October 25, 2016
Anyone who has been around the Dallas-Fort Worth area real estate for any length of time knows – or at least, knows of – Lucy Billingsley. Former CEO of the Dallas Market Center and co-founder and partner of commercial real estate developer Billingsley Co., she is the daughter of another developer – the late Trammell Crow.
In the session “View from the Top” at the ULI’s fall meeting in Dallas, she shared her life, philosophies, and tricks to succeeding in a family business with 42nd Street Development Corp. President Wendy Rowden.
Acknowledging freely that a lot of her early success was motivated by fear – “I kept asking myself, can I do this?” she said – Billingsley indicated that being Trammell Crow’s daughter did start her off with good advantages. But she refused to rest on the laurels of the family name. After leaving the Dallas Market Center, she founded Wyndham Jade travel agency, built it up, then sold it. “The travel agency gave me confidence, separate from my family,” she remarked.
Speaking of which, she indicated that her marriage, family and the business works because of different skill sets, and respect for each other. This also includes her adult children, who work for Billingsley Co. Billingsley’s husband Henry Billingsley is skilled in buying land at the right cost. When he becomes too eager to sell it, “that’s when the pushy female comes into the room and says, ‘hell, no,’” Billingsley said.
For the most part, once the land is bought, Billingsley Co. isn’t in a hurry to develop on it. The company waits until the time is right for building. “Henry buys the land at the right price,” Billingsley said. “We can hold it for 30 years, and can wait. There is no pressure on us.”
The philosophy of right time, right place also spills over into tenant relationships. One example is Billingsley Co.’s relationship with 7-Eleven, which at the time that Billingsley approached then-CEO Jim Keys, had been bought by Seven-Eleven Japan Co. Ltd. Billingsley Co. offered space at the then-under-development, 425,000-square-foot One Arts Plaza. The Japanese parent company didn’t like the idea of an urban campus, Billingsley said, so her company offered a very low rent. “We ended up adding retail and condos, along with the office space,” Bilingsley said. “I wasn’t any kind of visionary; I was just trying to spread out the costs from the low lease rate.”
Shortly after Keys left the company and Jeff Pinto took 7-Eleven’s leadership reigns, Billingsley dangled the prospect of relocating 7-Eleven yet again, to Billingsley Co.’s 1,000-acre Cypress Waters development in Irving, TX – and at the same rate. The tenant agreed, and now its headquarters is in a 325,000-square-foot campus.
Billingsley stressed that understanding what another party or person wants, or needs, is important when it comes to negotiations, business – and life, for that matter. Additionally, she admitted she trusts in people, and the handshake agreement. “These days, I have to document contracts,” she added. “But I still believe in the handshake deals.”
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