Welcome to 1-On-1, a new monthly feature where two C&W professionals get together for a no-holds-barred interview. The first installment features industry vets Johnny Johnson and Gary “Coach” Collett, who share insights about their careers and their vision for the new C&W.
As executive managing director, Johnson co-leads marketing and leasing services for Cushman & Wakefield clients in Texas. During his 30 years in real estate, he has closed more than 15 million square feet in transactions for some of the world’s largest investors. He earned a bachelor’s in business administration from Louisiana State University.
Collett, a senior director in Cushman & Wakefield’s brokerage services group, has focused his 35-year real estate career on the industrial sector, working in tenant representation, supply chain logistics, corporate accounts, investment sales, and leasing. A graduate of the University of Tulsa (undergrad) and Southern Methodist University (master’s degree), he coached high school and college football before switching to real estate.
GARY ‘COACH’ COLLETT: Hey, Johnny. I thought you’d like this Santa hat I brought along. It’s my wife’s, so you can touch it, but you can’t keep it.
JOHNNY JOHNSON: That’s awesome. I love it.
COLLETT: I’ve been doing some research on you. Along with learning that you’re an LSU grad, I’m happy to know I have a friend who, like me, still uses a “Day-Timer’ system of sorts.
JOHNSON: That’s right. We call it the Cajun Palm Pilot. People can joke about it, but the system works. And if the system works, supplemented with the real-time technology we’re all using, you’ve got to stick with it.
COLLETT: Your resume is extremely impressive. You and I aren’t as close as we’re going to be, but I would suggest, Johnny, that you quit right now. You’ve had a wonderful career.
JOHNSON: Oh, I’ve got plenty left to do.
COLLETT: I’m curious … early on, when you were getting started in the business, was there a deal you worked on that didn’t go the way you wanted it to go, and were there things you learned from that and carried forward?
JOHNSON: Oh, absolutely. I was fortunate to start my career downtown, with Bret [Bunnett]. We were the leasing team on Renaissance Tower. And shortly into it, I had the chance to work on a law firm deal; the tenant rep broker was Bob Edge. He was as tough as nails, but he saw sympathy in the situation and quickly realized I didn’t have a clue. He was very patient, but he took me to the woodshed when he needed to and used it as a learning experience for me. He taught me how to go through the process. It was the start of my career downtown and was the impetus for a relationship that I had with Bob for years and years. We often looked back at that deal and laughed.
COLLETT: It’s interesting that you’re now working at Cushman & Wakefield in Dallas, the office Bob founded back in 1974.
JOHNSON: Isn’t it? Things have come full circle. How about you? Was there a deal that either made you question your decision to get into real estate, or confirmed that it was the right thing to do?
COLLETT: I got into real estate on August 24, 1981. I had been coaching high school and college football for about 14 years and I knew, even though I had a master’s degree, where I was headed salary-wise. So as much as I loved what I did, I had to make a change. Fortunately for me, I grew up with and played ball with a couple of guys who were in real estate, Terry Pendleton and Rick Slaven. I was quarterback and those two guys were running backs. They helped me get in some doors I normally wouldn’t have been able to enter. A turning point for me was going to work with Al and Art Leon. I was so naive, I told myself I was going to make a deal in the first 30 days. And you know what? I did—thanks to my 24-year-old mentor, Leon Backes.
JOHNSON: Where did you coach?
COLLETT: I coached at Woodrow Wilson and W.T. White high schools, and at the University of Tulsa, where I played. It didn’t take me long to realize that things that are important in real estate are really no different than things that are important in coaching. There’s a quote from Dan McCarney, the former head coach at the University of North Texas, and it’s something I tell young brokers in the business: “Loyalty is uncommon, unconditional, and uncompromising. If you have loyalty, your team is going to win.” And I think that’s why our Cushman & Wakefield team is going to win. There’s a commitment here to each other and helping one another become successful.
JOHNSON: Did you have a particular mentor who was helpful in your career?
