Originally created 04/27/97

Billionaire stayed course with country clubs concept



FARMERS BRANCH, Texas - Robert H. Dedman became immensely wealthy by selling fun to the well-to-do.

"The more fun we have, the more money we make. The more money we make, the more fun we have," Dedman says with a chuckle about his business of country clubs, golf courses and resorts.

Now the 71-year-old billionaire is having fun all the way to the bank. His privately held management company, Club Corporation International, is the largest in the private club industry with assets at $3 billion and annual gross revenues of more than $1 billion a year. Dedman himself is a perennial on Forbes magazine's list of the 400 richest people in America.

It was all part of his plan.

Starting out poor in cotton-growing Arkansas, Dedman knew early that if he were going to rise from rags to riches he would need a program.

"There were times I literally didn't have shoes. I was very, very poor and I wanted to get very, very rich," he said, his voice, soft-spoken with a hint of twang.

By the time he was 18, he had set up his life plan, an idea which revolved around a basic premise, that people who make the most money work the hardest.

So, he pledged to work 80 hours a week from age 20 to 35; 60 hours a week from 35 to 50; 40 hours a week from 50 to 65. His goal was to make $50 million by the time he was 50 and to give away at least $1 million a year.

An A-student, Dedman said he got started by wooing the young women at a statewide student conference. Knowing that all of the attendees would vote for the best speaker and that the prize was a four-year scholarship, Dedman says he made friends with women and dated his way into the University of Texas at Arlington.

"I got the most outstanding speaker award. It wasn't because I was the best speaker; it was because I had a plan," he said.

That plan carried over into the next few years. By the time he was 23, Dedman had earned degrees in engineering, economics and law, attending school for two years as a sailor with the U.S. Navy, while also selling insurance and real estate.

He moved on to build a successful law practice, serving as general counsel for the late Dallas oil billionaire H.L. Hunt, while earning his master's degree in law at night from Southern Methodist University.

But while good clients pay good rates, Dedman said, he realized he wasn't going to reach his $50 million goal as an attorney.

"There are two ways to get rich as a lawyer. You can marry a rich woman, which I hadn't done. The other way is to work hard for 50 years and then marry a rich woman," he deadpanned.

So Dedman started looking for a vehicle to take him to his dreams.

In 1957 he founded Brookhaven Country Club, built on 400 acres in the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch. Dedman's marketing concept was to make it affordable by building three golf courses around one club. That meant the per-member cost would be less - the initiation fee is a modest $3,500 - and Dedman could pay his workers more than other country clubs.

The idea was revolutionary, but it worked. People signed right up.

"The concept itself was strong enough to get us through the learning curve," he said.

Still, for the first seven years, Dedman kept his day job. He continued his law practice 60 hours each week and spent 20 hours a week building his club. He said his part-time interest in the club forced him to hire good employees, which in turn helped the club.

Today ClubCorp has about 20,000 employees, manages more than 230 clubs, including nine resort properties and 40 public fee courses. The company owns 187 of the sites and manages 49 with 3,114 holes of golf available.

Some of its better-known properties were bought during financial upheavals, such as ClubCorp's purchase of Pinehurst in North Carolina. The premier club had been foreclosed on by eight banks. He obtained Gleneagles in Plano, Texas, the course where PGA star Fred Couples prefers to practice, from the Resolution Trust Corp., the agency formed to clean up the savings and loan mess.

Future growth is expected to be on a worldwide basis, Dedman said. ClubCorp has 10 international facilities and is building more in Asia, Central American and South America.

In 1988, Dedman got into the thrift industry when he purchased three insolvent savings and loan companies and merged them to create Franklin Federal Bancorp.

But ClubCorp remains his core business. Dedman says the company is heading toward the day when he will shift from chief executive to chairman. He says he's promised his staff he'll make the move when the company hits revenues of $2 billion a year, which he believes will happen by 2000.

"That keeps their eye on the goal," he jokes.

Still keeping his eyes on his own plan, Dedman has far outpaced the decision to give away $1 million a year. He has given a $25 million endowment to SMU for its liberal arts college, and donated scholarship funds to 3,200 National Merit Scholars at the University of Texas. He also has given multi-million dollar contributions to health concerns, including the Robert H. Dedman Memorial Medical Center in Dallas, named for his father.

An armchair philosopher and humorist, Dedman said he's been able to keep an eye on his lifetime goals because of his penchant for moderation.

"To have a high energy level you have to do several things. You have to get 56 hours of rest (each week) and eat correctly. You can't drink too much or smoke at all. You do have to exercise," he said.

"You have to look after your love life, your sex life and your family life. Of course, if those are all the same you can save a lot of time," he adds with a laugh. Dedman has been married for 44 years and has two children and three grandchildren.

Dedman's doctrine for living will be showing up in a book that he's working on and hopes to title "How to Grow Rich in a Lot More Than Money."

"The things it takes to grow rich are the same principles in having a rich life," he said.