by Christine Perez
In this month’s edition of 1-on-1, Industrial guru Stuart Smith talks with Office Tenant Rep Natalie Snyder Bode. Their wide-ranging discussion includes a look back at ranch life in West Texas, boom times and recessions, the Bee Gees and The Doobie Brothers, and why Dallas is well positioned for ongoing success.
A Senior Director in Cushman & Wakefield’s Dallas office, Stuart Smith is a 35-year real estate veteran with experience in all phases of commercial real estate, including facility acquisition and disposition, environmentally problematic properties, build-to-suit-to-own, build-to-suit-to-lease, tenant and landlord representation, consulting, and site acquisition and disposition. During his career, he has completed more than 800 assignments totaling more than 90 million square feet. Smith has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Tulane University.
Director Natalie Snyder Bode specializes in office tenant representation, acquisitions and dispositions, and consulting. She has extensive experience with lease renewals, lease restructuring, and corporate headquarter relocations. Throughout her 11-year career, she has completed more than 200 transactions. Bode has a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance from Texas A&M University, where she graduated Magna Cum Lade.
STUART SMITH: I’ll get the ball rolling. So, Natalie, I understand you grew up on a ranch in West Texas.
NATALIE SNYDER BODE: That’s correct. I grew up Baird, a town of about 1,500 people outside of Abilene. I had a lot of chores, growing up on a ranch. But I’m grateful, because it taught me to be responsible in life.
SMITH: You must have gotten pretty comfortable in a saddle.
BODE: Yes. We had horses on our ranch, and when I was in junior high and high school, I would help my dad round up cattle and then work the cattle. We would ride anywhere from 3 miles to 10 miles a day on horseback, driving the cattle to the pens. By the second or third day of this, I was always really sore.
SMITH: What were some of your chores?
BODE: It varied, depending on my age. One of my jobs was to push the baby cows through the shoot, which was pretty hard because they would kick you and stomp on your feet. Then I’d hop over the fence and help with clipping their ears, branding, de-horning, and changing bulls into steers. My dad paid me $50 a day for that, which was a lot of money back then. Another job I had was hauling bales of hay. When I was younger, I would feed bottled milk to some of the baby cows, if they had been abandoned by their mothers. I named one of the baby cows Blue Jean. I’d also help clean the house, mow the yard, sweep out the barn, and clean the horses after they had been ridden, things like that. I did a lot.
SMITH: It sounds like it. And I’m sure you had to deal with some pretty harsh environmental conditions, too.
BODE: Yes. There were a lot of droughts and grass fires. It was always a big concern because the grass fires could totally wipe out our livestock and destroy all of the vegetation. I remember a fire that came through in 1988 that burned up nearly 300,000 acres in two counties. A lot of people lost their homes and livestock and oil rigs. Fortunately, it missed our ranch. Disasters like these always bring a community together. My dad served as part of the volunteer fire department, and any time there was a grass fire, the farmers and ranchers would all team up and battle them together.
SMITH: What did you do for fun, growing up in such a remote location?
BODE: You kind of had to make your own fun. We didn’t have cable TV, and our closest neighbor was about a mile away. The family had three daughters who were about my age. In the summers they would fill up a cattle trough with water, and we would go swimming. The girls had a pet deer, and sometimes they would let the deer in the house. Another thing I liked to do for fun was talk on the CB radio. Before cell phones, my parents used CB radios to communicate with each other. I loved to talk with all the truckers on the CB radio. I got a kick out of that. … What about you? Where did you grow up?
SMITH: I was born in Dallas and grew up in Garland, back when Garland was a small town of about 12,000 people. It was a classic blue-collar town, where Friday night football was king and the only crime in the city was vandalism. Interestingly, Dan Cook and Rick Hughes are both from Garland, as well. They were a year behind me at a cross-town high school, and Robbie Baty’s father, Gaines, was a year ahead of me at my high school. So there’s a bit of a Garland connection at Cushman & Wakefield Dallas.
BODE: I didn’t know that. So, did you have a lot of chores or have a job in high school?
SMITH: I did not. I was on the golf team, the basketball team, and I was senior class president. I enjoyed a much less stressful life than you did, growing up.
BODE: [laughs] Well, it wasn’t all work. Our family moved to Abilene when I was 13 years old, and the logistics of life became a lot easier. School was a lot closer to home, so I got more involved in sports and other activities. I was serious about playing tennis. I made the varsity team my freshman year at Abilene High, and we won the state 5A championship. Unfortunately, I developed a back injury, which put me in a back brace for about a year. That’s when I took up shooting, as it was one of the few sports I could do in a back brace.
SMITH: Tell me more about your shooting career, and your experiences with guns.
