CEO on Leadership: Larry Heard, CEO, Transwestern
By: Ron Derven, contributing editor
The president of this Houston, Texas-based commercial real estate services, investment management and development firm offers his perspective on the industry.
FOUNDED IN 1978, Transwestern has grown to 35 cities nationwide with more than 2,300 employees. It is comprised of three firms specializing in nationwide services, investment management and development. Trans-western Commercial Services leases and manages approximately 400 million square feet of space around the U.S. while providing comprehensive services to owners and occupiers of commercial real estate; Transwestern Investment Group has more than $4.3 billion in assets under management; and Transwestern Development Co. has completed more than $1.32 billion of real estate developments since 2013.
The Transwestern family of companies – which also includes Ridge, the industrial arm of Transwestern Development Co., and Delta Associates, Transwestern’s research affiliate – represents some of the largest investors, owners and occupiers of commercial real estate in the world.
Development: What is your primary role as CEO?
Larry Heard: My primary role is bringing to life our company’s purpose statement: empowering good people to do extraordinary things together. As CEO of the Transwestern family of companies for the past 15 years, I feel a personal obligation to everyone in the firm. I enjoy working with the leadership teams of each company to establish and pursue our shared vision and create business strategies to serve our clients at the highest level possible. Working to unleash the talent of 2,300 team members is a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
Development: What qualities do you look for when hiring senior staff?
Heard: We look for natural leadership skills: an excellent communicator, a trustworthy person and a person with a proven track record of success and integrity. [We want] a confident person that thinks creatively and “out of the box.” We also appreciate team players, [people who can] build consensus and inspire those with whom they work.
Development: When one of your employees makes a mistake, how is it addressed internally?
Heard: Directly and with compassion. Mistakes are often the byproduct of trying something new and the pursuit of innovation or a higher standard. We try to convert a mistake into a learning experience, but we deal with it in a direct and unambiguous manner.
Development: How does your company prepare for and weather the inevitable downturns in our industry?
Heard: First, we have worked hard to diversify our firm and our activities. We have developed a number of revenue streams. When transaction volumes slow, while we feel the effects, they are moderated somewhat by our other lines of business. Secondly, we are committed to annual strategic planning. Through this annual practice, we try to stay close to the business cycles that will come, and we always have a fairly well-developed contingency plan for a downturn.
Development: What advice would you give someone entering the commercial real estate industry today?
Heard: Be prepared to work hard and persevere through adversity. Show up every day and be resilient. Surround yourself with smart people you trust and admire. Stay humble but develop confidence. Have integrity with everything you do. Become an excellent communicator and an even better listener. Work well in a team construct and give teammates credit for their contributions. Be a continual learner, as the pace of change is accelerating in all businesses. Take responsibility for your actions, especially mistakes. Enjoy what you do.
Development: Did you have a mentor early in your career? What did they teach you?
Heard: I have had a number of mentors throughout my life and career. I have worked with Robert Duncan, Transwestern’s founder and chairman, for close to 35 years. I learned a lot from him in the mid- to late 1980s as real estate firms, ours included, endured a brutal economic downturn. His resolve was instructive, but so was his commitment to do the right thing and be transparent throughout the process. We celebrate our 40th anniversary as a firm this year, and some of our greatest achievements have emerged from our most difficult challenges. Grandparents, aunts and uncles have also been great mentors over the years. I always felt comfortable asking questions, and they were always generous with their thoughts and opinions.