by Christine Perez
This month’s edition of 1-on-1 features PDS leader Brad Blankenship and tenant rep standout Matt Heidelbaugh, in what they jokingly referred to as “a match-up of the follically challenged.” Their engaging and entertaining discussion covers everything from communication strategies and the dynamics of change to Pro-Am golf, motorcycle rallys, and the world’s coolest cooler.
As Senior Managing Director, Brad Blankenship leads Project and Development Services for Cushman & Wakefield in the Dallas region, providing comprehensive development and project management services for property owners and tenants. With more than 37 years of experience in the Texas and Oklahoma markets, he has developed a large network of resources, which benefit his clients. He’s also able to leverage his experience as a former general contractor. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering from Texas A&M University, Commerce.
Executive Managing Director Matt Heidelbaugh specializes in office and industrial tenant representation. Services span international transactions, corporate services, build-to-suits, acquisitions/dispositions, consulting, and land transactions. Throughout his 23-year career at Cushman & Wakefield, he has represented a number of corporations in relocating their headquarters to the Dallas area, including Jacobs Engineering and Fluor Corp. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from New Mexico State University, where he majored in Finance and minored in Economics.
MATT HEIDELBAUGH: So, I’ve got to ask: I heard you recently returned from a trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
BRAD BLANKENSHIP: I did.
HEIDELBAUGH: I’ve had some clients who have done that, and some claim they’re wimpy because they tow their bike in a trailer. Then there are others who are hardcore and do the burn-your-palms-off ride out there in the triple-digit heat. So, which was it for you?
BLANKENSHIP: At Sturgis, they’ll sell you a patch that says, “I Rode Mine,” whether you did or not.
HEIDELBAUGH: Good to know.
BLANKENSHIP: I did have mine trailered, as the ride to Sturgis is long and brutal. But getting there was on my bucket list, so now I can say I went and conquered. We stayed on Main Street and had a great time. I saw some crazy things …
HEIDELBAUGH: How long did you stay?
BLANKENSHIP: Four days, three nights.
HEIDELBAUGH: Scratch the itch, then head home?
BLANKENSHIP: I did. Burned all my jets.
HEIDELBAUGH: And that rally swells to what, 200,000 people?
BLANKENSHIP: More than that. There are about 375,000 motorcycles, and the population swells to more than half-a million. This in a town where fewer than 5,000 people live year-round.
HEIDELBAUGH: There’s another image I’m trying to get out of my head. I understand that before you were follically challenged, you were a hippie drummer in a band at Texas A&M in Commerce. Am I right?
BLANKENSHIP: That’s true. I don’t know about the hippie part, but I was a drummer.
HEIDELBAUGH: A long-haired drummer.
BLANKENSHIP: That was more in high school; I started to lose my hair in college. But I did play in some bands, both rock and country-and-western—basically, whatever paid money. In high school, it was only rock-and-roll. That’s what we all did back in the ’70s, right?
HEIDELBAUGH: Do you still play?
BLANKENSHIP: I still have a set, and I still play occasionally.
HEIDELBAUGH: OK. Greatest drummer of all time? People usually say it’s the guy from the Rush.
BLANKENSHIP: For me is John Bonham, of Led Zeppelin. He died, but his son, John Bonham Jr., plays, and he’s as good as his dad. … You’ve found out a lot about me. Where did you get all this information?
HEIDELBAUGH: Oh, I’ve got my sources. And I have another question for you: I know you previously worked for Roger Staubach. I was told about a conference of some sort, when Roger was up on stage holding a football, and you jumped up and said, “Hey, Roger! Throw it here!”
BLANKENSHIP: I did.
HEIDELBAUGH: And he lasered one to you and you caught it.
BLANKENSHIP: I did.
HEIDELBAUGH: And then he asked you to throw it back, and you, I was told, may have alligator-armed it?
BLANKENSHIP: I don’t have the arm that Roger has.
HEIDELBAUGH: It kind of bounced around, maybe about 20 yards short?
