…It is also important for team members to be accountable to each other and to measure performance in pursuit of personal and company-wide goals. People want to understand what they are playing for and how strong performance can enhance compensation. Removing ambiguity in this regard typically increases performance and overall job satisfaction.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Larry P. Heard. Larry is the CEO of the Transwestern family of companies, which comprises diversified real estate operating, investment management and development organizations. The privately held, fully integrated enterprise leverages competencies in office, industrial, retail, multifamily and healthcare to add value for investors, owners and occupiers of real estate. Larry has been active in the commercial real estate business since 1981. He joined Transwestern in 1983 and was appointed president and chief executive officer of the firm in 2002. Larry and the senior management of the Transwestern companies have led the firm’s expansion to 34 cities nationwide with global capabilities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a finance major graduating from Baylor University, I was attracted to the pace of the commercial real estate business and the diversity of skills required to bring a real estate development project to life. I believe you can make a career in this business without experiencing the dullness associated with redundancy. After 38 years in the industry, I have found that this business is both inspiring and challenging at the same time, creating an environment of continuous learning for everyone in our industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Well, with 35 years at Transwestern and 17 years as CEO, it would be difficult to pick a single story. However, managing the firm through the 2008–2009 downturn and navigating those choppy waters with great partners and team members around the country was both a demanding and fulfilling experience. The shared sacrifice we all experienced actually strengthened the fabric of our company. We emerged a better and stronger firm for the experience. It was a testament to the teamwork that has always been a hallmark of Transwestern.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Of course — we are always working on new and exciting projects. Some of the most dynamic projects we are working on are complex and broad in scope. Those require the expertise from all three of the Transwestern companies. Transwestern Investment Group is acquiring properties in fund formats or separate accounts on behalf of primarily institutional investors. Transwestern Development Company is developing projects where demand outstrips existing, functional supply. Transwestern Commercial Services is retained to lease and manage properties, and often negotiate the sale of those assets. Our Occupier Solutions group is doing the same thing on the user side of the equation. Some of our premier and largest assignments require two or all three of our companies working in concert, which is the true power of our platform. That is our differentiator from a private company format.
Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
First of all, that is a hugely disappointing statistic. Many employees probably lack visibility into how their job matters to their company. They may view themselves as a small part of a big process. This can make people feel that their work is not valued by company leadership and that they have no impact on the big picture. Also, unhappiness can come about on a more personal level. For example, having a suboptimal relationship with a supervisor, feeling like a role is not challenging enough, or miscommunication about expectations can all lead to a person becoming disengaged from his or her company.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability and c) employee health and wellbeing?
Companies that achieve peak performance typically do it by having a fully engaged and high-performing workforce. If people are operating at less than peak performance, it will impact the company across the board and keep it from reaching its full potential. Being intentional with each person regarding their career and role on the team leads to a fully aligned and motivated workforce.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
It starts with clearly communicating a company’s vision and then creating an environment where people can connect with that vision. To be successful, a company must foster an environment that is rich with genuine, mutual respect. The key word there is “genuine.” People are smart and need to feel appreciated, respected, and valued.
People also want to be associated with successful companies and be on a winning team. Keeping our clients and investors happy by meeting and exceeding their expectations is a consistent goal and hard-wired into our mantra of legendary service. Bringing on new clients and expanding the firm is also critical to creating new opportunities for our individuals and their teams. We are a growth firm and are inspired and incented to stay on an upward trajectory. Communicating successes to team members demonstrates how their contributions make a difference and reinforces their commitment to the firm.
It is also important for team members to be accountable to each other and to measure performance in pursuit of personal and company-wide goals. People want to understand what they are playing for and how strong performance can enhance compensation. Removing ambiguity in this regard typically increases performance and overall job satisfaction.
Every company will face significant challenges at some point, but successful companies are those that can turn challenges into opportunity. A critical issue for corporate America is the dramatically increasing cost of healthcare and benefits. Transwestern has successfully implemented wellness campaigns that serve the dual purpose of being valuable to an individual’s personal health as well as an excellent cost control measure. These types of programs also communicate that the company cares about the individuals personally, which generates appreciation and loyalty in return.
Lastly, forming groups that connect people in creative ways is an important culture element. Transwestern has a young professionals’ group that brings together the next generation of leaders through networking, idea exchange, business development and community service. Last year, we launched a business analyst program that formalizes the training of talented young professionals entering the commercial brokerage industry. We also have a mentoring program, where seasoned team members are matched with rising stars to foster a one-on-one professional relationship. In similar fashion, Transwestern encourages its workforce to join industry associations and provides multiple avenues for skills development. All of this is about elevating personal and corporate performance and productivity.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
We have to go back to the basics that are easy to articulate but can be difficult to implement. The cornerstone is clarity of purpose and transparent communication from leadership. Leaders must clearly define the company’s vision for team members to generate buy-in and support. Mutual respect, clear expectations and empowerment are themes that need to be present in a high-performing company but can sometimes get lost as a company grows and evolves.
There has been a lot written about the millennial generation, which is the largest portion of today’s workforce. Many companies interpret this as needing to cater to millennials. However, Transwestern has found an approach to fully engage with those team members in a manner that meets their personal goals while still aligning with key corporate objectives. Success hinges on those two objectives constantly merging together. We’re proud to have been recognized by Fortune magazine and Great Place to Work on being a Best Workplace for Millennials because we have created an environment where they believe the company’s goals and reputation are aligned with their own.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I have significantly benefited from working with and observing great leadership for many years in various settings. In short, I try to be a good partner by listening, thinking, and providing honest and candid input. It is probably all parts coach, mentor and advisor, but everyone in the partnership has a role to perform. There are certain decisions I must make, and many decisions others are empowered to make. Great leaders I have observed care about outcomes — for their team members and their clients — and that inspires them to galvanize teams in pursuit of a common goal. Great leaders also know they do not have all of the answers, so creating an environment of trust is vital to teams functioning at a high level.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Professionally, Robert Duncan has been an incredible mentor. I have always appreciated the way that he handled difficult periods of time, particularly the mid-1980s. There was tremendous turmoil in the mid-to-late 80s in the commercial real estate sector. He was open, honest, transparent, and always did the right thing. He showed us that regardless of how difficult the times were, if you stick to your values and do right, things usually will work out. At the very least, you can always hold your head high because of how you conducted yourself.
In addition, I’ve always enjoyed being a mentor and being mentored by family members, partners and friends. There is so much wisdom that can be received from so many people if you are willing to listen, accept constructive criticism and learn from others’ life experiences.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In the context of this interview, maybe considering this question as a means to provide encouragement would be most appropriate. I have enjoyed studying history for most of my life. People like Winston Churchill and Rudyard Kipling have commented on life events and offered wonderful perspectives. Churchill’s famous “never give in” speech in 1941 where he repeated “never give in” a number of times was laced with committed determination. Similarly, Kipling’s observation that “we must meet triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same” underscores the importance of personal stability and confidence. Both of these iconic quotes speak to the virtue of perseverance, the importance of having a life plan and not getting derailed on the journey in pursuit of its ultimate achievement. These and similar words of wisdom are helpful with one’s faith, family, life’s work and service to others.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!