Tray Bates can make a pretty good dip cone.

For seven years, the 2019 Texas REALTORS® Chairman and his wife, Jessica, ran a Dairy Queen in Sinton, about a half-hour north of Corpus Christi.

Following Jessica’s successful run for Sinton City Council and Tray’s mid-campaign proposal, the newlyweds were grousing about their local Dairy Queen when they had the idea to take it over.

“We did everything,” Bates says. “We were janitors. We were fixing things. I was learning refrigeration, maintenance, and how to handle the accounting while my wife dealt with employees and helped us stay on top of what we were supposed to be doing.

“As a team, it was a good experience, but with the mandates associated with being a franchise and cost to open additional locations, I realized that I couldn’t do this and my passion, which was real estate.”
Thankfully for the association and his colleagues, Bates followed his passion all the way to the Leadership Team.

“Texas REALTORS® is one of the few organizations that has a network already established across the state. All we have to do is effectively activate that network.”

Exercising his talents


  • 3rd-generation REALTOR®
  • 2009 REALTOR® of the Year for the Corpus Christi Association of REALTORS®
  • 18 years as a REALTOR®
  • Founding member of the South Texas Commercial Association
  • 3 designations: CCIM, CIPS, SIOR

Bates is a third-generation real estate broker, but after graduating from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, he decided to start his career in Dallas rather than returning to the family business in Corpus Christi.

He worked for the real estate arm of a hospital group and as a broker for a large commercial real estate firm before joining real estate group CMD Realty Investors. The environment there and his boss, Bob Gibbons, gave Bates the opportunity to prove himself.

“He recognized the talents I brought to the table and allowed me to exercise them to be effective,” Bates says of Gibbons.

“He set a vision for where we needed to be and a rationale for why certain things needed to be done,” he says. “Sometimes in corporate environments, you don’t get that rationale, and it can be frustrating if you don’t understand why you’re being told to do things.

If you have a vision you’re able to buy into, you can be unleashed to do what you do best,” Bates says.

In that role at CMD Realty Investors, Bates became a top producer in the Dallas market and received the Dallas Business Journal’s Commercial Real Estate Heavy Hitter award in 2002.

“That acknowledgement gave me confidence that I’d achieved what I wanted and that it was time to go home and take what I’d learned with me back to the family business,” Bates says.

A grassroots rise

“We don’t just fall into what we’re doing,” Bates says. “We plan for what we’re doing.

“Years ago, I had conversations with some of my mentors where they suggested I get involved with association leadership.”

Mentors like Lawrence Young and Roy Del Bosque pulled him into the organization and made him believe he had something to offer.

A self-described political animal—he was canvassing for local campaigns at age 7—Bates gravitated toward governmental affairs and TREPAC.

“I’ve been a grassroots guy from Day One at the local level, and that grew into the state level,” Bates says. His first state-level appointment was on what’s now known as the Political Involvement Committee.

“I fell in love with the organization from the moment I served on my first committee,” Bates says of Texas REALTORS®. “I walked into the room and was overwhelmed by the passion our members bring to this organization.”

He followed that vein of political involvement through several positions at the association, making new connections and mentors along the way—what he calls his “trail of leadership.”

“As you grow in your roles, you start finding new people with unique traits who might understand certain aspects of the industry, issues, or ways of doing things that are different than what you know,” he says.

While Bates entered association leadership with a focus on commercial issues, the roles he’s had since have expanded his knowledge about the rest of the real estate industry.

“It’s a hugely rewarding process to have that knowledge become part of who you are,” he says. “My career and the opportunities I’ve had have definitely been enhanced by that.”

One of the most important lessons he’s learned over the years is that your success as a leader depends on the group you’re working with.

“There are so many talented people you develop friendships and relationships with at all levels of the association,” he says. “I feel blessed by the number of friends I’ve developed over the course of my time in leadership.”

A shared vision

This is his year leading the association, but Bates takes the long view. What Bates is most passionate about are changes that have been evolving over the course of the years he’s spent climbing the leadership ranks.

“You can’t wait until your year as chairman to effect change,” he says. “You have to start sharing your view and providing influence much earlier in the process.

“A lot of what I want to accomplish is the delivery of ideas that started in previous years,” he says. “They may be ideas and conversations that started with earlier leaders, but it’s a shared vision.”

Improving the association’s political ground game is one such initiative.

“Through my years serving on the Political Involvement Committee, I saw how much money there was in politics,” Bates says.

“You can never have enough money, so you have to be effective on the ground.

“We’re one of the few organizations that has a network already established across the state. All we have to do is effectively activate that network.”

Matching the association’s history of successful fundraising and influence at the Texas Capitol with an unmatched grassroots network has been in the works for years, but Bates is excited to be chairman heading into the first session of the Texas Legislature where all the association’s initiatives are in place.

Mentorship is another cause important to Bates, and he is looking forward to the rollout of a program for directors and committee members at the national and state level of the REALTOR® organization.

When first appointed to new positions, Bates says, members tend to observe rather than participate—potentially missing out on a valuable opportunity to contribute.

“Instead of that typical response, we want a paradigm shift,” he says.

Through the program, new leaders will be paired with a more experienced mentor and have the access and support to be ready to contribute on Day One, Bates says.

The feeling from Bates’s first committee meeting has never left him.

“It’s a humbling experience to serve alongside these dedicated members,” he says. “I cherish that.

“And with where I am now, I feel like I have a duty to continue to encourage members to get involved and help them understand what a wonderful experience it is.”

Did you know that Tray Bates …

Fills his free moments with Boy Scouts

“I have three boys, and my wife says that I fill every free moment with Boy Scouts. She says, ‘I’ve missed you all week and now you’re going camping?’ I never got my Eagle Scout. I recognize now how important that would have been for me, so I’m passionate about providing that opportunity for young men. Not only for my boys, but for all the boys we work with, because I see how that can be a benefit to their lives, help jumpstart where they want to go in life, and give them more choices.”

Wanted to get married in Italy

“When Jessica and I were planning our wedding, we wanted to have it in Italy. Then we realized that not all our family members would be able to make that trip, so we decided to do something closer to home. We still haven’t been able to make that Italy trip, but we’d like to take our boys with us and have them see the things that Jessica did while she studied abroad there. I haven’t been to Italy, but it’s a trip I’d like to do with her someday.”

Likes loud, extended goodbyes

“At family gatherings, my dad always pulled up to the house honking the horn and would leave the same way, honking down the road. We love big, boisterous entries and extended goodbyes. And this is just another way to do that. My sister does it when her family is over for the holidays, and my brother does it whenever we see each other. I’m sure my neighbors love it, but that’s just the way we do it.”

Got in trouble on his first local campaign

“When I was a young boy helping out on a local city council campaign, I was told to knock on all the doors in a neighborhood, tell whoever answered about my candidate, and give them a flyer. I did that for a while. Then, I thought there had to be an easier way and started dropping the flyers in each house’s mailbox. I did the whole neighborhood that way. I didn’t know there were rules about putting materials without postage in mailboxes! Someone filed a complaint, and I got in trouble. It was a good lesson to learn.”