ebby halliday greg bustin executive leadership blog

Ebby Halliday: 104 Years Young

September 22nd, 2015  | 

Published in Leadership

The life and legacy of Ebby Halliday was celebrated last week.

She was 104 years young when she died.

I was traveling and unable attend her memorial, but was not surprised her farewell in Dallas was filled to capacity an hour before the service. Ebby touched thousands of lives and hundreds came to pay their respects, including former First Lady Laura Bush, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dallas Cowboys executives Charlotte Anderson and her mother, Gene Jones.

I first met Ebby Halliday when I invited her to speak at a breakfast for executives whose companies had recently joined the ranks of the Dallas 100, the top fastest-growing companies in Dallas.

She had just turned 91, but hadn’t slowed down.

Some people are old before they’re 30. Ebby Halliday was forever young.

She had plenty of energy, generosity, and great advice for leaders looking to grow themselves and their business. I watched these Dallas 100 leaders— successful in their own right—as they took notes to capture Ebby Halliday’s life lessons, her perspective on a range of issues, and her wisdom.

Ebby’s success story is one of guts, compassion, and knowing what makes people tick.

Ebby’s Legacy

Ebby left Kansas during the Great Depression and moved to Dallas for a job selling hats in a department store. The depressed economy put a dent in hat sales, but Ebby’s charm and persistence made her a top saleswoman. “When you develop an ethic where if you don’t work, you don’t eat,” she once told me, “you have a leg up on anything else that happens in your life.”

Months after moving to Dallas, Ebby started her own hat business, and a few months later, she made another gutsy decision and launched what would become a pioneering career in residential real estate.

By the time of Ebby’s 1965 marriage to Maurice Acers, a former FBI agent and lawyer, she had assembled an impressive list of industry-changing innovations that she either created or popularized.

When Ebby and I met for our final interview, she recalled with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude the results of her life’s work. She and Michael Poss tell her inspiring story in Ebby Halliday: The First Lady of Real Estate, and here are just a handful of her notable achievements as she built one of the largest residential real estate firms in the United States:

  • Created the first display homes. Ebby decorated slow-selling homes and they became the first display homes. They sold.
  • Leveraged MLS information. Dallas was slow to adopt Multiple Listing Service; Ebby was the city’s first broker to complete a transaction in 1953.
  • Championed women’s causes. In 1955, Ebby formed the Dallas chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) Women’s Council at a time when those boards consisted almost entirely of men; two years later she was elected president of the national council. A familiar theme in her speeches was, “Know your business . . . ask no special favors, and act like a lady but do business like a man.”
  • Created the first national referral service. Established a network in 1960 enabling brokers to buy, sell, and inventory houses coast-to-coast.
  • Led the way among realtors to harness technology. In 1970, she put technology to use in order to share up-to-the minute information about home listings.
  • Established three separate companies to handle leasing, mortgages, and titles. Using this portfolio approach provided the company with alternative revenue streams that insulated it from market swings.
  • Created an in-house resource: Ebby Ink. This outlet allowed her to write, publish, and print sales and home listing literature for her sales associates.
  • Established a corporate relocation program. This program played an important role in helping big companies like Dresser Industries, Associates Corporation of North America, Lennox Industries, Celanese Chemical, American Airlines, and Diamond Shamrock relocate their headquarters to Dallas.

Ebby became an outspoken advocate for business and for women.

Ebby was invited to the White House in 1975 to share her views on business, and was named by Realtor Magazine one of the 25 most influential people in the industry. She has served the city of Dallas in a variety of leadership positions in and out of real estate, and, from her first days in business, traveled the globe in a tightly packed speaking schedule as an indefatigable cheerleader for Dallas and as a savvy businesswoman spreading the word that successful businesses are built by serving your customer, serving your community, and serving your industry.

Ebby received the prestigious Horatio Alger Award for her “remarkable achievements accomplished through honesty, hard work, self-reliance, and perseverance over adversity.”

Ebby’s Best Life Lesson

Ebby Halliday loved football, and when she and I visited about her approach to business, she compared business to her favorite sport.

“You want to play in the Super Bowl,” she told me, “but first things first. When you’re down, you can’t always try to score a touchdown. You have to make a first down. Then another one, and another one, and another one.

“Make enough first downs, you’ll eventually score your touchdown. Make enough touchdowns, you win the game. Win enough games, you play in the Super Bowl.

“There’s a lot of blocking and tackling in between. It’s not all glamorous. The important thing is to not give up.”

Ebby Halliday inspired hundreds of people, touched thousands more, and leaves a remarkable legacy of creativity, compassion and achievement.

Hats off to Ebby!

About the Author: Greg Bustin advises some of the world’s most admired companies and leaders, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 200 strategic planning sessions, and he’s delivered more than 500 keynotes and workshops on five continents. His fifth leadership book—How Leaders Decide: A Timeless Guide to Making Tough Choices—examines 52 of history’s greatest triumphs and tragedies and will be published in 2019 by Simple Truths.

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