” who comes to mind? Donald Trump, of course. But don’t believe everything you see on TV. There’s a real estate developer whose empire . . . well . . . trumps that of “The Donald.” And because he shuns the spotlight instead of seeking it out, the average person has never heard of him. (If you’re a resident of Texas, a real estate developer, or a student of business, you can exclude yourself from that list.) But chances are good that this man has left his mark somewhere you have lived, worked, shopped, stayed, or visited.

His name is Trammell Crow, and he’s the real estate mind behind such landmarks as the Dallas Market Center, Atlanta’s Peachtree Center, San Francisco’s Embarcadero Center, and monuments across the nation and the world from Brussels to Hong Kong. He’s had his tireless hands in apartments, office buildings, hotels, retail stores, and developments of every stripe.

And because his legacy is so deep and broad–and his life and personality are so colorful–his story is well worth reading.

William Bragg Ewald, author of the new biography Trammell Crow: A Legacy of Real Estate Innovation (Urban Land Institute, 2005, ISBN: 0-8742093-5-8, $34.95), follows Crow from his humble birth in a tiny frame house at 1318 Fitzhugh Street in Dallas to his rise to wealth and power in the real estate world to the bitter years of financial woe, reorganization, and bare-knuckled litigation–and makes the reader come to truly know this compelling man.

Trammell Crow: A Legacy of Real Estate Innovation is filled with valuable insights on the Crow business formula, his unorthodox partnership-based plan, the changes in government, policies, and society that impacted his company, and the nature of the man himself. Here is an excerpt from the book:

The origins of Crow’s work ethic:

He took all kinds of jobs. From the age of ten he had mowed lawns, caddied, pumped gas, even jerked sodas on Sunday until his father put a stop to it. Years later he passed a filling station with journalist A.C. Greene, pointed to it and said, “That’s where I got my start.”

By 1932, as the Depression deepened, he was plucking chickens and cleaning old bricks for reuse in new houses. He worked on a construction site for 15 cents an hour, clerked in grocery stores, helped unload Clabber Girl baking power and Spreckles sugar from railroad boxcars, wheeled them into the warehouse, and stacked them up. For a dollar or two he would drive a new car from the Dallas Ford plant over to Fort Worth. From his earnings he gave his mother half to run the house and paid off his father’s $600 grocery bill.

All of this did not leave him embittered. “The whole attitude of the world today toward poverty, particularly that of socialists and writers who have never been there, is out of sync with reality,” Crow wrote. “We didn’t suffer any personal, emotional, or educational injury from our circumstances. We also learned things that many people never know. We learned desire. We learned the benefits of unity. We learned that you can do without. We learned that you can aspire and work and achieve without being fed from the outside.