By Christine Perez
Our monthly Cushman & Wakefield interview series returns for a fourth installment. This time, we paired up Managing Principal and DFW Market Leader Ran Holman with Senior Associate Brian Wilson. They talk about demoralizing career moments, red-lining leases, and a shared proclivity for a certain fashion trend.
A 30-year veteran in the commercial real estate industry, Holman is responsible for growing and managing all lines of business at Cushman & Wakefield in Dallas. Prior to joining the firm, he held leadership posts with Hines, Opus, and CBRE.
Wilson joined Cushman & Wakefield after graduating from Sam Houston State University, where he earned a BBA in accounting and finance and a MBA in finance. He specializes in helping local and international clients with their office and data center needs.
BRIAN WILSON: I thought we’d kick things off by finding out how and why you got into commercial real estate. In doing some due diligence, I learned that you used to be a rival of mine. I went to Sam Houston and it looks like you went to Stephen F. Austin for a while before transferring to UTD?
RAN HOLMAN: Yes. It’s amazing, the judgment you have at 17. The girl-to-guy ratio at Stephen F. was something like three girls to one guy, so those numbers supported my initial decision to go there.
WILSON: Makes sense.
HOLMAN: But I wanted to get back to Dallas and start working. I always wanted to be a developer, so I transferred to SMU and began building homes while I was also taking classes. It worked for a while, then things hit the wall in the mid-1980s, when the market turned. I went from having a fairly lucrative company, at a young age, to having everything just completely stop. At that point, I transferred to UTD and finished up there.
WILSON: With college and your real estate business, how did you ever find time to get your pilot’s license?
HOLMAN: My dad was a fighter pilot in Korea, and I always had a fascination for flying. I actually started flying when I was at Stephen F. One day, the winds aloft were really strong. Before taking off, I told my friends to look up, and I actually flew the plane backwards. The winds aloft were 55 miles per hour and the minimum controllable air speed on my Cessna was 45 miles per hour, so my ground speed was negative 10!
WILSON: So you were going backwards in the air? How dangerous is that?
HOLMAN: It’s not dangerous at all, because your air speed is your air speed, but you have the headwinds. It was fun.
WILSON: I’ll take your word for it.
HOLMAN: OK. My turn. Dallas has a lot of legends in the commercial real estate business, and you were mentored by one of the great ones, in our market and at Cushman & Wakefield … Bob Edge. How did that happen, and what was it like?
WILSON: Getting on board with Cushman & Wakefield and being selected to join the office tenant rep team is a privilege in and of itself. Initially, I met with Mike Wyatt and went through the rigorous hiring process he puts junior brokers through, to get them to show their determination and grit. I had done my research and knew the Dallas office was started by Bob Edge. I had heard stories and read articles about him. What I didn’t expect was for him be as accessible as he was. Bob was always willing to offer a helping hand. During my first couple of years, my focus was on learning the business and building a solid foundation. It was Bob who taught me how to really dissect a lease. He was extremely detailed and analytical, more than anyone I’ve ever met.
HOLMAN: He was an attorney before he got into real estate.
WILSON: That’s right. So Bob would sit down and go through leases with me and talk about all of the red-line changes he made and why he made them. He’d drill me on why they were important and how they would add value for clients. As we got further along, he’d test me to make sure I was absorbing everything. You can red-line a lease all day long, but if you can’t explain the benefits or reasons for the changes, it does no good. Fortunately, I was able to learn from the best.
HOLMAN: And now that legacy is continuing; I just heard the news that you’ve been named the 2017 recipient of the Bob Edge Scholarship Award.
WILSON: It’s a great honor, being one of the last brokers Bob mentored and now to get that continuing support. I’m planning to use the funds to get my CCIM designation, and I’m determined to be an ambassador for the Bob Edge Scholarship Foundation and continue to give back.
HOLMAN: Many times with great mentors, long after the mentorship is over, you find yourself in moments where the voice or presence of that mentor is felt. Do you have any moments like that with Bob?
WILSON: Absolutely. More than that, I have a physical memento. After Bob’s death, his wife Vicky sent out gifts to some of the brokers he mentored, red pens labeled as a “Bob Edge Red-line Pen.” A lot of times when I’m making red-line changes on leases, I’ll use that pen, and I’ll think back to the things he taught me.
HOLMAN: That’s great.
WILSON: So, aside from work, I understand you’re a dedicated family man, with two sons and a daughter?
HOLMAN: Yes. Rance is 15. He’s at Jesuit. Roark, who’s named after the main character in book The Fountainhead, a guy named Howard Roark, is 12. And Rankin is 11. The younger two are both at St. Rita.
WILSON: Do you foresee any of them eventually having a career in real estate?
HOLMAN: My oldest is fascinated with the business. Like any parent, I want to expose them to everything, in terms of the options in front of them. And if they want to pursue real estate, great. My middle guy is a born salesman. He’s the one who got suspended from sports for doing other kids’ homework for money. He’s my little enterpriser.
WILSON: Is he a good student?
HOLMAN: Oh, yes. Straight As. No one ever asked me to do their homework when I was his age, let’s put it that way.
