Just a few years into his NFL career, Roger Staubach was already thinking about life after football. The salaries of professional athletes in the 1970s weren't what they are today, and the Dallas Cowboys quarterback was married with three kids. So Staubach took a job at a North Texas real estate firm in the off season, selling multifamily properties and land. Then he got a call from a friend with Xerox who was looking for office space.

“It was the first time I saw the value of tenant representation,” Staubach recalls. “The way the industry was set up back then, all the brokers worked for landlords and only showed properties their clients owned. That seemed very one-sided to me.”

Staubach took the tenant rep concept and ran with it, launching his own firm in 1977, two years before hanging up his cleats. It was a brash move for a rookie, especially in a fiercely competitive real estate market like Dallas. At first, prospects weren't so sure about empowering a jock to make their space decisions. But Staubach's earnestness won them over, and The Staubach Co. took off. Today the national powerhouse has 1,400 people in 65 offices.

In growing his firm, the former quarterback has followed the same game plan that helped him guide the Cowboys to four Super Bowls: teamwork. Brokers share information, clients and revenue. “The platform doesn't work for everyone,” Staubach says. “The real estate industry has become sort of a ‘fee-and-me’ business, where if you control the account, you're going to try to get most of the commission. Our structure is all customer-driven, where those who actually execute the transactions are rewarded.”

All of the big real estate brokerages now offer tenant rep services, but The Staubach Co. is one of the few that sits only on that side of the negotiating table. It has grown by expanding into new cities and gobbling up market share, and by adding ancillary services such as design and construction. The firm is currently in the process of organizing a capital markets group. It's also taking on retail development projects through an affiliate, Smith/Cypress Partners, in which former NFL running back Emmitt Smith is a majority stakeholder.

The new partnership's first project, a 240,000 sq. ft. shopping center in Phoenix, is under way. Three other deals are pending that will give the group a total of 1 million sq. ft. under development. “I've admired Roger for many years,” Smith says. “He was a great leader as a quarterback on the football field, and that has translated well in business. He's done a tremendous job of surrounding himself with great personnel, but you don't build a firm as large as The Staubach Co. without great leadership.”

The 64-year-old Staubach is in excellent shape, works long hours and has no plans to retire. He spends most of his time out in the field, calling on clients and recruiting and motivating employees — whom he credits with the success of his firm. “It's like those high-occupancy-vehicle lanes on the highway,” he says. “You can get to where you're going a lot faster if you take others with you.”