Top CEO – Private Co. – To the top: John Goff takes entrepreneurship to a new level

Marice Richter

Business Press Correspondent

From the trajectory of his career, it is easy to see why John Goff is often regarded as a visionary. The Fort Worth entrepreneur clearly has the Midas touch with investments and real estate. He oversees an empire that includes Crescent Real Estate Holdings, Goff Capital Inc., Goff Capital Partners and Goff Family Trust. Goff has amassed a personal fortune in his career, but he is proud to say that his success is not the result of all work and no play. “Life’s too short not to have fun,” said Goff. “I’m not one of those people who take life or business too seriously. I really do enjoy what I do. It is really fun.” Goff, the chairman and CEO of Crescent, has his office in downtown Fort Worth separate from Crescent’s headquarters in the 777 Main Street office building, which the firm recently sold along with the Greenway office complex in Houston to Atlanta-based Cousins Property for a sum just north of $1 billion.

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Despite the sale of 777 Main Street, Goff has no plans to relocate his operations – certainly not to Dallas, where Crescent is transforming a part of the landscape of the trendy Uptown area – because Fort Worth is home, a place he loves and the place synonymous with his success. “Fort Worth is a great place. It’s the best-kept secret in Texas,” he said. Goff grew up in a middle-class family in Houston and returned there in 1977 with a degree in accounting from the University of Texas, but he identifies his move to Fort Worth as among the most transformative steps in his life. Goff, 57, recognized early on that accounting was not his passion but an accounting job in the Fort Worth office of Peat Marwick (now KPMG) was where he met and bonded with Richard Rainwater, chief financial adviser to the wealthy Bass family. In 1987, Rainwater broke away to form his own company. Goff followed, learning along the way how to make shrewd investments that paid off handsomely for the firm and himself. A few years later, another relationship scored a financial windfall. Former Dallas Cowboys star quarterback Roger Staubach approached Rainwater to invest in some apartments he was building. Rainwater declined but Goff was impressed with Staubach’s tenant representation operation and persuaded Rainwater to invest $1 million into that part of the business. Goff joined the board of Staubach’s company and helped guide that investment into a $70 million profit. Staubach sold his company to Jones Lang LaSalle for $700 million in 2008. “John is absolutely fabulous and has great vision,” Staubach said. “He is a great businessman and I consider him a great friend.” By the early ‘90s, Goff was eager to invest in real estate and persuaded Rainwater to join in, shirking expert advice to stay away from buying at the time.

Goff saw an opportunity to own his own business and began buying distressed property. He bought the Crescent office complex in Dallas’ Uptown by creating a 50-50 partnership with Caroline Rose Hunt, who was trying to recapitalize the landmark property. “I bought up the debt,” he said. “She was going to be foreclosed.” Goff named his company in honor of this property. In 1994, he guided Crescent to an initial public offering worth $550 million. During its 13 years as a public company, Crescent had grown to become one of the largest real estate trusts in the country, providing its shareholders a 15.4 percent compounded annual return, including more than $2.5 billion in cash dividends. Goff sold the company for $6.5 billion in 2007 to Morgan Stanley. With the collapse of the real estate and financial markets during the recession, Goff in 2009 formed a joint venture with Barclays Capital to buy back Crescent. Crescent owns a portfolio that includes premiere office buildings in Texas, Colorado and Nevada as well as luxury resorts, resort housing developments and the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dallas. Crescent also is developing another upscale office development in Uptown. Besides Crescent, Goff Capital Partners is a private equity firm that invests in real estate debt and equity and has a portfolio of more than $4 billion. His family investments are run through Goff Capital Inc., which invests in public securities and debt, distressed debt, oil and gas, and private equity. Always on the lookout for a good investment, Goff and his wife, Cami, partnered with actress Glenn Close to produce the 2012 film Albert Nobbs, in which Close plays a woman who dresses as a man to work and survive in 19th century Ireland. The film garnered three Academy Award nominations. “It was a lot of fun and we got to go to the Academy Awards,” he said. “It was a great film and well received.” Goff hasn’t committed to another film project nor has he it ruled it out. But he does support the arts in other ways. The Goff Family Foundation founded B Sharp Youth Music, an after-school music education program that is expanding this fall into the curriculum at Como Elementary School, an economically disadvantaged school in Fort Worth. The program incorporates a full orchestra, a rarity for an elementary school. The foundation, started by Goff in 2007, supports children and education in Tarrant County, said his sister, Jill Goff, who heads the foundation. He has taken particular interest in the Como neighborhood because it is close by his Fort Worth home. “My brother is a very caring entrepreneur,” Jill Goff said. “He takes great pride in helping kids, parents and the community. He’s a great all-around individual.”