BODE: I have owned a handful of shotguns throughout my life. When I was 16 years old, my dad purchased a Browning Citori over/under for me. It was a 1986 model, Grade VI, 12 gauge shotgun with all of the sub-gauge tubes. I shot this gun at nearly all of my skeet shooting competitions, and it is still my favorite. Throughout high school, I made some of the All-State and All-American teams in skeet shooting. At Texas A&M, I was on the trap and skeet team. In 2004, I was the Lady Collegiate National Champion in sporting clays. I shot for four years but pretty much retired in 2004 to focus more on my grades, boys and getting involved in the business school.
SMITH: What led you to pursue a career in commercial real estate?
BODE: I took a strengths and aptitude test in college. It showed that I was a nearly perfect match for a career in sales or venture capital financing. That led me to investigate different careers in sales, including commercial real estate.
SMITH: You began your career by working with Robert Deptula and Nora Hogan at Transwestern.
BODE: That’s right. I started working for Robert and Nora right after I graduated from A&M in 2007.
SMITH: They’re both terrific. What did you learn from them?
BODE: Nora taught me how to work a transaction from start to finish, and she taught me about the client service side of the business. Robert was very helpful on the business development aspect of commercial real estate. He taught me that having a sense of humor is really important, as is being authentic and unique. Anyone who knows Robert knows that saying he is unique is an understatement!
SMITH: [laughs] That’s true.
BODE: I also learned from Bill de la Chapelle and Karra Guess, who was with Transwestern at the time. The two of them had a great deal of confidence in me and made me believe that I could achieve more than I thought I could.
SMITH: I remember when I first met you, when you were just getting started. You seemed to be at every single broker function. Were you that hungry for knowledge, or just hungry and there for the free food?
BODE: [laughs] Probably a little bit of both.
SMITH: How did you get to Cushman & Wakefield?
BODE: Matt Heidelbaugh called me when I was at Transwestern to see if I had any interest in coming over to C&W. I had some long conversations with him and with Mike Wyatt, and was impressed by the brokerage platform. I also spoke with some of the women producers here. There were rumors about Cushman & Wakefield merging with DTZ, but thought that could create some opportunities.
SMITH: Looking back over your 11-year career, what, if anything, would you do differently? Also, what advice would you give to someone just getting started in the industry?
BODE: I would have hired a professional sales coach sooner. This is the first year I’ve worked with one and it has been extremely helpful. As far as advice, you can never make enough prospecting calls. And once you make money, you need to save money. … OK. Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. Where did you go to college, and what was your major?
SMITH: I went to Tulane University in New Orleans, and I majored in political science.
BODE: That’s interesting. Do you still keep up with politics?
SMITH: I think politics is absolutely fascinating, especially today, as polarized as everything is. It’s interesting when people say we’ve never had an environment as polarized as this. Well, they just need to check the history books and look back at the Civil War. There was truly never such polarization as there was at that time. People today don’t want to hear about politics. They want to turn off the television. But I believe all of us, as responsible citizens in this democracy, need to get involved. As Eldridge Cleaver said, “You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.”
BODE: That’s very true. Have you found your poli-sci degree to be useful in commercial real estate?
SMITH: Yes, but less from our side of the table and more a question of the impact of politics on our corporate clients. Politics touches everything we do, every day of our lives.
BODE: Did you go straight into real estate when you got out of school?
SMITH: I did not. I graduated in 1974, in the middle of the Arab oil embargo. The country was in a recession and jobs were very hard to come by. I found out I could get paid quite handsomely for playing guitar and singing in a hotel bar in New Orleans. I did that for about a year and lived in the French Quarter, then I went on the road for about four more years and ended up playing in all kinds of bands, including a short stint with a disco band. Can you imagine me with platform shoes and bell bottoms?
BODE: [laughs] I want to see pictures.
SMITH: Not a chance. I ended up in a country band at the end of my music career. But even after I got into real estate, I moonlighted on the weekends playing private parties, including the Polo Club out on 544, with a bunch of studio musicians who were also moonlighting for extra money. It was a blast.
BODE: And I understand you’ve released a couple of CDs?
SMITH: That’s right. I recorded a Christmas CD 35 years ago, in response to people asking me to make a record. Then last year, I decided to make a crooner CD. I realized I wasn’t getting any younger, and I had always loved music of the 1950s and 1960s, from Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, and others. So, I recorded a CD with 11 of my favorite songs of that era, and I give them away as gifts.
BODE: When I was growing up, my parents played music from the 1960s and 1970s, and it’s probably still my favorite era of music. Most of my friends, older millennials and Gen-Xers echo that same sentiment. What is it about music from those two decades that makes it so enduring?
