Growing up in a small town south of Chicago, Dallas developer Bill Cawley always knew he’d work in real estate someday, just like his dad. Aiming for bigger and better things, he moved to Texas in 1982. He took a job selling condominiums and quickly became the company’s top producer—even selling a unit to a “mystery shopper” who had been hired by the firm to help evaluate its sales force.
It was an indication of the success he would go on to have. Today, Cawley is one of the most prolific developers in the Dallas region—and he’s a shrewd investor, too, with a knack for timing. Back in the early 2000s, he built the 1.1 million-square-foot former JPMorgan International Plaza, one of the biggest office developments in Texas. The chairman and CEO of Cawley Partners has had a steady stream of new projects since, favoring the active tollway and Legacy submarkets. His latest is The Parkwood, a 120,000-square-foot office building in Plano that’s one of the few to kick off during the pandemic.
Over the years, Cawley has suffered through some down cycles, like the rest of the industry, but he has always seemed to know when and how to get back in the game. Beyond his grit and a gift for connecting with people, he has a true passion for real estate that can be contagious. And he’s not afraid of bold risks, saying he has never wanted to “work scared.”
“You have to have confidence in yourself, and you have to work with people who believe in you,” Cawley said. “There is so much uncertainty in the world right now, but one thing you can never be uncertain about is yourself.”
In appreciation for those who have believed in him along the way, Cawley makes it a point to mentor others getting started in their careers and give back to the industry and community. He took things a step further when he was asked to take a leadership role in The Real Estate Council, serving as vice chairman before taking the helm this year. “I have so much respect for the organization and its leadership, and if I was going to make the commitment, I was going to do it right,” he said. That meant fully jumping in, being bold in thinking, and not being afraid to push. “If you want someone passive, don’t pick me,” Cawley said.
A focus is on helping the organization diversify its funding sources, instead of relying mostly on signature events, and doing whatever he can to support the organization’s efforts in South Dallas. “A lot of initiatives are important, but South Dallas needs help,” he said. “The work we’re doing will bear a lot of fruit. It’s going to be a long and focused journey, but I’m young enough, and in 10 years, the results will be dramatic.”
Cawley is bullish on the future of the North Texas region as a whole. “The Dallas market has been in favor for the last 10 years, and I think it’s going to be in even greater demand,” he said. “I think COVID-19 is going to be a net positive for Dallas. Companies in dysfunctional work environments are going to run from them when the pandemic is over. They’re going to especially seek out suburban markets, and all major markets in Texas are going to do well.”
A version of this story first published in the Summer 2020 edition of the Dallas-Fort Worth Real Estate Review.
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