BLANKENSHIP: It was like an 18-yard throw and I drilled it … to his feet. And he picked up the ball and said, “Blankenship, you throw like Bledsoe.” At the time, it was the ultimate insult. But, I did catch the pass, and I did get applause for doing so.
HEIDELBAUGH: I’m impressed that you got your hands around it.
BLANKENSHIP: Roger still throws a bullet.
HEIDELBAUGH: Some guys never lose that live arm, whether it’s baseball or football. Johnny Johnson played quarterback at LSU. We had an event in Indianapolis and we were on the football field just goofing around. When you catch a ball he throws, you can feel it.
BLANKENSHIP: OK. Let’s talk about you. I understand that you’re an Aggie. When most people hear that, they think of Texas A&M.
HEIDELBAUGH: I’m that Aggie who never talks about where I went to college.
BLANKENSHIP: You went to New Mexico State.
HEIDELBAUGH: That’s right.
BLANKENSHIP: The home of Pistol Pete.
HEIDELBAUGH: Thank you very much, and the best weather in the country, by far, in Las Cruces.
BLANKENSHIP: Small school, this intrigues me, as I had a similar experience.
HEIDELBAUGH: Well, small to me is something sub-5,000. but we had 15,000 to 18,000 at New Mexico State, so I’d consider that to be midsize. I know A&M or UT are the schools everyone always thinks about, and they’re what, 50,000 or 60,000?
BLANKENSHIP: Sounds about right. What led to the decision to go to a smaller school?
HEIDELBAUGH: It was 100 percent about golf. I picked the college based on where I wanted to play. And, you may not know this, but New Mexico State is considered the Harvard of the Southwest. It’s an extremely rigorous academic school.
BLANKENSHIP: It sounds rigorous, Matt.
HEIDELBAUGH: It had good weather and the golf course was on campus. What else do you need?
BLANKENSHIP: Sounds perfect.
HEIDELBAUGH: I was the only kid from my Pennsylvania high school who went west of the Mississippi for college, and I had many teachers scold me for going to such an amazingly rigorous academic institution. But, it worked out great, and I will put my ROI up against all those who matriculated at Ivy League schools.
BLANKENSHIP: I feel the same way about my small school experience. Being in the industry we’re in, we’re often paired with people wo went to big schools in Texas or even some Ivy League schools. I went to East Texas State, which is Texas A&M Commerce now, a school of 10,000, and I loved the experience. There was very little competition for leadership opportunities. And, taking advantage of those, I was able to achieve things I probably couldn’t have done at a school like UT.
HEIDELBAUGH: I couldn’t agree more. My brother and sister both went to private schools in Philadelphia. I didn’t want the concrete jungle. I wanted someplace with green grass and trees and some space. I think, especially today, the cost of tuition has gotten so ridiculous that it’s almost past the rubicon of cost-benefit. You can’t convince me that a kid who graduates from Vanderbilt has a huge leg up on someone who attended OSU or Arkansas who gets in-state tuition and all the goodies they throw at Texas kids. It’s hard for me to see the value proposition for that. Maybe for your first job, but no one has ever cared or asked where I went to school; it doesn’t matter.
BLANKENSHIP: Only during water-cooler talk about football teams. For me, there’s not a lot to brag about there. But other than that, there’s plenty to say about what I experienced at a small school.
HEIDELBAUGH: Or when your 12-year-old daughter comes home, as mine did three weeks ago and says, “Dad, I wish you and Mom had gone to a relevant university. Everyone at school has parents who are Aggies or LSU Tigers or UT Longhorns, and Mom went to Penn State and Duke, and you went to New Mexico State. Nobody cares, Dad.”
BLANKENSHIP: I heard Pistol Pete lost his pistols in the last decade or so, and was given a lasso instead.
HEIDELBAUGH: You’re kidding! New Mexico State went PC on me?
BLANKENSHIP: And called Larry Lasso.
HEIDELBAUGH: You have got to be joking.
