- Dave Liniger faced death and paralysis.
- Co-founder of RE/MAX lives life with no regrets
- Liniger penned a book on his illness that almost had him down for the count
“That makes you the worst kind of hypocrite. If you give up now, you will wash away forty years of delivering speeches to tens of thousands of people, encouraging them to never give up, to deal with whatever obstacles have been put in their way, to find the courage to face those obstacles head on! Screw it. I won’t quit. Not now, not ever!”
Page 73, “My Next Step” by Dave Liniger
Forty years ago, Dave Liniger co-founded RE/MAX in Denver. Last year, the approximate 90,000 RE/MAX agents in 89 countries,sold $296 billion in real estate. Of that, $165 billion was in the U.S.
Last week, sitting in a conference room in his palatial headquarters building in the Denver Tech Center, the 67-year-old Liniger mused that all the naysayer, real estate power brokers who four decades ago said that RE/MAX would never make it, are no longer here.
“They’re all dead,” Liniger said, in his usual blunt fashion. “They were in their 40s and 50s when they were the establishment and we were the upstart. It’s funny that we are now the establishment and there are plenty of upstarts out there going after us.”
Liniger, who changed the residential real estate world by popularizing the 100 percent commission idea and is attending the annual RE/MAX conference in Las Vegas this week, also died, in effect, a year ago.
However, he is back from what some would call a near-death experience.
On January 28, 2012, Liniger flew to Galveston to deliver a speech forecasting housing trends at the 35th annual RE/MAX of Texas Statewide Conference.
He woke up around 2 a.m. in his hotel room, paralyzed. He thought it was the result of multiple shots of steroid he had in his back, as he put off needed surgery.
It turned out to be methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which had formed sacs of pus all around his spine. He apparently got the infection by scraping his forearm when he tripped over an electric cord hooked up to his new Tesla electric car in his garage at his mansion near the private Sanctuary Golf Course that he and his wife, Gail, own in Castle Pines. A golf writer once wrote that the Sanctuary might be “the most exclusive golf course in the world.”
Liniger was flown to the Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, where he ended up spending about seven months, part of it in a coma.
The experience led him to publish a book, My Next Step, An Extraordinary Journey of Healing and Hope, which will be available this spring. The book was written with a professional writer, Laura Morton, who has helped pen books for more than 30 celebrities including Justin Bieber, Jerry Springer, Al Roker, Melissa Etheridge, Duane “Dog” Chapman and Susan Lucci, to name a few.
In February of last year, he was in room 20 in the ICU at Skyridge. Cardiologist Dr. Barry Molk rushed to his room after Code Blue blared through speakers, alerting staff that Liniger was in cardiac arrest.
“By the time he ran into my room, I had flatlined — that’s hospital speak for ‘died.’ I had no heart beat,” Liniger recalls in his book.
Molk performed CPR on Liniger and revived him.
However, Liniger was far from being out the woods. During his extended hospital stay, he became so depressed at one point that he almost gave up. He also suffered terrible hallucinations from drugs and he noted last week that the infection caused many of his organs to collapse, one after another. He had two extremely dangerous operations that could have left him unable to walk — or dead.
He decided not go give up, but to be realistic.
For example, if he were to be rendered a paraplegic, a distinct possibility, he decided he was going to be the best paraplegic in the world. Indeed, he was more worried about the possibility of losing his voice than his legs, as he prides himself on his motivational speaking gift.
Liniger, against all odds, did return to work last July. First, he came to work in a motorized chair, then a walker, progressing to crutches. Now, he gets around with the help of a cane.
He does daily physical therapy at Craig Hospital, where is wife, Gail, the co-founder of RE/MAX, was rehabilitated after a plane crash in Canada almost killed her 29 years ago. Gail, extremely athletic before the crash, never let that stop her, although she is more physically challenged than her husband. She golfs one-handed at the Sanctuary, where she has sunk a hole-in-one on a very difficult, but breathtakingly beautiful course.
Now, grappling with his own health issues, Gail is a bigger inspiration to Liniger than ever.
