Time seemed to stand still as the man clung onto the side of a hotel balcony, staring at the ground underneath him — eleven stories below — on South Padre Island in Texas.
He had sent his two children downstairs with some newfound friends to the hotel pool and weighed his decision: To jump and end the misery consuming him. Or to see another way.
This was the longtime Dallas real estate broker’s first failure in life, something he didn’t even realize was failing until it was too late.
"I never saw it coming," said Carl Ewert, who has recently retired from JLL’s Dallas office after decades of working as a top tenant broker in the market. "This was the whole breakdown of the family unit; I would see my kids at home every day and never thought about it.
"That rolled into, ‘I’m a failure,’ and I’d never failed at anything of this magnitude," he said. "I just didn’t know how to handle it."
In the conservative community of Dallas-Fort Worth in the early 1980s, Ewert didn’t know any family or friends who had faced divorce. And no one talked about such a tawdry topic.
It was late in the day on South Padre Island and the sun hung onto the horizon as Ewert weighed his decision, hearing a persistent voice, "Get it over with."
He waited, hesitating to give into the urge to end it all. That’s when he heard something he remembers clearly today, "I’m not through with you yet."
Those were the words that stuck with Ewert, who stepped down from the balcony to call a Dallas doctor for help. By the next day, he was in North Texas getting checked into a medical program to help him with depression.
It was that low point in Ewert’s life in south Texas that helped transform the one-time real estate broker that would "win at all costs" into the service-focused executive that helped shape Dallas-Fort Worth’s tenant representation business in the 1980s, before later becoming a solidified rainmaker helping to bring Comerica Inc. (NYSE: CMA) to downtown Dallas’ business district from Detroit, Michigan.
Beyond big real estate deals, Ewert also gave back to the North Texas community, with recognition from the North Texas Commercial Association of Realtors and Real Estate Professionals with the prestigious Stemmons Service Award. The award is given to brokers that best exemplify the highest professional standards in the industry, while giving back to the community.
He was also the only broker during the tenure of The Staubach Company to win for MVPs and also received the real estate firm’s prestigious Champion of Excellence Award, an honor voted on my more than 1,800 other employees.
This year will be Ewert’s first year in retirement from the hubbub of the Dallas-Fort Worth real estate industry, hanging up his hat as a managing director at JLL to concentrate on his family and community. The departure leaves the region short a major player when it comes to tenant representation — and marks the beginning of a generational shift in the industry, as brokers once pounding the pavement to land a firm handshake deal gives way to the next generation.
Ewert was at the forefront of the beginnings of tenant rep-focused brokerage in North Texas in the 1980s, said Roger Staubach, Hall of Fame NFL quarterback and now-executive chairman of the Americas at JLL (NYSE: JLL), who recruited Ewert with Ka (pronounced Kay) Cotter, formerly of the Dallas-based tenant rep shop The Staubach Company.
"At the time, we were at the forefront of tenant representation in Dallas," Staubach told the Dallas Business Journal. "That was the beginning of the Carl Ewert world. He had all these great ideas on how to help the customer, and he became a real essential part of the tenant rep team, which took The Staubach Company to where it had been for 30-something years before JLL bought the company."
Chicago-based real estate brokerage firm JLL acquired The Staubach Company in a deal valued at $727 million.
"Carl was a leader in helping to establish the priorities we had at The Staubach Company," Staubach said. "Having good brokers like Carl in the beginning was a really big deal in growing our business at the time and helping create a culture that was such that JLL really wanted us running the Americas."
Pushing for a strong core
During his months-long, Richardson-based rehabilitation more than three decades ago, Ewert sat alone at the cafeteria eating lunch when a fellow female patient sat down saying, "I don’t like you. I know your type. You have a presence like you own this hospital and you don’t."
The woman wasn’t alone in her feelings. It seemed like every female patient in his recovery group saw Ewert as standing for everything they hated about their dads or husbands and, in kind, verbally attacked him until he broke.
"There were no more tears left, and there was no place to go and no room for ego," he said, only one of two males in the group. "I felt worthless."
That led to the women in the hospital putting a broken Ewert back together again, "like Humpty Dumpty," giving him an appreciation for others he’d never had before. That same appreciation led to his successful brokerage career at The Staubach Company, Ewert said.
"What happened to me at 35 was like changing the course of the Mississippi River," he said. "Instead of being all about the win, it became all about other people. Prior to this, I never would’ve survived in Roger’s world, but afterwards I was a direct fit."
Ewert began building his tenant rep career at The Staubach Company, deciding to specialize in a Dallas submarket and pushing the brokerage firm to have a strong presence in the growing downtown and Uptown Dallas neighborhoods.
That’s because Ewert, who fell in love with downtown Dallas a child, saw the city’s urban core turn from a busy business corridor into no-man’s land with trash swirling through the streets in the 1980s. No one wanted to be in downtown Dallas in the 80s — especially the very companies the longtime broker had been working with at The Staubach Company.
"It was blowing up an image I had had growing up and seeing downtown Dallas," Ewert said. "It was painful, and it became a mission of mine to be a part of a group that wanted to bring downtown Dallas back. To do that, you needed to know all the intricacies of why companies moved to downtown Dallas to begin with and why they would be moving out. You needed to become a futurist."
Becoming a futurist on downtown Dallas helped position Ewert as an expert in the submarket and a go-to real estate guru in the city’s central business district.
"In terms of how long he’s been committed to making a difference to downtown Dallas, he is right at the top of the list when it comes to supporters from the real estate industry," said John Crawford, the former president and CEO and now vice chairman of Downtown Dallas Inc., an advocacy group for the city’s urban core.