BLANKENSHIP: Apparently, there was a big uproar about it, so it didn’t last long. He’s back to Pistol Pete.
HEIDELBAUGH: That’s a relief. … So, switching topics, how long have you had your lake house? I understand you like to go to the lake every weekend. Is that true?
BLANKENSHIP: Yeah. We built a home a couple of years ago at Lake Whitney. The best part about it is it’s 1 hour and 35 minutes, door-to-door.
HEIDELBAUGH: What direction?
BLANKENSHIP: South and west.
HEIDELBAUGH: And you like to do a little barbecuing there, I’ve heard, a little smoking of the meat.
BLANKENSHIP: I do like to smoke meat.
HEIDELBAUGH: What’s your favorite smoke?
BLANKENSHIP: It’s got to be brisket.
HEIDELBAUGH: And how long does that take?
BLANKENSHIP: About 10 hours.
HEIDELBAUGH: I have a new neighbor who’s from Austin, and he’s the real deal, competitive guy. He attended a barbecue university. When he first moved in a few weeks ago, my wife took over some of her famous banana bread. He reciprocated with a brisket sandwich.
BLANKENSHIP: That doesn’t sound like a one-for-one swap.
HEIDELBAUGH: I told my wife, “Sweetheart. I love your banana bread. But I’ve got news for you. You’re not even in the same ballpark.” We looked like a bunch of vultures going after that brisket.
BLANKENSHIP: I’m not ready to compete yet, but I’m enjoying the experience. I’ve got a few tricks for you to try. So, when you’re ready, let me know.
HEIDELBAUGH: I will. … I understand your son started a church in California. Tell me about that.
BLANKENSHIP: Growing up, my son was always active in his faith.
HEIDELBAUGH: You guys were at Prestonwood at the time, right? Over on Arapaho, where the Shelton School is now?
BLANKENSHIP: Exactly. In high school, he kind of strayed around, then found his feet at Baylor and went to Antioch Community Church, which is a church-planting church. After Baylor, he worked for seven years as a loan mortgage officer, but then had the calling. He and another fellow, a senior pastor, started a church in Fullerton, California. Now they regularly have 250 to 275 members.
HEIDELBAUGH: That’s great. And your daughter is at Ernst & Young.
BLANKENSHIP: She is.
HEIDELBAUGH: And you’ve got four grandkids, so two-and-two?
BLANKENSHIP: Yes. Two and two; a boy and a girl for each.
HEIDELBAUGH: So, are grandkids, as they say, better than kids?
HEIDELBAUGH: You can do all the spoiling without any hassles.
BLANKENSHIP: And without any guilt. You just hand them back over.
HEIDELBAUGH: Except when they leave them with you for a week.
BLANKENSHIP: Then, there’s no place to go.
HEIDELBAUGH: Kids are a young man’s game.
BLANKENSHIP: No doubt about it. And you should know, with two daughters and a son.
HEIDELBAUGH: At one point, it was three under 3. When the last one was out of diapers, my wife and I took the Diaper Genie, together, to the trash, to ceremonially throw it at away.
BLANKENSHIP: I can’t imagine. … So, let’s get back to your golfing. Apparently, you’re no slouch. Many of us work on our putting strokes here at the office, but I’ve never seen you practicing between the cubicles. Instead, you’re doing something like playing in the Byron Nelson Pro-Am.
HEIDELBAUGH: As Lee Trevino once said, “The older I get, the better I used to play.” That is absolutely true. I can’t break an egg, as they say, anymore.
BLANKENSHIP: What was your lowest handicap?
HEIDELBAUGH: I got to like a +5 at one point, but golf is a game of maintenance. It’s not like riding a bike. The more you don’t maintain it, the more it deteriorates. And when you have three teenagers, there’s not a lot of time for golf. Now, I much more enjoy watching my son play or my kids compete. I just don’t miss it that much, partly because I no longer play very well.
BLANKENSHIP: I still see a man of your frame knocking it out about 400 yards, just because of physics.
