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Connect, Winter 2009-2010 - Recalling an extraordinary life and career: F. Trammell Crow - EY - United States

Recalling an extraordinary life and careerF. Trammell Crow

F. Trammell Crow

EY alumni comprise a virtual “who’s who” of business and community leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs, public policy-makers and academicians. Beginning with this issue of Connect, we tell the stories of our distinguished alumni who, although they are no longer with us, continue to spread their legacy of leadership.

In the world of real estate development, few names are as recognizable as that of F. Trammell Crow. During a career spanning six decades, Crow — or simply “Trammell” as he was known to virtually every colleague or business partner — was the driving force behind tremendous innovation.

Hand-in-hand with his innovative and entrepreneurial bent, Crow was the consummate risk-taker. As friend and longtime business associate Anne Raymond recalls, “Trammell believed that if you’re too cautious, you’ll never get anything done.” Moreover, says Raymond, now CFO of Crow Holdings, Crow’s style was remarkably inclusive: “With him, there was never an organizational chart [nor] an ounce of bureaucracy.”

A culture of inclusion

Raymond still recalls her first days at the company, walking in to see a wide-open space with no offices or doors. Not even Crow himself had an office. Instead, the culture Crow pursued, says Raymond, was one where everyone was an equal and everyone was able to contribute. “Trammell wanted to be there to speak with whomever he needed to. Regardless of seniority, if you were there, you were an integral part of what was happening.”

In addition, Raymond says, “Trammell had a remarkable ability to make everyone in his sphere believe they could do things they never dreamed they could do.”

For example, before Crow, most commercial real estate was built-to-order. But beginning in the 1940s, Crow pioneered the practice of speculative construction. His first work, in 1942, was an 11,250-square-foot warehouse near downtown Dallas, Tex. Within 15 years, he’d built 50 more such structures, expanding the Trinity River Industrial District by over 2 million square feet.

Then, in 1956, Crow added the Dallas Furniture Mart to his résumé, a move credited with displacing Chicago as the center of the US furniture industry. That same year, Crow’s 1 million-square-foot Dallas Trade Mart became the first building of its kind to include an atrium.

His success continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s: the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco; the Brussels Trade Mart in Belgium; the World Trade Center in Dallas; and the Peachtree Center in Atlanta. Crow’s vision and energy injected economic growth and vibrancy wherever they were applied.

Risk and reward

Along the way, the developer acquired a reputation for taking risks. But he was far from reckless. As Raymond observes, Crow was a believer in doing his homework and sharing the rewards. For example, he was remarkably detail-oriented, something Raymond attributes to Crow’s early years as a CPA. “Trammell knew what to look for. He knew immediately whether or not the numbers would work — or if they wouldn’t work what could be done to fix it.” In addition, he believed he could accomplish risk-sharing through wealth-sharing. “Trammell wanted partners and colleagues to be highly motivated,” says Raymond. “So in any deal with Trammell, you could always see the rewards. By combining careful deal analysis with motivated participants, Raymond says, Crow was able to “turn risk into opportunity.”

Another of Crow’s traits was his high energy. “Trying to keep pace with Trammell was a privilege, not a burden,” Raymond recalls, “and he never asked any more of anyone else than he did of himself.” Moreover, Crow retained his drive well past the point where others might be ready to retire. In fact, Crow was in his late 60s when he undertook what would become the US$4 billion Wyndham Hotels chain. As Raymond observes, “most executives at that point are winding down,” but not Crow. Instead, “he was always focused on the next big vision.”

The legacy continues

On 14 January 2009, the world lost one of its most extraordinary entrepreneurs — and EY one of its most distinguished alumni. It was 1938 when, at the age of 24, Crow passed the Texas CPA examination. That made Crow not only the youngest CPA in Texas history at that time, but also the youngest CPA in the Dallas EY office.

As Raymond now observes, “I think you’d have to say that his accounting background helped with everything else Trammell was able to achieve.” As evidence, Trammell wrote a series of letters to his son Harlan, urging him to “study accounting, accounting, accounting.” Harlan may not have followed his father’s advice, but he nonetheless seems to see the value behind the thinking: “Harlan’s now running the company,” says Raymond, “but four of the five members of the executive team are CPAs.”

Today, the legacy of Trammell Crow continues. Crow Holdings remains active in commercial real estate investment and development. But the touch of Trammell Crow extends far beyond those corporate boundaries. As Raymond explains, “I doubt if there’s a real estate company in the country that doesn’t have a leader or partner who in one way or another was involved with or influenced by Trammell.” He was, says Raymond, “an extraordinary soul.”

Crow is survived by his wife of over 67 years, Margaret Doggett Crow.

Winter 2009/2010

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