Episode 72: Joe Hickman
Joe Hickman is the president and general manager of Blue Star Land and is an alum of the Walton College. Through relationships he developed while at the U of A, Joe has had the opportunity to work for the Dallas Cowboys in their real estate endeavors. He has seen firsthand the growth and innovation of the Dallas Cowboys organization in real estate and how it fits together with the other aspects of the organization.
00:07 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality and what those values mean in business, education and your life today. Today I have with me Joe Hickman who's the president and general manager of Blue Star Land and a Walton College alumnus who's originally from El Dorado. Joe, thank you so much for taking time to visit with me, appreciate it.
00:46 Joe Hickman: Aye, just glad to be here.
00:47 Matt Waller: You and I have visited a number of times over the last couple of years and one of the times that really just amazed me was the first time I went to the Star facility in Frisco. That is such a remarkable property. And the way that land around there has been transformed in such a short period of time is remarkable, and I know you have been a key person behind a lot of these changes. And you're originally from El Dorado, you went to the Walton College... So would you tell us just a little bit about your background?
01:19 Joe Hickman: Well, Matt, I was grew up in Arkansas, and obviously went to the University of Arkansas. There is where I met Stephen Jones who was from Little Rock, Arkansas, and played football there at Arkansas and he and I became friends. That's kind of what led me to Dallas, obviously, with the Jones family. And Jerry, when he purchased the Cowboys, the opportunity came to come to Dallas and work for the Jones family.
01:46 Matt Waller: What year was that?
01:47 Joe Hickman: That was in 1989.
01:49 Matt Waller: And when you think Dallas has really grown a lot since then, just tremendously.
01:55 Joe Hickman: Oh, it's been unbelievable, the continued growth. When we came here, obviously, the economy was in trouble, it was a real estate-based economy and things were struggling. Of course, that's why we're here. Also, that gave Jerry the opportunity to buy the Cowboys. He had bought the team from Bum Bright who was a real estate guy; oil and gas and banking was his background. And so he wanted to protect his assets, that was why the Cowboys were up for sale. So it was just fortunate that it worked out that way and really didn't know how that was gonna pan out. And then, of course, since 1989, the things have been in a upward motion. We've had a couple ups and downs and a lot of bumps through the years, but most of all, the economy in Dallas has been great. Number one, it helps we're essentially located in the country and have a great airport here and so there's been a lot of companies that have moved here in the last decade.
02:51 Matt Waller: Now, again, if you look at the Star facility, that facility is remarkable. Would you tell us a little bit about that?
02:58 Joe Hickman: Well, when Jerry bought the team, the original headquarters for the Cowboys was in a little bedroom community over by DFW Airport called Valley Ranch and at that time it was a new facility and it was about 100,000 feet, so it was a state-of-the-art... And basically, they were gonna build the neighborhood around the headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys. And so it's kinda ironic that here we are 30 years later and we have taken that same, basically, a model that those developers were trying to accomplish, and doing it today. The new facility that we have at the Star kind of evolved. That facility, like I said, was 30 years old. We've outgrown it and needed... Today with the needs and the things that the players and the coaches and the executives need, we just needed a bigger place to grow, and so we moved the team here to Frisco and we did a public-private partnership, which has never been done before.
04:02 Joe Hickman: And with the city of Frisco and with the school district to create a real live-work-play environment. And with the city of Frisco it was just an opportunity, I guess you could say, to bring the new state-of-the-art facility for an NFL team. It had never been done before 'cause of their privacy, their deal, it was a place to go work, work out, for the team to work out and then you went home. So now we're in the middle of a office, we've got a million square feet of office, we've got 200,000 foot of retail, apartments and hotels, fitness centers. And so it's evolved, number one, by the Jones family's leadership and what they envisioned with Jerry's visibility of the Cowboys, and everybody knows that he's one of the greatest marketing people in the world.
04:54 Matt Waller: Yeah.
04:54 Joe Hickman: I don't know if he learned that at Arkansas or where he got it, but he's definitely one of those guys that has the vision, kinda steps out on edge to do something different than everybody else has done. And so it was an opportunity to build a new world headquarters in a growing market. And we were fortunate to be in an area that where there was a lot of corporate relos going on, and so it made sense that we moved here again on main, in main on the real estate and just got very lucky that we were in a growth area at the right time.
05:28 Matt Waller: So Joe, you coming from El Dorado and going to the University of Arkansas and then moving to Dallas, you've developed lots of skills over the years to be able to manage what you're managing. Blue Star Land has a lot going on right now. Could you just kind of give an overview of what is going on with your company right now?
05:51 Joe Hickman: Well, currently, we're basically managing the real estate for the Jones family. Jerry's obviously diversified, and one of his loves is obviously the real estate business. And so we've bought land kinda on the outskirts of the growth and now that it's come to us... Like we said, there wasn't a lot going on in '89, from where we're sitting today, the tollway ended eight miles to the south from here and now it goes eight miles to the north. And so there's just been tremendous growth and so that's allowed us to, as we bought some properties kinda out on the edge, Jerry said today, he didn't even think he'd see it developed. And here we are now building the headquarters for The Cowboys. We've got roughly a half a million square feet of retail that we just completed. We're building apartments in Irving, a office complex. We just bought an industrial park up in North Dallas, that we're building our Dallas Cowboy merchandise facility, which is about 400,000 feet. And then we've got a spec building, 150,000 feet. So in all total to date, we probably got over a half a billion dollars worth of things under construction.
