Back to School with Dana Compton

The North Texas Chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) selects a group of commercial real estate professionals every year to go into the trenches and spend nine months together to learn, grow and hopefully have some fun along the way. Dana Compton, our Director of Business Development was selected to participate this year and we are excited to share her journey with you over the next nine months. Below you will find in Dana’s own words how each class went and what she learns along the way.


I am honored to be in the ULI Center for Leadership Class of 2020. I’ll check in on this blog after each class and share with you what I’ve learned. This is my journey and I’m taking you with me. Let’s go!

Day 1: DFW in Context

My day started very early as I met my friend and classmate, Bo Trainor (BGE), on the TRE to ride to Dallas. Being Tarrant County dwellers, we decided that life’s too short to drive to Dallas this early in the morning, so we relaxed on the train instead. The train picked me up at 6:42am. It was pretty early to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but so it goes on the first day of school. Look how dark it was outside. This photo is as blurry as I felt at that moment.

Bell Station.jpg

I had never taken the train before so I was grateful to Bo for guiding me and sitting in a place where I could easily find him. I pictured myself in heels and a dress, trying to jump in between cars and it’s not pretty. It was a peaceful and quick ride to Victory Station, and we got to watch the sun rise on the ride.

Victory Station.jpg

Bo and I took a Lyft to the office of Husch & Blackwell in the beautiful and brand new 1900 N. Pacific building. Here I got to meet my fellow classmates (those who I didn’t know previously) and settle in for a day of learning. To introduce ourselves to our fellow classmates, we were asked to come up with a walk-up song that shows our personality and submit a photo that represents us. My walk up song was “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (naturally), which was the #1 song the day I was born. My photo was of me playing the upright bass in my big band. There were some hilarious songs and photos and it was nice to see that side of each of my classmates’ personalities.

Session 1

Our first session was a talk with Charlie Brindell, who is the Executive Chairman at Mill Creek Residential. Charlie talked about how he got to his position at Mill Creek from his beginnings at the University of North Carolina (he discussed the origins of the term Tarheel to a great extent) to his tenure as CEO of Trammell Crow Residential and now Mill Creek. He talked about how he weathered three major economic downturns in his career.

PRO TIP: The way to make it through a recession is to have a good balance sheet, appropriate liquidity and good relationships with your clients. They will carry you through.

Charlie also discussed how to prepare for the next generation in your company’s leadership.

PRO TIP: Succession planning isn’t about when someone might step away. It’s about when they need to step away. Succession planning has to start at the top to be successful. It is also very important to let key clients know what’s going on so they are comfortable.

Finally, Charlie parted with these words of wisdom: Nothing will mean more for our careers than a strong network of people. And that’s what this class is all about!

Charlie Brindell with our Class Co-Chairs, Ryan Davis (Whitten Advisors) and Tyler Johnson (Husch Blackwell)

Our next speaker was Dr. Cullum Clark, the Director of the George W. Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative and an Adjunct Professional of Economics at SMU.

Cullum spoke about the mission of the Bush Institute, and the interesting research work that they are doing on domestic economic policy and economic growth. We learned that DFW is growing with an unusually large net migration of people from inside the United States as well as internationally.

PRO TIP: The next counties to watch for massive growth are Cooke, Grayson, Hunt and Ellis. This is due to the large build-out already taking place in the DFW metro counties.

Dr. Clark from the George W. Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative

Dr. Clark from the George W. Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative

We then walked to lunch at SAVOR, which was delicious if you haven’t tried it. (Try their tomato-basil soup – yum!) The building is cool too, with lots of glass and good views.

After lunch, we walked over to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas for a tour. If you haven’t been to the Federal Reserve, I highly recommend it. This was my second time to take the tour and I found it just as interesting as the first time. You learn all about the history of money in the United States, which is more fascinating than it sounds. Plus, the building is very cool inside. Go check it out - anyone can tour it, as long as they bring a photo ID.

Federal Reserve Interior Lobby

Federal Reserve Interior Lobby

After the tour, we sat down with Laila Assanie, a Senior Business Economist with the Federal Reserve, who caught us up on the Texas Economy. She said that the Texas economy is solid but is facing increasing headwinds. 2018 was the year of recovery in the Texas economy and we are now experiencing strong job growth and construction numbers. Our unemployment rate is low (3.4%), and all the growth is due to the domestic and international migration of people. (This mirrored exactly what we heard earlier in the morning from The Bush Institute.) Texas was one of the first states to come out of The Great Recession. Here’s how well we’re doing:

  • In Texas, construction peaked in 2015 with another surge in 2018. We are still building above average.

  • DFW office absorption has slowed and vacancy is rising, but we are trending better than other metropolitan areas in Texas.

  • DFW leads the United States in apartment demand by a wide margin (we currently have a need of 10,443 units).

  • Texas home sales reversed course in 2019 and are on the rise.

  • Fort Worth leads the state in median home price appreciation.

It’s not all rosy, though. The headwinds we are facing in Texas consist of the labor market situation. Texas firms are reporting that it is hard to hire due to lack of applicants. I know we are definitely experiencing this in the construction industry.

PRO TIP: Keep up-to-date with this information as it comes out by visiting www.dallasfed.org, where they update their blog twice per week.

Laila Assanie, Senior Business Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Laila Assanie, Senior Business Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

We walked back to Husch Blackwell’s office, where we broke out into small groups to discuss the book that we read in preparation for this class, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. My group consisted mostly of design professionals and developers, and we had a great discussion with our facilitator about how thoughtfully designed cities make a world of difference in everyone’s quality of life.

We stayed in our small groups and were visited by some of DFW’s most prominent commercial real estate leaders where we got to ask them questions and discuss today’s issues in our industry. They moved from group to group, which exposed us to lots of great insight. I learned so much and appreciated the time with each of them. The leaders were:

  • Lucy Billingsley (Billingsley Company)

  • Patricia Gibson (Banner Oak)

  • Michele Wheeler (Jackson-Shaw)

  • Michael Levy (Crow Holdings)

  • Brad Taylor (JPI)

  • John Walsh (TIG Real Estate Investments)

Small group discussions with industry leaders

We finished off this incredible day with a happy hour and a class picture. Day 2 is coming up and I look forward to it!

The Class 02.jpg