Gary Keller, '79

September 29, 2011
Gary Keller Medal of Service Winner

Medal of Service // Business Leadership

Individual whose leadership has made a significant impact in our world and on future generations

Gary Keller, BBA '79

  • Co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Keller Williams Realty, now the second largest and fastest growing residential real estate company in North America
  • Co-author of three nationally best-selling books: The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, The Millionaire Real Estate Investor and Shift
  • Established the Keller Center for Research in Residential Real Estate and Marketing at Baylor University
  • Finalist for Inc. magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year in 2004, named second-most influential person in the real estate industry by REALTOR magazine in 2003, and was Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Central Texas in 2003
  • Voted one of five "Most Admired People" by an industry magazine in 2000, was named among the 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders in 2010
  • Married to Mary Pfluger, BA '77; they have a 20-year-old son, John Christian

As a freshly minted high school graduate in mid-1970s Houston, Gary Keller didn't plan on becoming a real estate executive. College really wasn't in his plans, either.

"I thought I was going to be a rock musician, and so I wasn't going to college," explains Keller. "But partway through the summer, I went to my parents and said, 'This music thing isn't working out.' And they said, 'Well, we applied to a college for you, and you've been accepted. Would you like to go?' And I went, 'Wow, cool! Where is it?'" 

The young Keller took a visit to Baylor and decided it was the place for him. 

"My sister was there, my dad had gone to Baylor for one year, and they liked it, so they had just sent in the application. I hadn't given college two seconds' thought, but I got to Baylor, fell in love with the campus and fell in love with learning." 

Keller has fond memories of Penland Hall, where he was a "'wing-ding,' a resident manager on the central third floor." He was a member of Lambda Chi fraternity, serving as vice president and participating in Sing. He says the relationships he made at Baylor are undoubtedly his fondest memories; in fact, Keller and four friends held a roommate reunion this past summer, and it reminded him of just how wonderful his college days at Baylor were.

But it was during the summer before his junior year when Keller became interested in real estate; upon the advice of his father, he spent time shadowing various professionals.

"My dad had me go spend some time with an attorney, an accountant, a banker and a real estate agent," says Keller. "I liked the real estate guy, and it just so happened that Baylor had started a degree program that year in real estate and insurance, so I came back and enrolled in it. My senior year, I worked for the department head, Walstein Smith. Baylor encouraged companies to come and interview students, and the top real estate company in Austin came to the university and I interviewed. That's what convinced me to move to Austin; Baylor kind of did all of that. Baylor gave me the foundation I needed to go out and get into a lifetime career."

Observing a need for residential real estate agencies that were both employee- and customer-friendly, he co-founded Keller Williams Realty in 1983. Despite the sharp downturn in the real estate market, since 2005, Keller Williams Realty has seen substantial growth in number of agents, market centers, closed units and closed gross commission income, under Keller's direction. The company was recently recognized as the second-largest real estate franchise in the United States, and Keller believes the company will pass Coldwell Banker and become number one by the end of 2012.

As his business flourished, Keller decided he wanted to leave a lasting mark at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. In 2007, his $5 million gift established the Keller Center, which offers budding Baylor real estate professionals the benefit of conducting crucial research in the real estate industry. The Keller Center is making Baylor a hub for research in the little-addressed areas of buyer-seller relationships and marketing and management issues as related to real estate agencies and small businesses.

"I wanted to give back to the university, and simultaneously, I wanted to honor my profession in some way," says Keller. "I'm really excited about the direction that it's now taking, and the faculty I've worked with there are outstanding. Their love and commitment to the students is awesome, exactly what it needs to be. These students may not even fully appreciate or be aware of how much Baylor and these professors care about them and how hard they're trying to really help them. To me it's very, very impressive, and that's why I've made my commitment to the business school. It's just outstanding."