Trammell Crow Company


By: Diana J. Kleiner

Revised by: Spenser R. Rapone

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1996

Updated: June 2, 2022


Trammell Crow Company is a commercial real estate services company under the banner of the C.B. Richard Ellis Group with headquarters in Dallas and offices in more than twenty major United States cities and several European countries. Other Crow family investments have included Wyndham Hotels, Trammell Crow Farms, Trammell Crow Residential, and Trammell Crow International, with operations in eight foreign countries. The firm was founded by Trammell Crow, a Dallas native, who began as an accountant, learned management techniques in the United States Navy, and formed important contacts at a Dallas bank before entering the business. His first effort was to find tenants for a vacant warehouse belonging to the grain wholesaling firm of his wife's family, the Doggett Grain Company. When one of the tenants, battery manufacturer Ray-O-Vac, outgrew the space in 1948, Crow bought land and built a new warehouse for the firm, the first of a long line of warehouse and display buildings. His most valuable early experience in building came from designing and building a grain elevator at Texline. Benefitting from a postwar boom that made Dallas a regional business center, Crow and his early partners, John and Storey Stemmons, built more than fifty warehouses in Dallas. Crow pioneered the idea of "building on speculation" and used short lease arrangements that permitted him to raise rents over time, but was noted most for forming partnerships to complete his projects rather than a conventional corporate organization. He is considered the nation's largest non-government developer. After the Dallas Decorative Center in 1955, Crow went on to build the Dallas Market Center on the Trinity River, the Dallas Homefurnishing Mart in 1957, the Trade Mart with its distinctive atrium in 1960, and later the Infomart. He also completed Market Hall, the country's largest privately-owned exhibition facility, and numerous Wyndham hotels, shopping malls, and office-residence complexes. Outside Texas, Crow built San Francisco's Embarcadero Center and Atlanta's Peachtree Center. When John Stemmons balked at plans for the World Trade Center at Market Center, Crow bought out his interest.

By 1975, though his personal net worth totalled $70 million and his network comprised 604 partnerships, Crow's enterprises had begun to suffer from high interest rates, mounting debt, and a glut of office buildings and other real estate on the market. Crow was forced to sell off properties but continued to develop many projects simultaneously. In 1977 he reorganized the company, diversified into investment banking and property management, and relinquished his role as chief executive. J. McDonald “Don” Wlliams took over in the head leadership role and became managing partner in June 1977. As Crow’s biographer Robert Sobel commented, while his company “did not die” during the “crunch” of the mid-1970s, “it could be said to have been reborn in 1977.” At any rate, by 1984, when he completed Dallas's first post-modern skyscraper, the fifty-story Trammell Crow Center, the company had assets of $13 billion and employed 5,000 people. Problems in the Southwestern real estate market in the 1980s forced Crow to centralize operations and lose many of his commercial real estate partners in the process. While liabilities increased, the company’s equity fell from $1.7 billion in 1986 to $1.3 billion in 1988. During this period the company also faced a number of issues internally—chief among these being the ultimate business aim of Crow’s company and its attendant leadership. By the the end of the 1980s, due to the various internal and external challenges facing the company, including lessening demand and the loss of investment capital due to overbuilt markets, Crow named Joel Peterson managing partner in June 1988, upon the recommendation of Bob Kresko. Due to a number of contrasting visions, Peterson was removed from his position in 1990, with Don Williams once more assuming the head leadership position of the company that year.

Moving away from income-generating properties, the firm also spun off its property ownership into a separate operating company known as Trammell Crow Asset Management. Major projects in the 1980s included the Dallas Communications Complex, a series of movie sound studios planned to make suburban Las Colinas into a new Texas Hollywood, but continuing problems forced Crow to refinance 150 properties in 1990 and close regional offices thereafter. In 1991 the firm's commercial partnership interests were formed into a private corporation. At that time Trammell Crow Company, the commercial entity, employed 2,700 workers, trained at a company-run university, and had sales of $1,186 million. By 1992, with 286 million square feet under management, company partnerships controlled 6,500 properties worth $9 billion, and the firm had 2.8 million square feet under development. The company was the nation's largest real estate services firm providing property management, facilities management, construction/development, asset management, brokerage, and leasing/marketing services.

By the mid-1990s through the 2000s, the company experienced even more significant changes. Crow’s third son, Harlan, became the majority shareholder and owner of the company by 1994. Williams stepped down as CEO that same year, and Jim Carreker, Harlan’s confidant, took over. In 1997 the company became a publicly traded entity, selling and trading shares on the New York Stock Exchange. Perhaps most significantly of all, in 2006 the C.B. Richard Ellis Group, a Los Angeles commercial real estate firm, purchased the Trammell Crow Company for approximately $1.9 billion, maintaining its name and business focus but being fully absorbed as a subsidiary of the firm. Company founder Trammell Crow died in 2009. Mike Lafitte, took over as CEO from Matt Khourie in January 2021. In the 2020s, with a value of approximately $60 billion, the Trammell Crow Company continues its operations and business ventures in more than twenty cities across the United States and internationally.

Dallas Business Journal, January 14, 2021. William Bragg Ewald, Jr., Trammell Crow: A Legacy of Real Estate Business Innovation (Washington, D.C.: Urban Land Institute, 2005). New York Times, January 15, 2009. “Our Legacy,” Trammell Crow Company (https://www.trammellcrow.com/en/about/corporate-information/legacy), accessed June 2, 2022. Robert Sobel, Trammell Crow, Master Builder (New York: John Wiley, 1989). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2006.

Categories:
  • Business
  • Urbanization
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Diana J. Kleiner Revised by Spenser R. Rapone, “Trammell Crow Company,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/trammell-crow-company.

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January 1, 1996
June 2, 2022

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