"Carl has made a major difference to downtown Dallas, he could always get things across the goal line," he added.
Ewert’s tendency to score real estate touchdowns in downtown Dallas irked longtime broker Phil Puckett, who was hired by Dallas-based Trammell Crow Co. to work the downtown and Uptown office markets in Dallas.
"I always heard his name, and little did I know we’d become arch rivals," said Puckett, who is now vice chairman of CBRE. "I had so much disdain for him. I didn’t know him, but it was my competitive spirit, I did not want to lose to this guy. And I lost so many deals to Carl Ewert. It wasn’t even fair."
Puckett couldn’t stand hearing Ewert’s name that seemed to ring out at industry awards events, in part, because Ewert specialized so well in downtown and Uptown Dallas.
"There was nobody that knew those markets like Carl did," said Puckett.
And then one of the country’s largest financial institutions decided to move its corporate headquarters closer to its high-growth markets in the southern United States.
Landing a big fish
It took some time to get Ewert put back together again, but the patching of his personal life soon led him to his now-wife, Trisha Ewert, who also worked in the industry and leads as an executive at Kensington Vanguard. The relationship helped cobble together a loving, blended family in Lakewood.
"I re-play that tape in my mind, I never want to waste that tape," he said. "I know what I have the capability of being because I lived it and I’ve been it. I don’t ever want to go through that again."
With Trisha’s help, Ewert said she helped make him shine after he joined The Staubach Company about a year after the two were married. Without Trisha, Ewert said he wouldn’t have been successful.
"There’s nowhere the depth or breadth without her," he said, adding the real estate duo often entertains clients in tandem. "Everywhere we go, we go together. You’ll very seldom see us alone."
That depth, coupled with deep market knowledge of downtown and Uptown Dallas, helped Ewert become one of the real estate brokers working on Comerica Bank’s real estate search, ultimately bringing the Detroit-based bank to downtown Dallas and securing naming rights of the office tower, later known as Comerica Bank Tower.
Puckett was part of the team in the mid-2000s, and he couldn’t help but be impressed by his longtime competitor.
"Brokers can be so egotistical, but when it came to our client, Carl set the tone, ‘This isn’t about us; it’s about serving our client," Puckett said. "Everyone left their egos at the door."
The Comerica Bank real estate search allowed Ewert to showcase his market knowledge, moving deals around downtown Dallas as if potential moves on a chess board. Meanwhile, Puckett worked up a Dashboard presentation on the computer highlighting the makeup of Dallas’ skyline on a computer.
Ewert said he reminded him of how he worked with his first partner in a previous career, Puckett had deep knowledge of the operations behind downtown Dallas’ real estate, while Ewert would share the strategy and vision of a potential move to the client.
"We really discovered each other on the Comerica and later E&Y deals," Ewert said. "We were both really interested in making sure we didn’t outshine the other guy."
By March 2007, Comerica Bank announced the relocation from Detroit to Dallas, which, at the time, was expected to have an estimated capital investment to the Lone Star State of $47 million. The bank received a $3.5 million grant from the Texas Enterprise Fund as part of the deal.
The rivalry between Ewert and Puckett isn’t something unheard of in North Texas’ real estate industry.
Staubach, who has seen the industry grow significantly over the last few decades, says the commercial real estate in Dallas-Fort Worth has continued to be extremely competitive. For Ewert and Puckett, it’s like seeing an Army-Navy football game: they battle each other, but they still like one another.
"Dallas’ commercial real estate industry is as competitive as professional football, but they don’t have a report on Monday morning saying that JLL lost a deal to so-and-so — but it’s still competitive," said Staubach. "We have some good competition out there."
For JLL, Staubach says he’s hopeful to shape another Carl Ewert-type tenant rep broker from the up-and-coming generation of brokers at the firm.
"We have a good group of young millennials. There’s definitely a Carl Ewert in there somewhere," he added.
At last year’s Dallas Business Journal Best Real Estate Deals awards dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas in Uptown, Puckett ditched the event early, pausing for a minute to send off a quick text message to the competitor he at one-time couldn’t stand.
"There will never be another Carl Ewert," Puckett wrote in the message. "We had some great times together and I lost a lot of deals to you, but gained a great friend and healthy respect for you and how good you were. No one will ever come close to you.
"I never thought I would say that about a fierce competitor, but Carl Ewert was fierce," he added.
For Puckett, one of Dallas’ ultimate deal makers has left an industry that has reached new heights as one of the country’s epicenters for growth. North Texas, once known for making a real estate broker hustle for business, now has the interest of national and international investors as companies continue to relocate and expand in the region.
The tide of the real estate cycle is coming in hard and fast on Dallas-Fort Worth, and while no one seems to know when it will go out, real estate cycles never last forever.
In January, Ewert was appointed to the board of the FBI Citizens Academy after going through a 10-week course that took the broker to Quantico and the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. — fulfilling a long-time ambition Ewert had before getting into real estate.
He has also been asked to serve on the advisory board of the Dallas County District Attorney’s office.
"In 2014, Roger told me to get out when you have the mental and physical capacity to do all the things you want to do, but didn’t have time to do it," Ewert said. "I’ve had a very blessed career — a Cinderella story — and this is the end of an era for me."
Along with serving on boards, Ewert’s new day-to-day routine will center around landing big hugs from his 14 grandchildren and ensuring he can spend plenty of time with his friends, many of whom happen to have been clients at one point of time.
He can’t help but make friends, said Staubach, who always followed up with clients after the firm landed the big deal.
"He would smother his customer, in a good way," Staubach said, jokingly. "Carl used to make a lot of friends. He has so many friends in the business he has to retire because he can’t make any more friends."