HEIDELBAUGH: Every now and then I can get into one, but I’m getting shorter by the day. And my son is getting longer by the day. For a 15-year-old boy to be keeping up with me, it’s a little troubling. The day is coming, and it may be arriving quickly, where he will be hitting the ball by me. And that will be a sad day.
BLANKENSHIP: And also a fun day.
HEIDELBAUGH: That’s true. It’s a lot easier to play competitively than it is to watch someone else play competitively, especially if it’s one of your children. My wife describes junior golf as child abuse. She can’t handle the birdie, birdie, triple-bogey.
BLANKENSHIP: It drives me crazy, too, although I don’t see many birdies.
HEIDELBAUGH: That’s why we don’t have any hair.
BLANKENSHIP: [Laughs] So, in doing my research on you, I learned that you have invested time in teaching and on occasion, preaching. I’m curious about where that came from and how you practice your faith in the workplace.
HEIDELBAUGH: In Pennsylvania, my parents took me and my brother and sister to church every Sunday. But I didn’t truly become a Christian until I moved to Dallas. I was dating a girl at the time who took me to a Bible study called Metro at your church, Prestonwood, at its old location. I was riveted by this guy teaching the Bible. I was hooked, and every Monday I just kept going back. I felt like a hypocrite, though, because I had to go hear someone else tell me about a book I should know. From that moment on, I began to read the Bible. I now teach others and disciple, particularly to young men. It goes way beyond the Bible. We talk about marriage issues, how to buy a home, what do I do in my job or in this situation or that.
BLANKENSHIP: That’s great.
HEIDELBAUGH: I think the hardest place to live out your faith is the workplace. It can get stressful. Things don’t always go well A client doesn’t hire you or a deal doesn’t go your way and money is often involved. So, it can be a difficult thing at times to practice what you preach. But the reason I’m a Christian is because I’m not perfect.
BLANKENSHIP: For what it’s worth, I see your background and influence on how you present yourself to your peers and your prospects every day.
HEIDELBAUGH: And I could say the same thing about you.
BLANKENSHIP: I appreciate that. Faith does have a lot to do with how I represent myself to others, what I expect of myself, what I expect from others.
HEIDELBAUGH: The Golden Rule. Many people don’t realize it came from the Bible.
BLANKENSHIP: That’s right. … So, what’s up with your penchant for Volvos?
HEIDELBAUGH: I’m what you would consider to be a loyal, if-it-ain’t-broke-why-fix-it kind of guy. I’m sure it’s part of my Pennsylvania upbringing. It’s very blue collar. Nobody cares what you have, what you make. It’s like that in some parts of Texas, but Dallas is a little more glitzy and glammy. It’s the land of the Lexus, if you know what I’m saying. I got my first Volvo S80. It was white. I liked it a lot and I took good care of it, because clients are in it all time. I don’t let the kids eat ice cream cones in the car or other stuff that could mess it up. I took such good care of it, Karen Decker here in our office decided she wanted to buy it when the lease came up. Then I got another one, and Billy Gannon wanted to buy it, because I took such good care of it. And then I got another one. And after three years, the word was out … nobody takes care of cars like Matt. So, Steve Wentz bought that one. This time around, I was very close to changing. I know it sounds like the boy who cried wolf, but then Volvo came out with the S90. It’s a bigger sedan, which, you might have noticed, I’m a little tall. Even Randy Cooper, the first week I had it, came into my office and said, “Now that’s a great-looking car!” And Randy has probably owned more cars than I’ve had pairs of underwear. So, he would know.
BLANKENSHIP: How did you pick Volvo in the first place?
HEIDELBAUGH: In our business, one day we’re taking around a facilities guy, and the next day we’re taking around a CEO. So, I felt like I had to find something that wasn’t too in the face of the facilities guy and not too dumbed down for the CEO. I’ve found that Volvo is perfect, because it’s just sophisticated enough, but not over the top.
BLANKENSHIP: I wonder how my clients feel about riding around in my F150?
HEIDELBAUGH: In your business, with what you do, it’s perfect.
