DCEO ConversationsWith Links Diane Butler

On the Links With: Commercial Real Estate Icon Diane Butler

Commercial real estate veteran Diane Butler sold her regional appraisal company, Butler Burgher Group, bought it back for pennies on the dollar, then sold it again six years later for 150 percent more than the original sale price. When it comes to making deals, and when it comes to her way around the golf course, Butler is savvy.

Old American Golf Club in The Colony played host to Butler—who is the former national president of CREW Old American Golf Club in The Colony played host to Butler—the former national president of CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women Network)—and I if we maneuvered the beautiful course during the Ascendant LPGA for the benefit of Volunteers of America Pro-Am experience. For the top 9 was our team of four amateurs together with LPGA pro Maude-Aimee Leblanc. Butler stepped up, with the sun rising behind the tee box, and streaked her drive right down the middle of the fairway. My drive found the right rough but was position A about 80 yards from the pin.

Our approach shot got us to within 6 feet and we knocked in our first birdie of the day to go to 1-under by unOur approach shot got us to within six feet and we knocked in our first birdie of the day to go to 1 -to go down through one hole. As I walked over the bridge on my way to the second tee box, Butler and I talked about the experience of selling her company.

“In 2005 we had an unsolicited offer of a Fortune 500 firm to buy our company, completely out of the blue,” recalls Butler. But she and her team weren’t ready to sell yet. “So, we just realized that we had something unique that the market wanted and we put a bunch of new processes in place.

We carded another birdie on the 539-yard par 5. After three straight pars, our mixed team locked up for the final four holes of the front nine.

Butler’s swing is loose. It’s smooth. It’s short and simple. It’s everything a golfer wants in a swing—and by golfer, I mean me. She caught up with legends like Kathy Whitworth, who saw Butler break 80 for the first time, and Sugar Ray Leonard, in honor of the 25th anniversary of The Real Estate Council’s Fight Night.

A year after LandAmerica acquired Butler Burger Group, the financial crisis devastated LandAmerica’s core business in the residential and commercial title industry, and because Butler Burger Group operated as a subsidiary, Butler and her team were left to navigate the turmoil. “I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I felt a personal responsibility to take care of the people in our business and our customers.”

As a result of the financial collapse, LandAmerica went bankrupt in early 2009. In May of the same year, Butler and her partner, David Burgher, bought back Butler Burger Group for a fraction of what LandAmerica paid for it. “It took me a while to figure out if I wanted to do it all over again,” Butler says. “But it was so lucky to buy it back for pennies on the dollar.”

She and Burger thought about reopening the company under a new name: Alliance Advisors. But they thought better of it. “We had to go back to a name that the market knew and respected,” says Butler.

The sixth hole was a 496-yard par 5. A good tee shot helped us and our approach landed us close enough for an easy up-and-down birdie to get to 3-under. On the seventh we went to 4-under. And on the eighth we climbed to 5-under.

By 2013, Butler Burgher Group had quadrupled its business, increased its employee count from 62 to 200, had 25 offices nationwide and became known as the fastest growing independent commercial real estate valuation and consulting firm in the country.

Two years later, another buyer emerged: the private equity firm Silver Oak. The Illinois-based firm, which has more than $1.1 billion in assets under management, invests in companies generating between $15 million and $150 million in revenue. It paid 150 percent more than LandAmerica did to acquire the Butler Burger Group.

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LPGA

We finished the front nine with another birdie to draw 6-under at the turn. Our team was locked in, and I asked Butler about her most memorable laps.

“I shot 72 a few times,” she says. “I just get into this zone that is impenetrable. My putt can catch fire, my chip is spot on, and there are days I just don’t hit any bad shots.”

For the back nine we played with LPGA Tour winner Nanna Koerstz Madsen, who shot a 1-under for the tournament weekend and placed T39th. Our scramble team started the back half with two consecutive pairs.

Butler tries to bring the same approach to golf that she brings to leadership: Consistency. But in 1998, her most difficult challenge tore through her work, her leadership, and her entire life.

“I was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer,” she says. “But I just tried to approach it like any other challenge in life, but it was definitely scary. I am a very competitive person and I was determined to beat it. I had to stay resilient and even through it all, I worked every day for our employees to make them feel at ease and unconcerned about my situation. I had to let them know, I’m going to stay.”

On the 12th and 13th holes we managed two straight birdies on a 394 meter par 4 and 551 meter par 5.

These days, Butler works as a development and investment consultant. Most recently, she helped Wilks Development land the development for the mixed-use Firefly Park coming to Frisco, which primarily develops projects in West Texas. Next, she’s working on a yet-to-be-announced mixed-use development in McKinney.

Butler stayed busy even as he contemplated retirement. “I just love real estate so much,” she says as we walk down the left side of the lush fairway on 14. “I know I can only play so much golf in retirement and I just know I’m going to miss the people and the industry far too much.”

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Renderings of the new Firefly Park development in Frisco.
Courtesy: UN Studio

In January 2021, Butler’s former baby BBG was sold to Incline Investment Partners, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based private equity firm that invests in companies with up to $450 million in enterprise value. Butler still applauds at a distance; the company’s current CEO, Chris Roach, is someone he recruited right out of Texas Tech.

Butler is also hands-on with the LPGA. She helped secure Ascendant National Title as the new co-title sponsor for the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America tournament and works to reduce the gender pay gap. “I am determined to get the LPGA up to the same standard as the PGA,” she says. “It’s just ridiculous that women make 10 percent of what the men make, which is why I’m so passionate about lifting up the LPGA. We need to grow it into a better place. Women’s tennis has done it, women’s soccer has done it, so women’s golf has a high ceiling.”

From the 14th to the 18th hole we alternated pars and birdies to card a 10-under 61 for the day. Not too shabby, in my opinion, but Butler has definitely been part of better scramble scores.

In a few years, Butler plans to spend much of her time in the golf mecca of Palm Springs, where she is currently building a home. But for now, she still sees plenty of opportunity in the Dallas real estate market.

“Interest rates have put a brake on things, but even still, North Texas is poised to continue to grow because of all the demand generators that are here because of corporate relocations,” Butler says. “With the continued migration, I’d say I’m pretty bullish.”

Writer

Am Pregnant

Ben Swanger is the assistant editor for D CEOthe business title for D Magazine. Ben runs the Dallas 500

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