Welcome back to 1-On-1, a monthly series where two Cushman & Wakefield professionals get together for a no-holds-barred interview. Featured in this edition are agency leasing pro Lauren Napper and tenant representation vet Rick Hughes. The two brokers share insights on their careers, the Dallas commercial real estate market, and their families—and find something surprising that they share in common.
As Senior Director, Napper works on Cushman & Wakefield’s agency leasing team and markets space in commercial buildings. With more than 11 years of experience, she currently handles the leasing of more than 2.5 million square feet of office space in Dallas-Fort Worth, including the iconic Fountain Place. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Southern Methodist University.
Hughes, Executive Managing Director and member of Cushman & Wakefield’s Global Data Center Advisory Group, has an extensive background in both the office and industrial sectors. In a career that spans nearly 40 years, he has closed more than $3.5 billion in transactions totaling more than 45 million square feet. A proud Aggie, he has an undergrad degree in nuclear engineering from Texas A&M University.
RICK HUGHES: So what I want to know, Lauren, is did you play for the Defeeters or Spirit?
LAUREN NAPPER: I played for both! I was a big soccer player growing up and am very competitive, which probably helps in this business. I think I played on just about every competitive team, and ultimately played at SMU.
HUGHES: Did you play offense or defense?
NAPPER: I played center midfield growing up, but when I went to college I was too small. I was fast, though, so I got to play up front. I walked on to the SMU team and played for two years before ending my career.
HUGHES: How do you think that helped prepared you for real estate?
NAPPER: Well, they don’t translate directly, but I’ve always been a super competitive person. You can ask any of the guys on my [leasing] team, and they’ll tell you I still am. I think I learned more from the training and hard work that goes into sports. A lot of time the results come from the dedication that you put into it.
HUGHES: Did you like hitting people as a midfielder, or out running people as a forward?
NAPPER: That’s funny. Growing up, I always thought I was this tough, scrappy girl. But then I went to college and the girls were a lot bigger than me. So I always used to like to hit people when I was younger, and then I started trying to run away from them!
HUGHES: I know your husband, Jonathan, is a soccer player, too. Did the two of you meet through soccer? And how did you get into the real estate business?
NAPPER: We had grown up in the same neighborhood, so I knew who he was, but I was a year older than him and way too cool to hang out with him in high school and college.
HUGHES: I’ve met him. You’re still way too cool for him!
NAPPER: (laughs) When he came back to town after Harvard, we met up at a New Year’s Eve party. I was struggling at the time, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I had gotten my real estate license, but I worked in residential and I hated it. He convinced me to get into commercial real estate. He was at CBRE back then, and I got a position at PM Realty. That was how it all started. … So I hear, Rick, which I think is fascinating, that you have a background in nuclear engineering. How did you get into real estate?
HUGHES: I was working for Texas Utilities on the Comanche Peak nuclear plant. I was also taking classes in the executive MBA program at SMU. I met a woman there whose husband, Gordon Davis, was one of the principals at the Swearingen Co. She kept telling Gordon that there was this nice young kid who would be great at real estate. At Texas Utilities, I was traveling at least four days a week. It was during the Jimmy Carter era, and interest rates were 14 percent. There was another guy who traveled maybe once a week and always went home early. When it came time for raises, I got a 14.5 percent raise, which was basically equal to inflation, and the other guy got a 13.5 percent raise. I thought, “I’m busting my %#!*& (tail!) for a 1 percent differential?”
The Texas Utility office was in Bryan Tower, and so was Swearingen’s. So I rode down one elevator bank and went up another and asked to meet with Gordon Davis. He told me I’d be a fool to not get into real estate. I went home and talked with my wife and told her I wanted to give up engineering and get into real estate. She didn’t like the fact that I was traveling all the time, so I ended up quitting. When I told my mom, she couldn’t believe it. I was the first one in the family to go to college and I was a nuclear engineer. So when she found out I was going into sales … for a while, she couldn’t even say the “s-word.”
NAPPER: How did it go at Swearingen?