BLANKENSHIP: It’s not the easiest to navigate in our parking garage.
HEIDELBAUGH: Oh, man. This garage is tighter than a short par 4 with trees.
BLANKENSHIP: It’s a challenge.
HEIDELBAUGH: So, I’ve heard you’re a fan of heavy metal? Or is that bum dope?
BLANKENSHIP: I’m a music hound, and I like all kinds. I listen mostly to Texas country western. There’s a difference between Texas country and Nashville country. I listen to a lot of Josh Abbott Band, of course Pat Green is obligatory, and I still love Willy, Waylon, Merle. But I’ll mix that in with some hip-hop, too. It’s just what I like to listen to at the time. My PDS team knows I like music, and they’ve seen my orange cooler.
HEIDELBAUGH: The famous cooler. I’ve heard about it. Tell me more.
BLANKENSHIP: It’s called the Coolest Cooler. It has two separate compartments for divided ice, one for bottles and another for clean ice. It has a Bluetooth sound system, plates, a knife, a blender, a hookup for your iPod or iPhone. It has a corkscrew and a bottle-opener and wheels, thankfully.
HEIDELBAUGH: It’s like a party in a box.
BLANKENSHIP: It is totally equipped for what I call the metropolitan party. I took it to the Arboretum for a concert, and everyone was around me watching me set it up, probably thinking there is no way it was going to work. And once I got that blender going, I got a standing ovation from all those who were watching.
HEIDELBAUGH: Where did you find it?
BLANKENSHIP: We won it in a raffle. I think it’s like $475 online or something.
HEIDELBAUGH: Did people line up for a drink?
BLANKENSHIP: A number of people came by, just to see the cooler. They were enthralled.
HEIDELBAUGH: You probably sold 20 of them that day.
BLANKENSHIP: I didn’t even mention the LED lighting.
HEIDELBAUGH: I imagine that would be great for tailgating. Especially the way people tailgate around here.
BLANKENSHIP: On the occasional Friday morning staff meeting, I’ll bring it out sometimes and we’ll have some breakfast beverages.
HEIDELBAUGH: That sounds great.
BLANKENSHIP: Team-building can be fun.
HEIDELBAUGH: So, I talked about Pennsylvania. Where did you grow up?
BLANKENSHIP: I’m a native Texan. Born in Wichita Falls and grew up in Richardson. Went to school at J.J. Pearce and truly enjoyed that upbringing. At the time, in the early 1970s, Plano was mostly farm fields. I’ve seen Dallas grow over the years. I can remember when Midway Road was dirt and gravel.
HEIDELBAUGH: Did you start with Staubach right out of college?
BLANKENSHIP: No. I spent two years with TGI Friday’s as an owner’s rep, building restaurants all over the United States. One of the most interesting things about that job was, I would come in after the carpenters had finished all of the beautiful woodwork, and it was my job to distress the wood, to make it look older. I’d buy a piece of half-inch chain, about 3 feet long, and would literally beat the walls with chains.
HEIDELBAUGH: You’re kidding.
BLANKENSHIP: There’s just enough distressing you can do without destroying the wood, to make it look authentic. I learned to do it after hours; I was threatened several times by the carpenters.
HEIDELBAUGH: They had just put it in, and saw you beating on it, and didn’t realize corporate had given you the approval to do that.
BLANKENSHIP: They were just sick to their stomachs. Interesting enough, I was a carpenter myself, in high school and college, so I had a full appreciation for their pain.
HEIDELBAUGH: So you know how to measure twice and cut once.
BLANKENSHIP: That’s right. We used to make jokes about how you measure with a micrometer, mark it with a crayon, and cut with a hatchet. It was the excuse for our poor workmanship.
HEIDELBAUGH: So where did you go after TGI Friday’s?
BLANKENSHIP: I decided I wanted to be a builder. For the next 15 years, I was a general contractor. It got to the point, though, where I got tired of losing sleep when it rained, knowing that for every three days it rained I would be put behind, and I would never get that time back. I was also traveling a lot and had young kids, so I wanted to make a change. And that’s when I was hired on at Staubach.
