I spent the last couple years working with Henry Turley. I wasn’t a full-time employee or anything—just helped out on some projects and kept my real estate license there. I’m moving on again, to become Vice President of Retail Brokerage at Newmark Grubb Memphis. I had a lot of fun working downtown at the Cotton Exchange building, and will always be grateful for the lessons I learned from Henry.

  1. It’s okay to have a messy desk. In the two years I’ve been around, Henry let his assistant clean off his desk one time. Over the course of days she diligently filed and tossed the inches-thick tornado of papers. Within a week of her finishing, the desk looked the same as it had before. He’s got one drawer with a dozen or so file folders in it that relevant papers go into, but most everything else goes into one giant pile spread across his desk. I can’t get away with that, but it does assuage my guilt in not keeping a perfectly organized work space. Maybe thinking less about where stuff goes and more about how things fit together breeds vision; maybe there’s just better stuff to do.

  1. Don’t wear fear. When somebody told me Henry had swum across the Mississippi River, I assumed it was something he’d done in his 20’s on a wild hare. In his office overlooking the river a year later, I learned the real story. He was actually in his 40’s, considering the development of a large tract of land along the Mississippi north of downtown. He and his friend Ward Archer embarked on the mid-summer swim to get a better view of what would become Harbor Town and confront the river mythology of perilous currents, whirlpools and quicksand. There is a record of annual races across the river, drawing dozens of Memphians to swim and hundreds to picnic on the bluffs and watch, he told me. So Henry and Ward triangulated their course from the Arkansas side, calculating how far north they’d have to go to pull themselves from the water at the future site of the Mississippi Greenbelt Park. Then they did it.

  1. It’s not about the money but it’s all about the money. It’s clear Henry loves his job the way kids love to play. He was born to develop real estate and he’ll probably die developing real estate. You’d think someone like that, especially someone who’s been so successful, at this point might not think about the money. But Henry is as fastidious about the numbers as any accountant. In a few minutes he can pencil out a pro forma that would take me an hour with Excel. Admittedly he rarely invests alone, so the care he uses in business relates to the genuine concern he holds for others. But I can’t help but think that money is and always has been with him just a way of keeping score, and he likes his winning percentage.

  1. Clean it up. One of the first things I noticed about Henry was his habit of picking weeds. We’d be walking down the sidewalk chatting and suddenly he’d stop and pry loose a sprig of green from a crack or pick up a bit of trash. We’d meet for coffee on a Saturday morning and it was obvious he’d been chopping brush and pruning trees again in Uptown. I could extrapolate meaning from these acts, but I won’t. It’s just one of those things he does without thinking. To me it simply reflects a deep humility and love for the city.

  1. Respect the place. Henry spends a lot of time walking, standing and being places. He listens to the sounds, watches how people move and feel places. He likes to ask you what a place wants to be. It reminds me of how artists talk about sculpture. You take the wood or stone as it is, letting the form come through the medium, as if to reveal some eternal truth. I think that’s how Henry develops real estate.

Henry at work