HUGHES: Well, I had been there for about 20 months and was beginning to make some progress, and the leaders called me in one day and told me they thought I was really suited for engineering. I told them I loved my job, and that real estate was just terrific. They said, “No, we really think you ought to be an engineer.” I protested one more time and they said, “We think you ought to be an engineer by Friday.” Gordon was away on sabbatical, and had no idea this was going on.
NAPPER: So what did you do?
HUGHES: I was going through a Dale Carnegie sales course at the time and had become friends with John Aldrich, who was working at Cushman & Wakefield. When he found out about my situation, he called Bob Edge, who was leading the Dallas office, and said, “We really need to hire this guy. We need help.” So, I got fired from a local company only to get hired by what at the time was a national company. That’s how I got to Cushman & Wakefield.
NAPPER: Does that make you the longest-tenured broker here?
HUGHES: Second-longest. Bill McClung joined the firm 18 months before me.
NAPPER: And now you guys are sharing a wall! … Did Bob Edge get you into tenant representation?
HUGHES: Not at first. I started in industrial brokerage. And what’s funny, the first full year after I had been here, I was fortunate enough that my production at Cushman & Wakefield would have made me the No. 1 broker at Swearingen. [Former Swearingen President] Bill Lawley doesn’t like for me to tell that story. We’re very good friends. More now than we were then when I was let go!
NAPPER: I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of interesting things, being in this business for as long as you have. What has been your craziest real estate experience?
HUGHES: The biggest event, probably, was in the 1980s. Bob Edge and I were brokers for the Standard Oil Co. in Ohio. They were going to move their corporate headquarters to Dallas. We had brokered a 385,000-square-foot, 15-year lease at Williams Square, which had just been built. Bob Edge and I were the only two brokers on the deal; back then, there was no fee-sharing. When it came time to close the deal, Bob was out of town visiting his mother, who was ill. Standard Oil signed the lease and sent it to me overnight via Federal Express. I was about to walk out the door when I got a phone call from the head of real estate at Standard Oil. He told me there was an all-hands-on-deck meeting at the company and to not do anything with the leases until I heard from him. About 30 minutes later, he called back and told me that Standard Oil had just been acquired by British Petroleum. The headquarters deal was dead.
NAPPER: Wow. And that was a 15-year deal?
HUGHES: Right. There would have been two commas in that commission, and the first number wouldn’t have been a 1, 2, or even a 3. It was a gigantic deal, and I was devastated. When Bob came back to the office, it was just like nothing had happened. He said, “It’s time for the two of us to go to New York and go find another deal. That one’s gone. Let’s get back to work.” That was, to me, a career-defining lesson that I learned from Bob. He said, “Just pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game.”
NAPPER: I can’t imagine. That’s great advice.
HUGHES: So what do you like most about the landlord representation side?
NAPPER: I’m a real detail-person, and I usually play that role on the teams that I’m on. I also enjoy the tours. I’m lucky enough to work on some really great properties—they’re fun buildings to show. I also love the marketing. I work with Johnny [Johnson] who is the king marketer, so I’m learning a lot from him, as far as the ins and outs of sales. He’s probably the best salesman I’ve ever known. On most of the other buildings I work with Trey [Smith]. He has helped me a great deal on the analytical side.
HUGHES: How difficult is it to be a leasing agent and have children? On the leasing side, you always need to be at the beck and call of someone like me, who represents tenants.
NAPPER: It takes a village. I’m lucky enough to have full-time help and family close by, so I have a great support system. My husband is always moving fast, too, so we just have to communicate a lot with each other and make sure everything is covered. I kind of thrive on the pace. The constant motion in my life is actually something I enjoy. … So I understand you have three kids. Where are they now?
HUGHES: We have two girls and a boy. Our oldest daughter is a lawyer at Haynes & Boone. Our son is an “uncivil” engineer for Bury Stantec, and our baby is a third-year resident, OBGYN, at Baylor Hospital. With a lawyer, an engineer, and a doctor, we’ve hit the trifecta. We’re very blessed. … So you have a daughter and a son, and your son’s name is Grayson. My son’s name is Grayson, too.