HEIDELBAUGH: One thing I’ve seen from day one, is that you love what you do. It’s something you can’t fake.
BLANKENSHIP: It makes going to work so easy when you love your job.
HEIDELBAUGH: What do you love about it?
BLANKENSHIP: Every project has a start and a finish date, a new set of players, a new set of personalities, a new set of challenges, and it’s totally unlike the previous project.
HEIDELBAUGH: I have a similar DNA, where if someone told me to dig a ditch, I’d be digging until they said stop.
BLANKENSHIP: There’s just something about it that butters my bread. I also enjoy the people dynamic, the putting together of teams, the right players in the right positions and, at my age now, helping others see and achieve their goals within an organization, whether it’s a vendor or contractor we’re working with or an architectural firm, but also my own employees.
HEIDELBAUGH: Do you enjoy being a manager and mentoring other than getting the dirt in your fingernails, like the old days?
BLANKENSHIP: I like to stay involved in both. They’re so different. I like seeing a project come to fruition and I also like the challenge of human dynamic, motivating a team to success and working like a team.
HEIDELBAUGH: It seems like one of the major ingredients for success on your side of the business is communication. It sounds like simple, but the ability to communicate when things are off track, when things are going well, even when there’s nothing important to communicate. That’s what I try to teach our younger folks. Even when you don’t have an update, let them know you’re thinking of them. Always try to beat the client. They should not be asking you; you should always be ahead of them in communication.
BLANKENSHIP: Certainly in running projects and dealing with customers, if you haven’t spoken to someone in a week, even if there’s very little to report, they should get an update or at least a call to say hello. Use the time to build a relationship. I also think communicating with our team internally is important, in terms of the direction of our group and the company and where we’re going. I’m a firm believer in, “See the target. Hit the target.” So, I spent a lot of time identifying and describing what the target is, so the team moves in that direction. It’s the same application for projects.
HEIDELBAUGH: Well, you guys are the best there is, by far, in the city. It’s great to have that resource in our backfield, no question.
BLANKENSHIP: We like teaming with all the brokers here, and I feel that we’ve consistently made strides in working together since the merger. From a tenant rep’s perspective, I certainly understand that it’s not always easy to bring in a group from outside the transaction team. It requires a lot of trust, which is earned.
HEIDELBAUGH: Well, it’s easy when you have Tom Brady and the Patriots on your team. I don’t ever worry about that. But you’re right in the sense that your discipline, PDS, is the last thing a client experiences on a transaction. You’re in a real critical seat. The euphoria of a transaction is long forgotten after the problem of project development services or the benefit. It’s kind of like the low price is long forgotten after the experience of poor customer service.
BLANKENSHIP: Right. We know that we’re the last, lasting impression, and it must be a great one. A key to that, I believe, is hiring experienced people. There are no rookies on our team. It’s hard to be consultative if you have no experience to bring forward.
HEIDELBAUGH: It strikes me that here we are, having this great conversation with each other. Our business makes it so hard to do more of that. We’re so stinking busy. You and I office literally within a spitball’s distance of one another. It’s a shame that many times in this business we don’t take time to dialogue.
BLANKENSHIP: Everything moves so quickly now.
HEIDELBAUGH: and the industry is in a constant state of change. That’s one of the greatest things about our business. We work with different industries, with different people, and have different challenges on every project or deal. As you mentioned earlier, every day is different. We’re not sitting behind a desk doing the same thing every day. There’s always that element of change.
BLANKENSHIP: And there are so many things that are outside our ability of control, including political decisions and natural disasters. Just look at the hurricanes in Texas and elsewhere. We saw the instant impact on gas prices at the pump. More far-reaching will be the effect it may have on gypsum products, drywall. There are so many things that affect our market and our ability to deliver. You’re right, Matt, the only thing constant about our world is change. I very much enjoy the challenge of stepping up to those changes and finding solutions. That’s what our clients depend on us for.