Camden Property Trust chairman and CEO Ric Campo, MFE's 2020 Hall of Fame inductee
Brian Walker Camden Property Trust chairman and CEO Ric Campo, MFE's 2020 Hall of Fame inductee

As the initial seed investor in Camden Property Trust, David Solomon spent plenty of tense hours and billable attorney hours negotiating with Camden founder Richard (Ric) Campo, but he’s long forgotten those dealings. What Solomon does remember—and, in fact, will never forget—is what it was like having drinks with Campo after the wheeling and dealing was over. Campo immediately put business aside and related to Solomon as a friend, he says, and that pretty much “explains him as an individual.”

“Ric’s one of the best I know,” says Solomon, who has remained close friends with Campo since those negotiations nearly 40 years ago. “His success comes from his temperament, brains, and personality—all those pieces. But he has an ability to be a really good listener and get right to the point, and he does it in a really smooth fashion. He never gets ruffled. He’s very, very smooth.”

Campo and his partner, Camden vice chairman Keith Oden, launched their real estate firm in 1982 with 10 million square feet of office space in Houston, acquired in a leveraged buyout just as a colossal drop in oil prices was crashing the city’s economy, causing office vacancies to reach more than 20%. Seeing better opportunities in multifamily, the duo soon pivoted—and the rest is history. Camden is now one of the nation’s largest multifamily real estate investment trusts, with more than 57,000 units nationwide and assets valued at more than $13 billion.

More important, at least for Campo, Camden provides more than 1,700 jobs in a positive work environment. Fortune magazine regularly includes Camden in its list of the 100 best companies to work for in America, and the company consistently scores in the top 10% on employer-review sites like Glassdoor.

Campo’s philosophy of measuring success in business by how many good jobs he can create—not how much money he makes—comes from his mentor, Walter Ross, vice chairman of Century Corp., where he and Oden got their starts. If Camden manages to put smiles on employees’ faces, Campo believes, they will put smiles on residents’ faces—and that will translate into great shareholder returns.

This isn’t standard procedure for a multibillion-dollar public company, and Campo says teammates love when he pushes back against analysts who question this policy during investor calls. “When I describe why Camden exists as a company, it’s a simple why—to improve the lives of teammates, residents, and shareholders one experience at a time,” he says.

When Camden spent $10.5 million in increments of $500 to $2,000 to help out about 7,000 residents who were caught off guard in the COVID-19 lockdown—no questions asked—and gave employees working on the front lines $2,000 bonuses to the tune of $3 million, analysts were puzzled. Campo shot back that he considered the expenditures an investment. “People needed money right now,” he says. “Sharing the wealth is part of the equation.”

Camden thrives because it provides teammates with a great workplace, upward mobility, training, and leadership skills, Campo says. The company culture has been carefully crafted to instill a sense of responsibility for and pride in taking care of people’s homes—one of the most important things in their lives—and the rest takes care of itself. “There’s an energy level and a pride level that transfers to shareholders,” Campo says. “We invest their money and grow their money through investing in our people, our best resource.”

National Multifamily Housing Council president Doug Bibby says Campo and Oden have created “an enviable corporate culture” that benefits the entire industry. “Ric is one of the true trailblazers in our industry,” he says. “Under Ric’s leadership, Camden has been an early adopter of new technologies, and because he leads a public company, his innovative approaches are public knowledge and therefore open for all to see and emulate.”

Campo is renowned for his spirited contributions to Camden’s collegial culture. He has dressed up as everyone from Dolly Parton to Miley Cyrus for companywide skits, and he always wears a Camden maintenance shirt and jeans when he addresses the company “out of respect and pride for people in the field.”

He grew up with a father who dabbled in many careers, working in the restaurant and bar business before taking on gigs as a hair stylist, a blackjack dealer, and an insurance salesman. Campo picked up his entrepreneurial spirit, work ethic, adaptability, and lifelong thirst for learning from his father, and he was also very clear he didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps as a serial entrepreneur. His “rebellion” is a rock-stable career. “Think about my longevity,” he says. “I’ve basically had one job out of college.”

“Maybe people don’t realize I wasn’t a silver spoon or a great student,” Campo says. “I had a solid 2.7 at Oregon State University, and I didn’t graduate in four years. I enjoyed beer more than I enjoyed studying.”

The gutsiest thing Campo ever did was move to Houston, where he knew no one, after he graduated in the late 1970s. “I wanted to see if I could make it on my own without family or friends,” he says. “It’s worked out pretty well so far.”

That’s the understatement of the year. Not only has Campo turned a little Texas-based real estate company into one of the world’s most successful REITs, but he’s also put his heart and soul into his adopted hometown. Campo is widely recognized as the man behind Houston’s successful bid for the 2017 Super Bowl and gracefully navigated the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority as it brought NRG Stadium, Minute Maid Park, and the Toyota Center to the city. True to form, when Campo took on the role of Houston Port Authority chairman last year, he met with Port employees before reaching out to stakeholders and industry leaders.

“He did all that in the midst of politics, which isn’t easy,” Solomon says. “He is a giver, but he does have expectations that things will get done right. He will sit and listen to anybody.”

Campo attributes his listening skills to his motto, “suffer fools gladly,” a biblical term. “What it means is, when people are crazy, you have to suffer that aspect of them. We all have our moments of craziness.”

Oden says Campo thinks bigger than anyone he knows and always sees the big picture. (He jokes that he doesn’t start seriously considering any of the dizzying barrage of ideas Campo generates until they come up for a third time—and then they’re usually gems.) Campo’s superpower is that he also has laser focus, he adds.

“He can be incredibly detailed, minutiae detailed,” Oden says. “Most of the time he’s operating from 10,000 feet, but let me tell you something, when it’s required, he can get down to 4 inches and pick things apart in a way that very few people I’ve been around can do.”