SMITH: The music that led up to and came out of that era was a function of the cultural, social, moral, and religious influences of that time. There was a lot of backlash from the staid culture of the 1950’s, coming out of the post-World War II era, leading to the Civil Rights movement, three political assassinations, the most tumultuous year of 2 decades in 1968, and the Vietnam War, and culminating with Kent State when four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard. It brought everything to a crescendo. Then, there was the disillusionment created by Watergate. The amount of music coming out during this time was incredibly diverse and prolific. It started with the protest folk music of Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary in Greenwhich Village, while on the West Coast the Beach Boys were creating the fun-in-the-summer-sun sound that still comes around for three months every year. There was the British invasion of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Motown explosion, which was truly unbelievable when you think about how many artists were part of that. And then there was Woodstock. The late ’60s and early ’70s gave way to The Eagles, Dan Fogelberg, James Taylor, and country rock groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, and the Marshall Tucker band.
BODE: I love all of those bands. In the ’70s, the Marshall Tucker Band wrote and recorded, “Can’t You See,” and then Waylon Jennings covered the song shortly after that.
SMITH: Groups like that gave rise to the new world of country music, a departure from the rhinestones and the Grand Ol’ Opry. The bands that came out of those decades still endure today because of the quality of the music and the relevance and meaning of the lyrics. Think about the three-part harmonies that were so popular of that era, like the Bee Gees, the Eagles, and particularly Crosby, Stills & Nash, and of course the Beach Boys. We’ve never experienced, before or since, anything like that level of productivity in the music industry.
BODE: What’s your favorite band of all time?
SMITH: I could never name just one. My favorites are still the Beach Boys from my formative years, Crosby Stills & Nash, the Doobie Brothers, the Eagles, and the Bee Gees, both in the ’60s and their later rebirth in the ’70s. I think the Bee Gees are underrated; they have been incredibly influential.
BODE: My husband, Andrew, and I share a love for the same type of music. We like going to classic rock concerts and older country music concerts. We saw the Rolling Stones and Tom Petty, right before he died. On the country side, we recently saw Alabama and Alan Jackson.
SMITH: I heard you recently were married. Congratulations!
BODE: Thank you.
SMITH: What does your husband do, vocationally?
BODE: He works in commercial real estate for Fults Commercial and is also a general partner in the Texas Ice House, which is a cold storage business. He’s working on starting an ice distribution company as well. So, his day is a lot more varied than mine. I call him the “Ice man,” kind of like Val Kilmer in Top Gun.
BODE: How did you make the transition from music to commercial real estate?
SMITH: Well, I couldn’t use my five years of experience in the music industry as a way to break in. I had to rely on a family connection to get some interviews. I was given a break by Gary Lindsey, now at Newmark, who was at Swearingen at the time. He said, “I’ve got some good news and bad news. The good news is, we want to hire you. The bad news is, you’re going to have to save up enough money to support yourself for a year before we’ll let you start.”
BODE: Wow. How did you save up the money?
SMITH: I moved back in with my parents and just scraped it together. I worked two jobs and did whatever else I could to make money, and socked it away. I lived like a pauper for a year. And then I lived like a pauper my first year in real estate.
BODE: What was the industry like back in the 1980s, compared to today?
SMITH: It was so much less sophisticated, and not nearly as competitive. Back then, we were, effectively, glorified runners. We didn’t have fax machines back then, let alone email. When we put real estate deals together, we ferried real estate leases and contracts back and forth between landlords and tenants and attorneys. There were no cell phones, so we would make phone calls from any and every stop we made. And when you wanted to look up property ownership, you didn’t go to DCAD on a computer, you went down to the tax office and looked it up in hard-bound books.
BODE: How did you keep track of people’s names and numbers and other information?
SMITH: You took good notes, wrote it all down, and created your own filing system.
BODE: That sounds like a lot of work.
SMITH: It was.
BODE: You’ve been through a number of recessions, throughout your career. When do you think the next one will hit, and how do you think it will compare to previous recessions?
SMITH: I got into the business in 1982. We were edging into the back end of a recession. Then the economy came back with a roar, as a function of the changes in the Savings and Loan laws, which allowed the S&Ls to function mostly like banks. That gave rise to the bandits that bought up all of the rural S&Ls, creating an artificial real estate economy that ultimately collapsed. Of all the recessions we’ve been through, that was the worst. Dallas, along with Denver and Houston, was completely blacklisted by institutional investors. The other real estate recessions that followed weren’t nearly as deep.
BODE: When do you think the current economic expansion will come to an end?