WILSON: So, your father was in real estate?
HOLMAN: Yes. He was president of Sabre Real Estate and worked for Bob Folsom, and then in the late 1960s he went on his own and was an independent apartment developer.
WILSON: How much of an impact do you think he has he had on your career?
HOLMAN: He paved the way in the sense that I was attracted to the entrepreneurial nature of the business. His spheres were either fighter pilots or real estate guys. Both of those groups were guys I loved to hang around. They were fun and full of energy. So I was attracted to real estate on kind of a kinetic level.
WILSON: It will be interesting to see if that legacy continues with your own children.
HOLMAN: It will. … A question for you: Our industry is known for folks who can be flamboyant in dress and presentation. I’ve heard about some sartorial fashion choices you’ve made at Fight Night.
WILSON: Oh, I know where you’re going with this. So my first year in the business, I got invited to Fight Night, which, as you know, is the biggest event in commercial real estate. I did not own a tux at the time, nor was I in a position to rent one. I was living as frugally as possible.
HOLMAN: Mustard sandwiches.
WILSON: Exactly. So, I knew Fight Night was a black tie event. Well, I had a black tie, and a kind of charcoal suit. Skyler Baty, Robbie’s wife, had invited me to join the two of them at the IA table. The night of the event, I realized I had a big stain on my black tie, so I called Skyler and asked her if it would be OK to wear a red tie. She assured me it would be fine. So I show up to Fight Night with my bright red tie, and as I’m walking in, I’m looking around and I realize I’m the only person there without a black tie. It was the first and last time I ever made that mistake. I now err on the side of fitting in. I gave Skyler a hard time afterward. … When you mentioned fashion, I thought you were going to ask me about my socks. Today I’m wearing the pizza-slice pair.
HOLMAN: I’m kind of branching out, too. I’ve got the bright stripes on today.
WILSON: I like to have fun with it. They’re becoming more and more popular.
HOLMAN: Well, when old guys are doing it, it’s getting out of control. It’s probably time to start going sock-less.
WILSON: My girlfriend thinks I have too many pairs, but they’re a lot cheaper than Hermès ties.
HOLMAN: And you don’t spill things on them.
WILSON: Exactly. … So, another thing I’ve learned about you, Ran, is that you’ve kept a journal since your college days. What made you decide to do that?
HOLMAN: I started in my early 20s. At that age, you have a lot on your mind. You’re at the precipice of your career, the next big chapter of your life. And for me, writing was a way to organize my thoughts. The truth is something that always comes out in writing. Unlike the spoken word, when you see the written words in front of you, it’s like looking in a mirror. The honesty comes through. For me, it was always a cathartic experience and a way to chronicle life and get my thoughts together. And then it just became something I enjoyed doing. I was never a writer in college, but I became a writer by virtue of learning to express myself through the written word.
WILSON: How do you think it has helped you?
HOLMAN: I’ve gained a lot. It has helped expand my vocabulary—reading has helped, too—and it helps me view life in order. I would have loved to have had a journal of my grandfather’s or great-grandfather’s, to learn about the issues they dealt with and the things in their lives that were real. My children and grandchildren will read what I wrote when I was in New York on 9/11. They’ll see what I was thinking and the fears I had. Sixteen years later, we all know what happened. But the fears that day were real. When I go back and read journal entries, it dislodges a number of other memories that had been forgotten. I wish I would have started when I was even younger.
WILSON: What a gift for your children and grandchildren.
HOLMAN: It’s funny. Kids think of their parents only through the lens of the time they first came into consciousness. We forget that they had a whole life before us. You never think of your dad as a guy who’s 25. To actually get a sense of who they were and what they were going through … I have over 1,000 pages of single-space, typewritten text. I’m glad I’m able to share that.
WILSON: It’s funny how your perspective changes as you get older. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked back and realized my parents were right about this or that.
HOLMAN: When I read about what my 25-year-old-self wrote, I was the same guy back then, I just wasn’t as wise. The things going through my mind at 25, I still can plug back into them. It makes me look at younger people differently, too.
WILSON: How often do you write?
HOLMAN: It depends on what’s going on with my life. I’ll typically write at least once a week. When my dad died, I probably wrote 20 pages. That was six years ago yesterday. I like to feel good. So when things are troubling me, I like to break them down. Some people have other outlets, but writing is the way I do it.
WILSON: Very interesting.
HOLMAN: You mentioned that you went to Sam Houston. What was that like?
WILSON: It’s the better of the two state institutions in Huntsville.
HOLMAN: No doubt.
WILSON: It was an affordable school and a small school in a small town. I grew up in Orange, Texas, so it was an easy transition to Huntsville. I joined Sigma Chi my freshman year and really got plugged into the social scene. Our fraternity house was five miles away from campus, basically in the middle of the woods, so we’d go hunting and fishing and do a lot of stuff you wouldn’t be able to do in Dallas, although I guess if you want to fish the Trinity, you can.
HOLMAN: If you’re Wyatt.
WILSON: Right. You can catch some carp out there. … One thing I wanted to ask you Ran, is to share your most demoralizing defeat in real estate, and what you learned from it.
