During Hunter Goodwin’s nine years in the NFL, he was dubbed the best blocking tight end in the league. He focused on being a team player and executing each play the way it was drawn up. Now, he takes the same disciplined approach to hotel operations and development in his role as president and COO of Oldham Goodwin Group, a commercial real estate company in Bryan, Texas.
Goodwin grew up in Bellville, Texas—a high school football hotbed—and played left tackle for Texas A&M, where he majored in business. After completing his degree, Goodwin played in the NFL for nine years with the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, and Atlanta Falcons. When he retired in 2005 because of a hip injury, Goodwin discovered he could transfer many of the skills he learned in the NFL to the real estate world.
“The NFL was better than any MBA I could have gotten,” he says. “Most people don’t understand the kind of high-stakes game we played week in and week out. You’re paid a lot of money, but there’s a tremendous amount of expectations. The criticism was open and candid. And if you repeated a mistake, you might be terminated.”
Banding together with teammates across different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, and races taught Goodwin that effective leaders know how to motivate others.
“You might get caught up in the mundane or in setbacks, but great leaders are those who can make you do better than you think,” he says. “Motivation and leadership are synonymous. When you’re competing, good leadership can’t be erratic. You can’t be running up and down the sidelines screaming at all the coaches.”
Goodwin showed an interest in real estate early on and leaned on his father, a small-town attorney, to learn everything he could about the industry. For his first venture, Goodwin formed a partnership with a group of fellow Texas A&M alumni he met in college to build apartments for student housing on campus, which he still owns today.
Though he made some rookie mistakes, the experience served as a good launching point for his post-football career. Goodwin teamed up with his former neighbor and Texas A&M alumnus Casey Oldham, who was busy working deals as a commercial real estate broker, to found the Oldham Goodwin Group. The diversified firm has interests in brokerage, development, and management.
“What makes our partnership work is that we have different skill sets,” Goodwin says. “I like the financial side of things, and he’s a real estate broker, so he’s really good at sales. Because of my sports background, I enjoy day-to-day operations, the people element, and development.”
Hospitality was one of the first management components Oldham Goodwin tackled. “We got in by default,” Goodwin says. “In 2005 and 2006, I had invested in a hotel with others, and it was not performing at all. Because it was in our backyard, I was asked to get involved, and so I found myself in the hospitality business changing a tire on a car going 60 miles an hour. It was a disaster at first, but we restored confidence, got cash flowing again, and got the debt serviced.”
Today, Oldham Goodwin manages 10 hotels of which the two partners have ownership interests in eight*. As director of hospitality, Goodwin oversees asset management and operations of the company’s branded properties, which are spread across Texas. “When we started out, we didn’t know who we wanted to be, but now we have a plan and are trying to focus on certain brands in certain markets,” Goodwin says. “With the sector at an all-time high, we’re trying to strategically dispose of assets so we can maximize our investment. We’re seeing hyper-development in this area like we’ve never seen before. We don’t know if it’s sustainable because demand is not tracking with supply. So we will be very cautious.”
Goodwin spends most of his time focused on the hospitality arm of the business, which is where 85 percent of the company’s 400 employees work.
“The thing I like about hospitality is that it’s ever changing and evolving, much like a football game,” he says. “You can put together a great game plan, then you get two minutes into a game and the other team is throwing different things at you than you expected. It’s about guests feeling special and having a great experience. We’re building the right layers of people who know how to go the extra mile, and we go the extra mile for employees.”
* Updated to reflect limited ownership partnerships of properties in Oldham Goodwin management portfolio.