SMITH: I don’t think anyone would have predicted that the current boom would last this long. It’s truly phenomenal and unprecedented. Most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, thought it would end several years ago. Those who kept investing certainly have reaped the rewards. Some people think we have another 18 months; others say 36 months. To me, the scariest thing we’re facing is the level of global debt. It appears to be growing far faster than total global wealth. Sooner or later, that will take its toll.
BODE: It doesn’t sound like it will end well.
SMITH: But if you look at the other side of the equation, everyone wants to buy, and no one wants to sell. I don’t know of an economic indicator that could be stronger than that, at least in Dallas/Fort Worth. People remain very interested in investing in commercial real estate. The supply/demand is pushing investors to secondary and tertiary markets, as they search for product. It’s also making a lot of people rethink the idea of buying land in the remaining infill sites, if they have nowhere else to put their money.
BODE: We have our ranch in West Texas that’s for sale, if you have any prospects.
SMITH: [laughs] Good ol’ Texas land.
BODE: How did you select industrial real estate as your area of specialty?
SMITH: It was by default, as the guy who hired me who was in industrial real estate. It wasn’t a matter of choice, it was a matter of finding someone who would give me an opportunity.
BODE: What made you stick with it?
SMITH: The freedom that I had always enjoyed as a musician and a college student was perpetuated in the commercial real estate industry. It’s one of the truly great things about our industry. You can work long hours, you can work strange hours, and still get everything accomplished. There is a lot of flexibility, and I love that. … What led you to pursue office tenant representation?
BODE: The aptitude test I took in college said that I was a risk-taker who had entrepreneurial tendencies. I talked with people in different sectors in commercial real estate, and decided that the tenant rep side would give me the most leeway to control my own destiny. I could call on as many companies as I wanted, and I wasn’t limited by product. There seemed to be more companies hiring on the office side in Dallas, so that factored into my decision as well.
SMITH: Do you think you made the right choice?
BODE: Definitely. I really enjoy it. It allows me to be myself and play to my strengths. I like the marketing aspect of it. I like the competition and the chase. I like winning presentations. I like the people side of it, getting to know clients and helping them work through their challenges and finding solutions for them. It’s like running your own business; you set priorities for yourself. You get up every day and decide what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. I’ve always had a fiery independent streak, so it’s a good fit.
SMITH: The other thing I love about commercial real estate is there is no ceiling to what you can earn. It’s still the Wild, Wild West, and you eat what you kill. It’s like the saying, “Make dust or eat dust.”
BODE: What have been some of your strategies for success?
SMITH: One of Wayne Swearingen’s former partners, Bill Lawley, told us early in my career that real estate is, has been, and always will be a relationship business. Never have truer words been spoken. You look at the most successful brokers across North Texas, and all of them have deep and solid relationships throughout the market. One of the most challenging things for me at this point in my career, with my long tenure, is developing relationships with the new people replacing my contacts who have moved on to other positions within a company, who are now with different companies or retired.
BODE: So many more of the decision makers today are Gen-X and female. When I first got into the business, it was all Baby Boomer men. Just in the short period of time that I’ve been in the business, I’ve seen a big shift.
SMITH: It’s one of many changes. The business is so incredibly sophisticated now, in terms of financial analysis and understanding the motivation of corporations in terms of EBITDA, stockholder value that and other metrics were never issues in real estate decisions in the past. The level of sophistication within our own firm is mind-boggling, with the type of services we can bring to corporate clients and individual high-net-worth clients as well.
BODE: No matter what kind of complex challenge a company is facing, we have the depth, in terms of service lines and expertise, to help. Cushman & Wakefield has a lot of specialty practice groups, tools, and resources that can drive value for our clients. The sophisticated financial analysis Maureen Kelly Cooper does, the valuation & advisory group, the financial reporting group, business consulting, economic incentives, build-to-suits and project management, your expertise on land sales and Rick Hughes’ knowledge of data centers. Whatever companies need, we have an expert here who can help.
SMITH: It’s an exciting time for our firm, and an exciting time for Dallas.
BODE: It is, with all of the companies moving here. They’re escaping other states, due to state income taxes and regulatory burdens, as well as the cost of living, especially in coastal cities. They are all coming to Dallas, and that’s very exciting, looking forward.
SMITH: I would agree. We have a lot of reasons to be optimistic. We are fortunate to be geographically situated in the middle of the Western Hemisphere in a global economy. We have so many things going for us here, from the weather climate to the business climate, which drives so much of our success in luring companies to this area. As a native of Dallas-Fort Worth, one thing I’ve always loved about the area is how friendly people are and how the frontier spirit still drives the city. The can-do spirit, the willingness to take risks—it’s why Dallas has achieved all that it has.