“Gail never once complained or had a pity party for herself,” Liniger said.
The support of his family, friends and business associates also has been extraordinarily helpful as he recovers, but he realizes that does not make him unique.
“Family and friends are important to everyone,” said Liniger, whose own family members note that he has always sported a tougher-than-nails, John Wayne-style persona. Mary, one of his four children, recalled in the book how her father would shake her hand when she was growing up, as hugging made him uncomfortable.
Liniger lived a life that would make Errol Flynn seem like a couch potato.
He served three tours in Vietnam, but never graduated from college. After struggling financially for the first decade after starting the RE/MAX franchise in 1973 in the Tech Center, he became extraordinary wealthy. He has owned a NASCAR racing team, has gone deep-sea diving all over the world, (including exploring a Japanese ship wreck from World War II in the South Pacific), has skydived from airplanes and hot-air balloons, has a jet-pilot license and bagged big-game hunting in Africa. He collaborated with NASA on a technologically advanced helium balloon that he hoped to navigate around the world, but the trip was foiled by strong winds when he tried to take off from Alice Springs, Australia, in January 1999.
He said friends often ask him about his “Eureka” moment that they assume he had when so close to death.
There wasn’t any. The non-religious Liniger did not even see lights, or a tunnel or deceased friends when his heart stopped.
“I have been a solider and I have seen combat. I am a husband and father. I have been a policeman. I have been a businessman. I am a philanthropist, an explorer and adventurer. I have had all of these titles, but never once let them define me. These are just pieces of the man, not the whole of who I am,” Liniger wrote in My Next Step.
He realizes his illness means a chapter of his life is over.
“You know, I will never be physically certified to fly a plane again, and that is OK. I’ve had a good life and I have no regrets. I don’t have a bucket list.”
In addition to years of rehab ahead of him to reach his goal of walking unaided, he had undergone one big physical change.
“I lost 50 pounds,” Liniger said. “Unfortunately, it was all muscle. I lost 50 pounds of muscle and none of my fat.”
Liniger said that while he was incapacitated during most of 2012, the “company ran like a top.” He said that was both humbling and satisfying.
“It shows that RE/MAX is just fine without me; I am not indispensable,” he said.
He admits he has made plenty of mistakes while building the only international residential real estate company that can boast the same owners in charge 40 years after it was founded.
“Look, I was 27 years old when I started RE/MAX. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no game plan. I didn’t know how to run a business or manage people. It wasn’t just our competitors trying to put us out of business. We were doing a pretty good job of that ourselves. We learned by doing.”
He read every book he could get his hands on about motivating people and how great companies, like McDonalds, were created, underlining passages that spoke to him. He attended seminars offered by Disney. He made fun of companies like Herbalife, Amway and Mary Kay, but attended their conferences to see what lessons could be learned that would be relevant to making RE/MAX better.
“We might not have pink Cadillacs like at Mary Kay, but that doesn’t mean I would let that stop me from finding what worked at companies and applying it to RE/MAX,” Liniger said.
It goes without saying, he worked hard. He still does.
“You know, a lot of people think I am a workaholic because I’ll come to the office at 5 a.m and not leave until 6 or later that night,” Liniger said.
Not true, he said.
He balances life, work and family.
“Back in the 1970s, I read a book called the Three Boxes of Life. It said for most people there are the learning years, from birth to college. Then, there are the earning years. When you finally retire, those are supposed to be your golden years. Instead, for most people those are the yearning years. Most people wish they had made different choices. Their lives are full of regrets.”
From that moment forward, he decided never to stop learning, never to stop earning, and never to stop enjoying himself. Of the three, earning is less of a concern to him now than in the early days, he admits, when he didn’t know how he would meet his next payroll.
“We will go to Lake Powell three or four times a year and we would go on an African safari and never once call the office. If you are only a workaholic, what do you get besides being burned out?”
Yet, he has continued to loves what he does, even during the Great Recession, the worst stretch for real estate he has seen during his four decades in the business.
“I fully expect to work until the day I die.”
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