Play Maker

Smart Business

Smart Business magazine cover, September 2006

Cover Story

Play maker

Roger Staubach shares the philosophy behind his $410 million real estate company

By Robyn Davis Sekula

Smart Business Dallas | September 2006

Imagine inviting your customers to adjust your fee if they aren’t happy with your company’s services and putting that pledge in writing. Roger Staubach doesn’t just imagine it, he does it.

Staubach, chairman and CEO of The Staubach Co., has The Staubach Constitution, a document that spells out his real estate company’s principles and contains that pledge.

He stands behind the pledge to refund fees to clients who believe the company didn’t live up to its promises. It’s rare that he issues a refund, but it does happen, Staubach says, and it’s painful for the company.

For Staubach, though, there’s no other way to prove that your company has integrity than to offer an ironclad guarantee. Staubach says it’s a reminder to employees and to himself to adhere to the values central to his company as outlined in the constitution — integrity, respect, teamwork, balance and leadership. Offering the guarantee is one way the company takes the constitution from paper to action.

“We’ve had some disappointments through the years and we’ve had to live up to that guarantee,” Staubach says. “But it’s a way to say that you have integrity and trust and balance, the things that we’re doing. We have to back it up.”

Staubach is, of course, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys who made a household name for himself on the football field and who is now making a name for himself in the real estate field. His company, with revenue of $410 million in fiscal 2006, focuses exclusively on helping real estate users, not owners or developers. He started the company in 1977 and has 60 offices throughout the Americas and about 1,300 employees.

Staubach governs his company by The Staubach Constitution, which he introduced in the early 1990s as the company was experiencing rapid growth, to spell out the principles he’s used to guide the company since its inception. It’s a way of providing guidance to employees on delivering a consistent service and doing it in a way that is consistent with the founder’s beliefs. All employees receive a laminated copy of the constitution in their orientation packets, and copies are posted around the offices.

Staubach says that the guiding principles in the constitution have helped ensure the company’s growth because customers can’t lose. He relies extensively on repeat business, and even if clients have a bad experience, he needs a way to lure them back again. Refunding their fees if they are unhappy encourages them to consider giving the company another try.

“We are defining who we are not just by a bunch of words but the things that we do and how we go about it,” Staubach says. “Whatever we say we’re going to do is what we’re graded on.

“We have a customer, and our main priority is that customer. Being able to get that trust internally, where we are going to do everything we can for that customer, is the challenge that we have. ... That leads into making sure you have access to the resources within the company that can provide the services to the customer. The trust has to be there internally. If we don’t have the trust internally, we can’t transfer it to the customer.”

The Staubach Constitution has three sections: mission, values and operating principles. The core of the document, values, governs how employees of The Staubach Co. function.

The secret to making the values transcend the paper is constantly keeping in touch with the company’s associates. Staubach Co. has a Web site that acts as a suggestion box where employees can post anonymous complaints about violations of the constitution, along with suggestions as to how to better meet the standards set forth in that document.

“We get a lot of suggestions from people,” Staubach says. “They have the ability to bring ideas and thoughts to us. We get better every day by listening to people.”

Establishing integrity

Any member of the Staubach team who makes a promise to a client is held to it, Staubach says. One way he ensures that his employees are following his principles is by communicating with the clients.

Every client is e-mailed a Client Review survey at the culmination of a deal. The client fills it out, giving feedback on the performance of the employee and the transaction. A copy goes to Staubach himself and to the manager of the office where the transaction occurred. Between 70 and 90 forms are returned each month.

Staubach reads every form and sends an e-mail to the broker involved, whether the review was positive or negative. If it was negative, he asks for the broker’s feedback, then either e-mails or calls the customer to resolve the situation.

And yes, in some cases, a client gets their money back.

“Internally, people know they will be graded and people will look at how they performed, and they want to make sure it’s done right,” Staubach says. “We also never want to get into any sort of serious legal action with a client, which we’ve never done. Our competition wants to say that the guarantee is just a marketing thing, but it’s not.”

Staubach says part of having integrity is doing what’s best for the customer. In some cases, brokers have led clients to less expensive space, lowering their own commission. But it was what was best for the customer and that’s the right thing to do, Staubach says.

Focusing on what’s right rather than on what is lucrative, keeps the company honest and is ultimately good for business.

Establishing teamwork and respect

Staubach says that teamwork is the one value that guides the other four.

“It all gets embodied in teamwork,” Staubach says. “To respect someone other than yourself is really what teamwork is. ... Team players are people you can trust.”

Technology has been key to helping Staubach employees feel they are part of a team working toward the same goal. The company’s professionals use an online tool called Staubach Connect that allows associates to see each other’s contacts, appointments, records and other information, and to ask questions of team members around the country.

Staubach says he’s impressed with how much his employees use Staubach Connect and how it forges them together as a team.

“I see so many e-mails that go out that people need some help, they’ve had an example or circumstance that could help someone else out, and people really e-mail back,” Staubach says. “That’s unusual in our industry as far as sharing information and trying to help someone else in your organization be successful with their client, and you don’t get any [financial] rewards from it. It’s just trying to do the right thing for someone else.

“Getting that kind of culture is a challenge every day. We are good at it, but we sure could get better at it.”

Another way he fosters teamwork is through a two-day academy every year at which all of the company’s associates come to one central location for training and teambuilding.

Staubach says it’s costly to hold the annual meeting, but it’s important for employees to get to know each other face-to-face. The meeting includes training sessions and panels of customers to give feedback on how the company is performing.

Creating balance

Staubach encourages employees to live rich lives outside of the office. With grown children of his own and a wife of four decades, he makes a point to live what he preaches.

His own life is demanding, but even as his company was growing, he put his children’s activities on his calendar and made it to as many functions as possible. His wife travels with him now sometimes, which also helps send the message to his employees that family time is important.

Employees are encouraged to leave early if they want to attend a child’s soccer game or participate in a volunteer activity.

“If a manager says, ‘You’re spending too much time with Make-A-Wish’ or something similar, that would go against everything we believe,” Staubach says. “We trust our people that if they are given time for the community, they are actually doing it, and they are able to do it and still be effective in their business life, too.”

Though many executives might worry that such leeway might cause employees to take advantage, Staubach says that’s not often the case.

“Very few people are like that,” Staubach says. “If you allow them to have that ability to make sure they have that balance, they will work harder for you and believe in your organization.”

Driving leadership

Staubach says leadership has to be consistent, displaying strong and even behavior at work and at home. He strives to embody the tenets of his constitution throughout his own working life, especially when it comes to respect and teamwork, and he says good leaders are respectful to every person they meet.

Staubach’s pet peeve is leaders who lie or are rude. Some people are rude to Staubach’s secretary or lie to her to get through to him, but it doesn’t work, he says, and it isn’t good leadership.

“They don’t treat people very well,” Staubach says. “It happens a lot. I get very disappointed in people who really are leaders and how they treat people who are not important to them.

“You have to incorporate it into their complete life. It should be pretty consistent in every aspect of their life. My leadership style is to say, ‘These are the things I expect of you, and I’m going to try to represent what I expect of you.’ A leader has to have a message that people follow.”

Lest you think that Staubach has too much of a quarterback mentality —- it’s all about him —- understand that he knows he can’t do any of this alone. His years on sports teams have taught him what teamwork is. After all, even if you’re a star quarterback, someone has to give you the ball.

“I was a pretty decent quarterback, but I sure wouldn’t have been as good as I was if I hadn’t had a lot of great teammates,” he says.

How to reach: The Staubach Co., www.staubach.com