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The Biggest Developer Nobody’s Ever Heard Of (with Isaac Manning)

October 27th, 2023

Listen to the Bigger Than Business Podcast’s interview with Isaac Manning on your favorite podcast providers!

What is Servant Leadership, and what does it bring to the lives of others? How does being told you’re “too stupid” parlay into an almost 40-year career as a respected and sought-after architect and developer? How do you create from tragedy a way to help families across the nation?

Listen as our guest, Isaac Manning, shares how his success came from failure, how he engages in servant leadership to build communities, and how his creation and involvement in the “Light the Trail Ride” is providing people nation-wide a way to open up communication on depression and suicide.

The Biggest Developer Nobody’s Ever Heard of   

By Jeff Holler

Isaac Manning wants people to know that the challenge is not what defines you. It’s your response that matters.

“Out of failure comes success. You can’t control much, but you can control your attitudes, and how you deal with failure.”

That mindset has allowed Isaac to persist, develop unique strengths, apply them in the best ways, and accomplish the seemingly impossible.


Told he was not smart enough to ever be an architect by the Dean of the School of Design at North Carolina State, he was also rejected by six architecture schools. However, Isaac persisted and was finally admitted to Virginia Tech.

“It was the greatest thing that could have possibly happened to me. In Blacksburg where there are no distractions in the middle of southwestern Virginia, is this great school that is pound for pound, the best architectural education in the country. Those guys took me apart and taught me how to think, at scales that I never would have imagined possible. So out of out of failure comes success.”

Build on Your Strengths

Most of what Isaac does is not flashy to the outside world, but it is a set of skills that few others possess. His motto: Only do the things that only you can do.

Unlike real estate moguls who want to drive fast cars and have their name on everything, Isaac shares, “I wanted to be the biggest developer nobody’s ever heard of. You do that through servant leadership, helping families and institutions fill the gaps that they have, for as long as that gap needs to be filled.”

Isaac thrives on filling the talent gap, when a project requires a very creative approach to what seems impossible.

“I’m an order from chaos guy. I’m great at starting stuff. If it’s a new deal, I’m getting on the plane. I’m great on the prototype battles. But when it comes time to grow a business beyond the prototype stage, I’ve got no interest. I could have made a lot more money had I shut my mouth, stayed put, and built another 60 million feet of a white boxes, but that’s just not how I’m wired.”

Find Where You are Most Needed

He attributes that mindset to his graduate work at the MIT Center for Real Estate Development. Rather than focus solely on architecture, it helped him collect a broad set of vital skills in high demand to go from concept to completion.

At the time, “the real estate profession could not find well-rounded project managers who knew the legal, the finance, the design, and the construction side of it in order to go build buildings.”

When he observed that mediocre developers were making all the money from the talent of bright architects, he decided use his talents to play on the other side of the table.

Tackle the Impossible

Isaac learned to take on big challenges as an intern, working with the team that convinced American Airlines to build a $450 million maintenance base at Alliance, an airport that nobody had heard of yet.

“My first day there and Ross Perot, Jr. walks into the meeting and declares ‘the only reason you guys were able to do this is because you didn’t know you couldn’t do it.’ That’s the beauty of being a 30-year old and not knowing.”

Indeed, he has overseen many projects that accomplish the seemingly impossible with a unique ability to see things in a project that others can’t see. I hope you will listen in as we explore his work on:

  • Reinventing the ASU Sun Devil stadium to triple its year-round usage
  • Turning vacant industrial land dismissed as a waste dump into the American Airlines Center arena, home of the Dallas Mavericks
  • The Boy Scouts National Jamboree site, and the National Scout Reserve in West Virginia
  • The United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia

It is a captivating look at taking on projects that nobody else thought could be done.

Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation


Bio: Isaac Manning has over 37 years of experience in real estate as an architect, developer, strategic planner, and consultant in both domestic and international markets, focusing on public-private partnerships that have major economic impact in their regions. Isaac was an architect in Washington, DC, before joining Hillwood in Texas. Currently, Isaac is Founder and President of Trinity Works, which provides servant leadership to families and institutions through real estate development, focusing on innovation, investment, and implementation. Among Isaac’s other accomplishments are the reinvention of Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium, site selection of the National Jamboree for the Boy Scouts of America and development of the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in West Virginia, and playing a key role in the development of the United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. Isaac has been engaged in a variety of civic and community organizations and boards, and he also co-founded the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation. In 2017, Isaac and Tom Harris completed the 3,700 mile Light the Trail Ride following Lewis and Clark’s route from Oregon to Washington, DC, to raise funds and awareness to battle the stigma of depression and suicide.  Isaac holds an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University and graduate degrees from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and MIT. He is a native North Carolinian and lives in Fort Worth with his family.