HUGHES: Yes, and as it turns out, there’s a story behind that. When our son was born, we kind of liked the names Austin and Patterson. Well, there was no way an Aggie was going to name his son Austin, and my wife, whose name is Patsy, didn’t really like Patterson. We both liked Grayson, and my grandfather was born in Grayson County. But Bob Edge’s son was named Grayson, so we were at an impasse. A day or so after my son was born, the doctor came in to see Patsy and said, “If you don’t name him by 4 o’clock today, I’m going to name him.” Finally we just said, the heck with it. I called Bob and told him we wanted to name our son Grayson, but first wanted to seek his permission. He said, “You don’t need to ask my permission,” and he called Grayson over and handed the phone to him. Gray Edge was about 7 years old at the time. I told him I wanted to ask him a special favor, and asked if he would mind if Patsy and I called our son Grayson, too. He said he’d be honored. For the rest of his life, Bob always asked about Grayson “and those two other kids.”
NAPPER: Boys are harder to name than girls. My daughter is named Layla, my husband’s great-grandmother’s name. But we really struggled with the name for our son. His formal name is Jonathan Grayson Napper, but the plan all along was to call him Grayson.
HUGHES: My son’s middle name is King. Grayson King Hughes is a little more elegant than Rickey Dale Hughes.
HUGHES: I was born a few months after little Ricky Ricardo was born. There were four Rickeys in my fourth grade class. I’ve tried to make the switch to Rick, which sounds more grown up, but all my longtime friends and colleagues still call me Rickey. After all this time, I’ve just come to accept it.
NAPPER: What do you think is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
HUGHES: I think the most important lesson, and I tell all young brokers this, is to live off your worst year and not your best year. It’s not the way I’ve always done it, but it’s the way to do it. Another piece of advice is to remember to put yourself in your clients’ position, and in the other party’s, too. You are a much better broker when you have a full understanding of the needs and objectives of the other side. You can’t just operate in a vacuum. You need to understand that sometimes what your client is asking for is unrealistic. Your goal is to manage expectations while still advocating for your side.
NAPPER: Looking forward, what has you most excited about the future?
HUGHES: From a professional standpoint, what excites me in the near future is uncertainty. We are far more relevant as real estate professionals when things are chaotic and uncertain. Is the market going up? Is it going down? What are rates going to do? For the past five or six years, we’ve been on a path that has been fairly predictable. I think uncertainty is ahead, and that, to me, is exciting. I’m also excited about the data center business. You get to play in a new playground with completely different competition. Even after almost 39 years in the business, I still love learning, and I do so on nearly every deal.
NAPPER: We work in such a great market, and so many institutional investors are focused on Dallas. It’s good for my career, but it’s also fun, personally, to see Dallas be so vibrant. The city is changing before our very eyes.
HUGHES: It’s good to finally be all in one office, at McKinney & Olive.
NAPPER: Cushman has a strong name and a solid reputation and a rich history. It’s great to be able to continue that on. We are such a strong group together and complement each other very well.
HUGHES: Cushman & Wakefield has always been known for having great executioners of real estate transactions. We were innovative. We did tenant rep before other “quarterbacks” in that area were even out of grade school. What I think sets apart the new Cushman & Wakefield of today is a management team that is willing to invest in the future. Instead of “get the business and then we’ll fund it,” they are leading us with resources and innovation and commitment. With that, of course, comes responsibility. But it lets us continue to push the envelope and develop a platform of best practices and innovation. I think that’s the greatest benefit of our merged company.
NAPPER: I agree. A force to be reckoned with. … Well, it has been great to talk with you, Rick.
HUGHES: It’s been great to talk with you, too, Lauren. But I do have one last question: I’ve heard you have a thing for shoes.
NAPPER: Oh, yes! I love shoes and my husband is very fashionable, so it’s an easy gift that he knows I’ll like. So for every birthday, anniversary, anything, he buys me shoes. He picks them out himself and does a great job. The guys on my team are very confused by them!