Sam Kartalis: Reflections on 50 years in commercial real estate

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I flew into Love Field Airport in July 1972 from Caracas, Venezuela, where I worked for Westinghouse Electric Corp. After three glorious years in paradise, a corporate move brought me to Dallas. This was my first time west of the Mississippi.

The cabin door opened directly onto the runway and I recoiled from the intense summer heat. Caracas was tropical but not hot! Welcome to Dallas.

My first business plan in Dallas, after getting acclimatized, was to find land for the new regional office/warehouse for Westinghouse’s elevator division. Henry S. Miller Co. approached me during my research and asked about the opportunity. I was impressed with their brokers, who were around my age and seemed to be doing very well financially. They drove expensive Lincoln Continentals with the fake tire on the trunk lid, wore $500 suits and animal skin shoes, and took me to high-end lunches and dinners. I, on the other hand, had a green 4-door Chevrolet company car and wore cheap suits and shoes. What was I doing wrong?

They got the job done and did it well. Before long, their brokers set out to convince me to leave Westinghouse and join their team. Mr. Henry S. Miller, Jr., a very sweet and impressive individual, and Herb Weitzman said they needed help with their fast-growing retail group of independent entrepreneurs who had a disdain for the rules and the need to eat what they killed to survive. As the new manager, I was hired to introduce a modicum of organization and bring the wild cats together without stifling their innate selling ability.

This was my introduction to the Dallas-Fort Worth commercial real estate industry in 1974.

The company grew tremendously over the next few years, propelled by some of the best salespeople and executives I’ve ever known, including Herb Weitzman, Henry Miller and Vance Miller. Our truly gifted men and women were paid only on commission. It is said that only 3% of the working population can survive this way, and they were part of this elite group. As Vance Miller said, “Give the eagles room to fly!”

Our success caught the attention of several public companies and Grubb & Ellis purchased the company. The entrepreneurial spirit was quickly replaced by the bureaucracy typical of state-owned companies. Due to the change in character, a mass exodus ensued over the next few years as many successful entrepreneurs left the business to start their own business, which is still active and successful today. These include Robert Grunnah, Vance Miller, Roger Staubach, David Claasen, Steve Shafer, Mike Hopkins, Herb Weitzman, David Dunning and myself, and others whom I apologize for not naming here. It was a huge waste of talent, but times change.

After almost 50 years in the business, I now look in my rear view mirror at the changes that have taken place in the industry; there is a lot of!

Brokers now drive expensive foreign cars with a handful of Cadillacs and Lincolns reserved for the elderly.

Men’s clothing changed from suits and ties to expensive designer jeans, casual shirts and comfortable soft-soled shoes.

Where commercial real estate was essentially a “good old boy’s club” back then, women started breaking down barriers in the 1980s and are now well represented and as successful as their male counterparts. They always dress as if they came out of a fashion show!

We have survived at least five periods of economic “corrections” since the 1970s, each of which negatively affected our financial statements. The depression that began in January 2008 (some call it a major recession) caused two of our major clients to withdraw $600,000 each in escrow funds from two separate transactions. It was three tough years before we bounced back from this disaster.

Burnout due to the pandemic has pushed the seven-day work week I was introduced to at Henry S. Miller into a new practice currently called “Quiet Quitting,” where tighter boundaries are set between hours work and personal hours.

The Dallas-Fort Worth market, which was previously dominated by Henry S. Miller Cos., opened up to competitors like Coldwell Banker who introduced the welcome practice of charging lease fees due in cash at closing rather than to collect them because the rents were deferred until payment. – instant money!

Commercial real estate has evolved into a mix of large public companies and smaller private companies with independent contractors. Fortunately, small entrepreneurial shops are still going strong.

Henry S. Miller Co. re-entered the market in 1994 after name restrictions were removed when Robert Grunnah and I partnered with Vance to continue the tradition of “Giving Eagles Room to Fly!”

After Vance’s death, Robert Grunnah, Greg Trout, John St. Clair, Tom Grunnah, Ben McCutchin and I formed Novus Realty Group. Moody Younger and Kathy Permenter bought our company and turned it into Younger Partners, which turned out to be a great mix with a good fit of personalities. It is still an entrepreneurial company in the mold of the original Henry S. Miller Co., which trades, manages, develops and owns commercial real estate. There will always be entrepreneurs!

The transformation of our industry over the past 50 years is difficult to describe in a few paragraphs. Our once close and friendly competitive community has become a powerful mega-market. Many greats have passed, but many are still strong.

Dallas-Fort Worth and Texas continue to be a hotbed for commercial properties, which attract foreign investors from around the world. I now consider our great state and metro area a work paradise and a haven for many.


Sam Kartalis is Executive Managing Director at Younger Partners and has leased, developed and managed over 10 million square feet of commercial property during his career.

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