HOLMAN: It was the most seminal moment of my career. It was 1995. Business was still not great. The deal list in Dallas was a fraction of what it is now. There were two really large deals out in the market. One was Octel, and the other was Amresco.
WILSON: Was this when you were with Cawley Partners?
HOLMAN: Yes. The CEO of Amresco was a very good friend, and Octel had told us our pitch presentation crushed it. Both of these were over 100,000 square feet. They were the biggest deals in the market. I was 33 years old, and these deals would have been incredibly meaningful. I knew we were going to get one of them, and I thought we probably were going to win both. But in the span of an hour, we learned we didn’t get both. The CEO at Amresco wanted to go with us, but the board turned it down. I was crushed. I was consumed with self-pity about all of this money I wasn’t going to make. And then the phone rings. It was a friend asking me if I would be a counselor at Camp John Marc, which is a camp for children with cancer, some of whom are struggling to live.
That moment transcended a lot of things for me. I felt ashamed that I was so selfish and self-consumed, and it reset something in me. It made me realize that yes, money is important—it underwrites our lives. But other things are much more important. It was a lesson that was put in front of me in very bold type, and it is one I never forgotten. My involvement with Camp John Marc continued for several years, and then I got on the board and when I was at CBRE we took them on as a charity with Chef’s Showcase. It all started with that one phone call, right when I was at the depths of my career. As it turned out, losing those deals is one of the best things that ever happened to me.
WILSON: You mentioned Cawley. I actually spoke to Bill as part of my due diligence on you. He told me about a conference the two of you attended in California, when you both unexpectedly caught the flu.
HOLMAN: Oh, right. I think it was a CoreNet conference. Bill and I were both ill but trying to power through it. We were exceedingly cheap, so everywhere we went we shared rooms and traveled as cheaply as we could. We were too sick to attend any of the conference presentations, so we both went back to the hotel room and we proceeded to start smoking cigars. For some reason they had this odd, medicinal effect. So we’re captives, prisoners in the room, because we were deathly ill, and the ESPN went out. Panic set in. We called the front desk and they sent help. When the maintenance guy came up and opened the door–have you ever seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High? You remember when Spicoli gets out of the van and smoke comes billowing out? Well, it was that kind of a deal. The maintenance guy looked at me and Cawley and said, “What in the world are you guys doing?” We stayed in that hotel room for two days and didn’t go to one bit of that conference. It was a complete waste of time and money.
WILSON: I’m sure your clothes reeked when you got home.
HOLMAN: It was definitely time to burn them.
WILSON: OK. So let’s do a rapid-fire round of questions.
WILSON: Vacation destination: Mountains or beach?
WILSON: For playing sports: football, basketball, baseball, or soccer?
WILSON: Same question, but watching.
HOLMAN: Same answer: Football.
WILSON: Hunting or fishing?
WILSON: Beverage of choice: Liquor, beer, or wine?
WILSON: Driving. Would you consider yourself aggressive or easy-going?
WILSON: OK. I like the honesty. Skiing: Same question.
HOLMAN: Mellowed with time … I have my moments.
WILSON: Sushi: Nigiri, sashimi, or rolls?
HOLMAN: OK. I’ve got some for you. Beatles or Stones?
HOLMAN: Elvis Presley or Elvis Costello?
WILSON: That’s a tough one. I like both, but I have to go with the King.
HOLMAN: Cats or dogs?
HOLMAN: Atta boy.
WILSON: Not even close. … Well, let’s end on a more serious note. You’ve been Market Leader here for a year now, and we’re all moved in to our new space. I’m curious: What do you want people in the market to think of when they think of Cushman & Wakefield? From my view, I would hope they would think that we’re the most talented firm and that we provide the highest level of customer service to our clients. I think as long as you keep your priorities straight and keep your focus on those two things, you’re bound for success.
HOLMAN: When I think about what we want to accomplish, it’s exceptional people, but it’s more than that. It’s exceptional people unified around a single purpose. The mantra is “excellence in every seat,” and that means a lot of things. It means integrity, ability, capability, it means a zeal and passion for the business. It’s a very broad concept. For us to achieve what we are capable of, it’s important that every link in the chain be very strong. So when any component of our enterprise faces a client, the client experience is similar.
I want Cushman & Wakefield to be the best real estate firm in Dallas, in everything we do. Every step we take, every communication we make, every client-facing activity, everything we do either points us toward that or takes us from that. Our decision to come to McKinney & Olive is not about expensive real estate. It’s about a commitment to doing things right. If all we do is rent expensive space, this is a waste of money.
I’m excited to be a part of fostering our future … how we continue to add wonderful, talented, passionate people, and how we get all of those pieces together and create the synapses needed to fire between them. The merger has been a difficult process, but things that are worth it are sometimes hard. We now have a global, top-three platform that feels like a speedboat. We can do things and make decisions locally that our brethren in other big shops can’t. We can be market disruptors. We can take it wherever we need to take it to be that relevant, top-of-market firm.
WILSON: And being here in Dallas and the market we have, there’s just really no better place to do it.