Walking with Roger Staubach through the sleek Cowboys’ world headquarters at The Star in Frisco, it’s impossible to ignore the wide eyes and goofy grins of employees and unsuspecting visitors alike. Roger waves and shakes a few hands; he even pauses for a couple of minutes in the cafeteria to catch up with Calvin Hill, another former Cowboys player who was drafted the same year. Roger asks about Calvin’s grandchildren and his wife, Janet, and her charity work.
As we continue to stroll through the facility, there seems to be a tribute to Roger’s football career around every corner: frame by frame photos of his famous Hail Mary pass; his name and jersey number emblazoned on the floor of the lobby; an early photo of him in his Cowboys uniform, backlit and larger than life.
Despite his face being everywhere, Roger doesn’t draw attention to any of the memorabilia and seems almost embarrassed to be so heavily idolized. Over the decades he’s been revered as Captain America, Captain Comeback, Roger the Dodger, Mr. Cowboy—the list goes on. In today’s professional sports culture, this kind of treatment and praise would only feed an athlete’s ego. But Roger is not your average quarterback.
Roger served four years in the Navy—which included a year in Vietnam—before he was drafted by the Cowboys in 1969 with a starting contract of $25,000. Since football teams “didn’t pay quarterbacks quite what they pay them today,” Roger knew one injury could be the end of his career, so he started working in real estate for the Henry S. Miller Company where he met one of his great mentors in life, Henry Miller himself. He still affectionately calls him Mr. Miller.
While working for Mr. Miller as a broker, Roger helped businesses locate the type of facility they wanted to move into, which wasn’t “totally in vogue” since most brokers represented the building rather than the tenant. Roger knew this was the line of business he wanted to follow once he broke out on his own in the late ‘70s and founded The Staubach Company. But Miller taught him more than just business strategy; he impressed upon him strong ethics.
“Mr. Miller and I became good friends, and he said, ‘Roger, just remember to tell your people that you want to win business, but you have to do it right. And then the rewards follow.’ Sometimes brokers care more about the money than how they earn it. I always preach that message. If we won the business, we would make sure to do it right.
“While I was in sales, he would say, ‘Don’t worry Roger, just make sure you treat the assistant with dignity, and let them know that you would like to talk to the decision maker. Sometimes you’re talking to somebody else but you always treat them well.’ Today, people call wanting to talk to me, but they talk to [my assistants] who then tell me stories I can’t believe. It’s how you treat people in life that makes the difference. That’s the same message I give to people at The Staubach Company, a lot of that came from Mr. Miller … and some of it is what I made up,” Roger laughs.
Those lessons paid off, big time. The Staubach Company grew to 1,600 employees with nearly 70 offices around the country. As their clientele lists expanded, they were asked to do more services and in different parts of the world, so Roger decided to bring on an international partner, Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). In 2008, The Staubach Company was sold to JLL for more than $600 million.
“We came together 10 years ago, and it’s been a great marriage. I’m executive chairman of JLL which just means I help with customers. I don’t do operational things. After all these years, I’m still real active in the company.”
Another one of Roger’s other most active ventures is with his partner Robert Shaw, who founded Columbus Realty Trust, a company that develops apartment buildings. “Robert started it and runs it. He’s fantastic—the best partner I have ever had. At the [beginning] I wasn’t sure because I didn’t necessarily want to be worrying about apartments, but Robert showed me how we could build a good business.”
“Good” is quite an understatement. Columbus was one of the first companies to build apartments in Uptown starting with The Meridian and The Worthington, which led to nearly a dozen projects and a complete transformation of the area. Roger calls Robert Shaw “the heavy lifter” and attributes most of the success to him. Their current apartment projects are in the hottest markets such as Trinity Groves in Dallas, The Domain and Craig Ranch in Austin, Legacy West in Plano, downtown McKinney, and of course, at The Star in Frisco.
Scheduled to break ground this fall, Roger teamed up with Jerry Jones and his family to develop a 17-story luxury apartment tower in the mixed-use project. With around 130 units, it will be the first high-rise in Frisco.
“I got talking with the Jones’—I’m a Cowboys fan, I’ve definitely supported the team. Well, they liked the idea of me being involved, but they wanted to do their homework on Robert, which came back just fantastic because he’s been very successful. [The Jones family] has told us what they want, and they have confidence that we can deliver. Charlotte and Steven are real involved, and, of course, Jerry is always involved. We’re about ready to break ground—knock on wood.”
Apart from real estate, Roger sometimes invests in startups. He’s excited about one in particular, a company creating top of the line, impact-reducing football helmets.
“VICIS has a great helmet that’s getting a lot of recognition right now. They’ve had some great people involved. I believe the helmet will be part of the process of helping with concussions. They’re pretty unique, and they have patents on some parts. It’s one of the best helmets out there, and they’re just getting started.”
He’s also invested in a few startup medical companies, but he takes most of his risks on real estate rather than new businesses. “I might get involved in seven [startups] and hope one makes it. Startups are big risks. I’ve been involved in some things that have been good and a lot of things that have … not been good,” he laughs and shakes his head.
But Roger—just like in the final quarter of a football game—doesn’t let the idea of failure get to him.
“You don’t quit. Adversity reveals genius and prosperity conceals it. You find out the best when times are the toughest. Don’t quit. The really successful people … do the right thing, never quit and never get discouraged when told to take a hike.
“I learned [that lesson] at the Naval Academy and in the service. It takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to get spectacular results. You have to work hard at things, and some people don’t get it. I had to get up every morning at 5:30. If I had been at another college I properly would have been up at 9 a.m. and skipped my classes,” he laughs.
Another lesson Roger learned in the service, and he’s known to exude, is humility.
“You can’t get caught up in yourself because you can’t do everything by yourself. Sometimes you think it’s all about you, and it’s not. In the service, it’s a team type atmosphere; they had a lot of do with [my humility]. It’s important to be a team player and understand what that means.”
One thing he isn’t afraid to brag about is his family: his wife of 52 years, five children, 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Roger still remembers the families from the neighborhood he grew up in—mostly large Catholic families with lots of kids—and asking his parents to give him a brother or sister, but due to complications he remained an only child. He considers his family to be his greatest achievement. In fact, he’s so proud of them, when two of his granddaughters attended The University of Texas at Austin (UT) he started rooting for the Longhorns.
“I never thought I’d do that since we lost to UT in the 1964 National Championship [my senior year] … tough loss. But when the grandkids graduated, I had a hook ’em horns sign and was singing “The Eyes of Texas”. I’ll pull for Texas unless they’re playing Navy.”
Correction to note: Jones Lang LaSalle should be referred to as JLL.