07:04 Matt Waller: How did you develop the skills, leadership and ability to really manage something like this?
07:11 Joe Hickman: Oh, I think, first of all, I had a good teacher. Just the first several years I was here when Jerry was buying the Cowboys, we were obviously... And our background was in working with the banks and we were in the mortgage business doing residential loans. The first property that we bought here was a residential development. It was just right across the street from where we are today, was out on the edge of town. It was called Starwood, was a 550-acre community that we had purchased the land from the FDIC. As we looked forward, we started watching and we said, "Well, you know, it's in the line of growth and this may be an opportunity to develop." And so we had brought in a guy that helped us put together a plan to develop it. And so that was really our first step into the real estate development business and it turned out to be very successful. And so that kinda got our feet wet. And I've just been able to, again, just been fortunate to be around people like Jerry to see how it evolves. And he lets you make decisions and take the ball and run with it. It's just evolved over time, and really, just kinda learned on the ground. And I think sometimes, you can get the best education in the world, but until you live it and breathe it and do it every day, that's really where you learn and get the tools to help you make good decisions.
08:31 Matt Waller: Joe, you have to deal with all different types of people. I mean government, suppliers, contractors, regulators, direct reports, employees, etcetera, etcetera. There's a lot to coordinate there.
08:45 Joe Hickman: Well, we got a good team. So surrounded by good people. We actually manage... A lot of our departments are located over at the headquarter building. I run the real estate, so we have what we call... I'm a department guy, I take care of our real estate department. But we interact with, everybody over at the Star, some of the football people, and some of the accounting people, and the marketing people. We all work together and have meetings really to have a long-term goal, or a long-term plan on how we put all the pieces together. And that's kinda what's unique about Jerry's cowboy operation, is he's into a lot of different things, but we all get together to know to keep the long-term plan on point, where everybody's kinda on the same page.
09:32 Matt Waller: There's no other organization like The Dallas Cowboys. It's so unique from a business perspective. When you first started working with Jerry did you already have a vision for this kind of an organization? Or what were you thinking at that time?
09:49 Joe Hickman: No, and again, it goes back to Jerry's leadership. We all... I just kinda followed his lead. He thought if he had the Cowboys, then how could we take that brand and use it to venture out?
10:01 Matt Waller: I think that's a brilliant point. And it shows he early on saw the value of marketing. And really understanding that, yeah, this could be leveraged in many different ways.
10:14 Joe Hickman: And he was... He always said if he could make the Cowboys just breakeven, then obviously it may give him the opportunity to sit down with the head of Exxon, or the head of Walmart, or the head of Pepsi, all of these corporations that gave him an opportunity, to invite them to a football game and maybe find some deal that he wanted to do. He just said, "Hey guys, we can expand and build off of this, and grow." Obviously, he was thinking in oil and gas business 'cause that's what he was in. But we never dreamed it would evolve into the relationships and things that he's done in real estate, in oil and gas business, and obviously numerous other branding things that he's done, outside of football. And it's been... It's just evolved. And again, it goes back to his leadership and his family's leadership. All of his kids are involved and they work together, which is unique in the business, but they all have ideas and things that they wanna see blossom into different opportunities.
11:20 Matt Waller: Joe, the Walton College... Our vision has two parts to it. One has to do with thought leadership and the other has to do with serving as a catalyst for transforming lives. And our values are excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality. So we used the acronym EPIC to represent that, so we say our values are EPIC. And our tagline is Be EPIC, so it ties our vision of serving as a catalyst for transforming lives. Be EPIC to our values. It's kind of neat that it worked out that way. But one thing that I have noticed with the Dallas Cowboys and with you, is excellence. So would you mind talking just a little bit about the value of excellence?
12:10 Joe Hickman: You know Matt, I think it was at an early age. I grew up in a single parent home and back at El Dorado, and I think that was... I mean, it wasn't always easy with five kids and a mother that worked. And so my mother always said, "You gotta be the best. There's nothing that you can't do. You gotta have the want to." And so I take that at heart. It's just being the best you can be and that should be your goal regardless of your background, regardless of what's happened in whatever field you're in. And I think The Cowboys has taken that to a different level. And all of our organization is, we want people who wanna excel and to be the best in whatever they're doing. And so I think it's important to have that mindset coming in and you want those people on your team. Whether on the football side or on the business side, you want people who wanna excel and take it to another level. And Jerry and the family, they encouraged us to think outside the box. If you see something, got an idea, it's not crazy. It's just the way that it, that he's taught us to think. And to be aggressive and to just excel at whatever we do.
13:28 Joe Hickman: And one thing they can say about our business, they know that when they pull up, that number one is, Jerry always says they're gonna write about us, whether it's good or bad, and so I want 'em to write about it, that it's good.
13:39 Matt Waller: Yeah.
13:40 Joe Hickman: And it's excellent. And so that's what that I've tried to do with the real estate side, is make them be just as proud of our real estate deal as they are our football deal. And that's just the way I've approached it.
13:56 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of The Be EPIC Podcast from The Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching Be EPIC Podcast, one word, that's BE EPIC podcast. And now, Be EPIC.