Heydenburk takes on bigger role in Fort Worth real estate 

Joel W. Heydenburk is about six months into his term as chairman of the Real Estate Council of Fort Worth, but he’s still got a ways to go. A chairman serves two-year terms, and Heydenburk thinks that gives him some time to get some things done. 

Among the items on the check list for Heydenburk, a partner at the Jackson Walker law firm, is  Panther Island and the development plans for that area north of downtown Fort Worth.  

“This is a great opportunity,” he said. “Let’s not waste it.” 

The Real Estate Council is an organization of more than 500 members from 372 different companies with programs and events for members and also works to address policy issues impacting development. It has had an impact on development in the city for many years, as the previous chairman, former Mayor Ken Barr, knows. 

Even though he is not a real estate professional, Barr joined the organization because he holds it in high regard for the work its members do. 

“The whole membership, the whole tenor of the organization has been to do things that are positive and constructive to help Fort Worth and Tarrant County to prosper,” he said. 

Heydenburk, 44, is well aware of the previous leaders of the organization and its reputation. He wants to continue that momentum during his term. 

Joel Heydenbruk  

 Birthplace: Tarrant County   

Moved to Fort Worth: 2003 

Family: Courtney Heydenburk, wife, married for 16 years. Two daughters, Asher, 12 and Blythe, 10. 

Education:  Bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA and law degree from Texas Tech University 

Work experience: A few law firms before joining Jackson Walker’s Fort Worth office.  

Volunteer experience: Ronald McDonald House, Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth, Texas Lyceum, Junior Achievement 

 First job: Coffee shop in Southlake. “It’s not there anymore. Interestingly, I did not drink coffee. So sometimes when I was making coffee, people were like, ‘Which one’s better?’ I’m like, ‘I have no idea. I don’t know.’” 

Advice for someone learning to be a leader:  “There are two things I would say. Do it for the right reason. Because if you’re doing it just to collect feathers, if you will, then that shine wears off almost immediately. But if you’re doing it not for being able to say, ‘Well, I can put another bullet point on my web bio or my resume, but I’m doing it for the true purpose of the organization,’ then you won’t get tired of it. Get into leadership roles for the right reasons, not  to pat yourself on the back. 

“The other thing too is to just get out there and meet people. I’m a very extroverted person, but when I first started going to real estate council events and didn’t really know anybody, and it felt like I was one of the youngest people in the room, it was intimidating, but I made myself do it with Susan’s encouragement.”

Best advice ever received: “From Susan Halsey, of course. 

“Toward the end of her life, I noticed that she started saying certain things a little bit more. It was almost like little sound bites. Just little phrases that she would say. One of the things that she said, ‘Be involved in the community, but find something that you’re passionate about because if you do something in the community outside your busy day job that you’re passionate about, you won’t be resentful of the time you’re spending doing it.’ Which I think is absolutely sage advice.”

“We really do want to make a positive impact and, honestly, it’s intimidating to look at the people who have been chairman of this organization before me,” he said. 

Barr, who was chairman of the Real Estate Council for the past three years, adding an extra year because of the pandemic, said the organization has been working to help city leaders understand how their decisions impact real estate and development. 

“We’ve had involvement in things like the Panther Island project, and Joel has been part of that, and we helped pull the working group together that’s been working on bringing in the new consultant on Panther Island and some things like that,” Barr said. 

Heydenburk brings a strong legal perspective to some of the issues the Real Estate Council tackles, Barr said. 

“That’s a good thing. We need that and we’re lucky to have him,” he said. 

One area where Heydenburk hopes to have an impact is in working with other organizations in the city on various issues. Aside from being chairman of the Real Estate Council, Heydenburk wants to work closely with the new chair of the Fort Worth Chamber, Rosa Navejar. 

“I want to take the coordination between the council and the chamber to the next level,” said Heydenburk. 

It’s no surprise that Heydenburk’s law practice focuses on real estate. 

“I like the deal-making part of being a real estate lawyer,” he said. “I also like the fact that it’s fairly deadline driven, and I know what I have to do when. The cadence of real estate transactions kind of fits my personality.” 

Heydenburk has been involved with the Real Estate Council for several years, following in the fast-moving heelsteps of another Jackson Walker attorney and Real Estate Council chairwoman, Susan Halsey, who died in 2014. The Fort Worth Chamber, where Halsey also served as chair, named the Susan Halsey Executive Leadership Award in her honor. The award recognizes presidents, principals or chief executive officers who strengthen and transform the organization they lead. 

“That woman was a force in nature in this town and a huge loss when she passed away in 2014,” he said. 

Halsey had a reputation as one of the top real estate attorneys and helped establish the Real Estate Council and served in a variety of leadership roles in the business world. 

“What I saw from her was a very grounded, wonderful, kind, successful, thoughtful person,” said Heydenburk. 

He watched what Halsey did closely and tried to emulate her. 

“I sometimes joke that her coattails are shredded from me holding on for dear life,” he said. “I’m following her, and she allowed me to be in as much stuff as she wanted me to be involved in, so certainly she was a big influence.” 

Heydenburk also cited the managing partner at Jackson Walker’s Fort Worth office, Jay Rutherford, who got Heydenburk involved in the Texas Lyceum and Junior Achievement. 

“When I saw these two very, very busy people with very busy practices that were making time for their community – statewide and local community – that was hugely impactful for me, just very good people to emulate,” he said. 

Karen Vermaire Fox, executive director of the Real Estate Council, said Heydenburk was an early member of the council’s Young Leaders program. 

“He came to everything from day one and helped bring in new people and helped lead at all different kinds of things, so as a result he knows the organization really, really well,” said Fox. “That Young Leaders program is really helpful to develop leaders for the council and for the community.” 

Heydenburk brings a lot of skills to his new position, Fox said. 

“I think he’s a great listener. I think he is good at taking stock of where we are and moving us in the direction of where we need to go,” she said. 

Heydenburk believes the Real Estate Council and the Young Leaders program are very important for people just starting their real estate careers. 

“It really opens your eyes to what goes into the profession and then it opens your eyes to the community as well,” he said. “That’s really important.” 

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Bob FrancisBusiness Editor

Robert Francis is a Fort Worth native and journalist who has extensive experience covering business and technology locally, nationally and internationally. He is also a former president of the local Society...