Throwing your company’s primary physical asset out the second-floor window usually isn’t a good way to start a business.
But that’s the first thing Rattikin Title founder Jack Rattikin Sr. literally did to help launch his Fort Worth business. Now, after 75 years – and three generations of continuous family ownership and leadership – it seems to have worked out pretty well.
The company, a title insurance agency with about 100 employees, issues title insurance policies that protect the owner’s and lender’s interest in a property if defects in the property’s title or liens on the property arise.
What Rattikin and others were throwing out the window of a downtown building in 1943 were tract books with records of Tarrant County property transfers, said Jack Rattikin III, grandson of the late Rattikin.
He’s been president of the company since 1999, and CEO since 2004. His father, Jack Rattikin Jr., preceded him as president (1968-1999) and CEO (1968-2004). The elder Rattikin is still active as the company’s chairman of the board.
In the early 1940s, when “title insurance was really a brand new thing,” Rattikin said, his grandfather, an attorney practicing in Fort Worth, had been working in the industry recruiting and training agents for a Galveston company.
At one point, Rattikin said, his grandfather decided he wanted to start his own title insurance agency. But to do that, Texas insurance regulations required that his grandfather own a “title plant,” a set of comprehensive records of property transfers in Tarrant County going back to 1845, the year Texas became a state.
Rattikin explained that his grandfather was throwing a title plant out the window into a truck not to dispose of it, but to preserve it so he could launch his business.
His grandfather heard from a friend that “a plant was available from a man that didn’t want it,” Rattikin said. “My grandfather called him and he said, ‘Yeah, if you want this title plant, all these records, the tract books and cards and all these things, you can have them. But I’ve got to be out of my office by 5 o’clock. If you can come and get them by 5 o’clock, you can have it.’ ”
The elder Rattikin hastily “got a buddy of his who had a big open-top truck, pulled it up underneath the second-story window of the guy’s office and they just tossed it out the window. They didn’t have time to box it and sort it and all that stuff. They just said we’ll worry about that later. They just tossed all the stuff out the window.
“It was a nightmare putting it back together,” Rattikin said.
But his grandfather and grandmother, who owned the company together, recruited some friends and “just sorted page by page by page to put it all back together. And that was the title plant that we still have from 1944.”
From the beginning when his grandparents worked together to acquire and organize the title plant until today, Rattikin Title has always been a family business, Rattikin said.
His father, Rattikin Jr., “wanted to be an electrical engineer,” he said, but he eventually joined the company. After graduating from the University of Texas and UT Law School in Austin, his father joined the U.S. Army, serving the Transportation Corps in Virginia. After his service, Rattikin Jr. returned to Texas to practice criminal law for a short time before joining the company in 1969.
“He came into the title insurance business and was very successful,” Rattikin III said. During a “long tenure as president of the company, he grew the company and continued our outstanding reputation in the community.”
Rattikin III grew up working for the title company every summer from age 15 through high school at R.L. Paschal, college at the University of Texas in Austin and law school at Texas Tech University. “In my 35 years, I’ve done every single job in the company because I started as a kid.”
He said the family business came up a lot around the dinner table.
“My dad would bring me down to his office on Saturdays and I’d kind of poke around and see what was going on. So I knew what the title insurance business was and I had a sense that it might be something I’d be interested in doing.”
All of Rattikin’s siblings are also employed at the company.
His brother, Jeff, is a real estate attorney and the company’s legal counsel. One sister performs marketing research, and the other sister, a CPA, does accounting for some the partner businesses owned by the company.
And now, the fourth generation of Rattikins is also working in the family business, he said. “My son is employed with our company and my nephew, an attorney, is employed by us.”
In the course of his career, Rattikin said, the biggest change in the industry has been the transition to digital recordkeeping, which has been ongoing for 30 years.