COLLETT: Initially, it was Terry and Rick. I spent a lot of time with them over a three- or four-year period while I was making the decision to leave coaching. And certainly Al and Art Leon. They were the top two producers for CB for years before going out on their own. There’s also Larry Leon and Leon Backes. Todd Platt and I have also been close for a long time. We were both offered an opportunity to go to Harry B. Lucas; I went there, and Todd did not. I got to work with Toby Grove and Jay Lucas and learned a lot from those two. Certainly, beyond anyone, though, was my father. He was a football coach and a high school principal. He was also a World War II vet who earned two distinguished flying crosses. I’m sure I don’t know half of what that guy did, but he was always a stable force in my life.
JOHNSON: Well we have a couple of things in common. I was quarterback in high school. My coach used to say, “It’s a good thing you can throw, because you can’t run.” When I’d run the 40, the running joke on the team was, “Get the calendar out. Johnson is about to run the 40.” Anyway … my dad was also a vet, a fighter pilot, a career military guy and a very principled man. He flew D-day, he was shot down twice, and had a real distinguished career. He taught my brother and me a lot. He was a man’s man, but he taught us humility, that we were no better than anyone else, and the importance of having a good work ethic. He taught us there was right and there was wrong—there was no gray.
COLLETT: Absolutely. We never had anything but we never wanted for anything. I think about lessons learned and things to pass on to younger generations in the business, and I think one thing that’s important is to know that others are there to help. You can get isolated in this business. Real estate is very competitive. But if you care about someone and they know you care about them, they will do anything they can to help you.
JOHNSON: I remember when I got into real estate I thought, “I’ve missed the window.” At the time, Trammell Crow Center had just been built, along of half of what we see downtown today. I found myself wishing I had been able to get into the business 10 years earlier. But just look at this city and the growth we’ve seen through the years. I’m as encouraged today as I’ve ever been. It’s never too late. Dallas is continuing to evolve, and continuing to grow. I want to encourage young people today and tell them they really haven’t missed the window. Success in real estate comes down to what you make of it—who you choose to work with and how you go about it. There’s going to be a lot of opportunity in this city for years and years to come.
COLLETT: There’s still more than 300 people moving into Dallas-Fort Worth every day. We’re at 7 million and approaching 8 million people. We’ll be at 9 million and 10 million before I leave this earth. There’s such a diversity in the economy and so much good. I have to agree with you; there’s a great deal of opportunity ahead. What do you think we need to do separate ourselves from the competition going forward?
JOHNSON: In a service business, you are only as good as the quality of your people. If we have integrity and character and all the basics that sometimes sound trite, and separate ourselves by the work we do for clients and have great people leading the way, we will win our fair share and more.
“In a service business, you are only as good as the quality of your people.”
– Johnny Johnson
COLLETT: After deals get done, years down the road, people forget the deal, the details of the lease, the money involved, and brokers will forget the commissions; but that client will never, ever forget how he was treated.
JOHNSON: You’re exactly right. That is the differentiator. A great culture evolves from great leadership and great people who buy into a vision and focus on that vision. When others think about us, I hope they think of a company that cares about its people, that rewards its people, and has some fun.
COLLETT: That is so key. Real estate has changed a great deal since I got into the business in 1981, but it still goes back to the basics: “Here’s a football. We’re going to line up, I’m going to hand the ball to you, and we’re going to start blocking and tackling.” The basics haven’t changed.
JOHNSON: To truly achieve success, it has to be more than just doing the deal and moving on to the next one. When you take the time to get to know someone and take a sincere interest in them, it will pay tremendous dividends. People want to do business with people they like and trust. It’s so simple. When you’re working with clients, you’re going to hit the ditch with them at some point in the process. If they know you and trust you, they are going to give you that second or third chance.
COLLETT: Cushman & Wakefield has a wonderful brand, one that has been around for nearly 100 years. It’s all of our responsibility to keep it moving forward. As a global business with 43,000 employees, we have a lot more ammunition than we’ve ever had before, and that’s exciting.
JOHNSON: As you said, we’re older than any of the big boys we compete with, but we’re also a new company. We have a whole new global leadership team and a new footprint around the world. It’s a new day.