He said that another major upcoming change made possible by digitization is digital closings, which will allow for on-screen signing of virtually all documents. He said this will also allow for easier and more convenient pre-closing review of documents and may also shorten the time required for closing sessions.
During his leadership tenure, Rattikin said his company has been “the top Fort Worth-based title company in the market. Since 2011, our company has grown substantially and we have had record-setting years.”
Before 2011, however, Rattikin Title faced the same challenging economic downturns that affected real estate and other major industries in the U.S.
“I started in the business in 1983, and in the early ’80s business was great. And I knew nothing but business was great for several years.
“In my career I've seen two major real estate recessions: the late ’80s,” when the savings and loan crisis arose and the oil and gas industry suffered a downturn, “and then again, 2008 to 2011,” when the home mortgage crisis triggered the Great Recession.
“Those two recessions played a big part in my life and understanding that the real estate business is not always great,” Rattikin said.
“When a huge recession goes on and on and on, you have to cut costs because the income isn’t there. People aren't buying and selling a house in a recession. They can't get a loan because they don't have a job. So it just piles on.
“The hardest thing for me is dealing with a need to cut staff in those recessions because our staff has mouths to feed, they've got bills to pay, they've got mortgages to pay, car payments to make. And that was the most hurtful thing to me is seeing people from all businesses, not just the title business, all businesses lose their jobs. It's terrible,” Rattikin said.
But “we have been successful. We've never shut the doors in 75 years, we have never missed a payroll in 75 years. It's how you keep your company going,” he said.
While economic recession can occasionally arise, another more immediate challenge faces his company daily, he said: electronic fund transfer fraud.
He explained that title companies collect, hold and distribute all the funds in real estate transactions, which involve hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars. Funds come in from buyers, sellers and lenders, and then they are distributed accordingly.
He said cyber-criminals are aware of title companies’ role in these transactions and vigorously try to interfere, intercept and re-route funds being sent and received.
“The bad guys are always out there trying to steal money. To date, our company has not lost a penny to wire transfer fraud,” nor have any of his customers, he said. “And that's because we are very aware of the fraud situation. We talk to our people every single day about wire fraud and how dangerous it is. And our staff has caught many attempts.”
Despite the challenges of his business, he said the company’s longevity and strength as a third-generation family-owned business “is almost a miracle.”
“To make it through three generations of running and owning a company hardly ever happens in America,” he said. “You rarely see a company go to the third generation without being sold or going out of business. So that's a big deal to me that we made it 75 years. And you know, we're looking forward to the next 75 years under the same family ownership. That's a big deal.”
He also praised “the staff that we've employed over 75 years, many of whom spent their entire careers at Rattikin Title. We've had people retire from our company with over 50 years of service to our company. And so they started as a receptionist, as a title searcher, something like that, and spent over 50 years in our company. That's incredible. You know, you're not gonna see that much anymore.”
As Rattikin Title celebrates its 75th anniversary, President and CEO Jack Rattikin III recalled some of the properties, people and organizations his company has served over the years, as well as some of the more memorable transactions his company has closed.
• Bass Family
• City Center Towers
• Hulen Mall
• Tarrant County Convention Center
• Texas Stadium when Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys
• Sundance Square
• Texas Motor Speedway
“We're here to provide a service and the best thing that can happen to us is when a buyer or a seller and their related parties walk out of a closing room with a smile on their face and they're excited about their transaction. Whether they were a seller or a buyer or a borrower, and they're excited about their new house or their new office building, we have a duty to all the parties to act on their behalf. And when they walk out of here with a smile and they're happy, it puts a smile on my face too. So that's the end goal: happy customers,” Rattikin said.
Rattikin Title 75th Anniversary
The company will promote and celebrate its 75th anniversary throughout the year in various ways:
• Anniversary events for customers at each of the company’s nine locations in Tarrant and Parker counties
• Promotional materials and the company’s stationery will feature the 75th anniversary branding
• The company will cap off the anniversary celebration at a private event in the fall