Tom Tognoli is living out the American dream. In 2002, he co-founded Intero, an innovative Silicon Valley-based company, which grew to become one of the top real estate firms in the country. In 2013, Intero accounted for over 11,000 transactions and $8 billion in sales. The company’s success was noticed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. In the spring of this year, Berkshire Hathaway’s affiliate HomeServices of America, the second largest independent real estate brokerage firm in the U.S., acquired Intero. Tom Tognoli leads Intero as the firm’s President and CEO.
Struggles along the Way
Tognoli’s road to success was not straightforward. It was paved with challenges and struggle. He was born in San Mateo and moved with his family to Sunnyvale in 1965 where he grew up and attended school. Sports were his priority; he ran track and played football. “But I was just a mediocre student,” he says. “I had trouble concentrating. The letters and words got all mixed up in my head. My mind would wander, and I was antsy.” He suffered from dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “There was not a diagnosis back then,” says Tognoli. “You were just considered hyper and not too smart.”
He attended DeAnza and Chico State, but never received the credits he needed to graduate. “I had a hard time reading and putting two sentences together, much less writing an essay,” he says.
Tognoli went into real estate after college. “I bought my first house at 25 in 1989, but then the world came undone.” Following the 1989 earthquake, the real estate market collapsed, and the recession hit. “I was young and naïve and didn’t even know what a recession was.” But Tognoli persevered in the business, was married in 1991 and had two children by 1999.
The struggles and challenges continued. “My wife was working and we were under pressure,” says Tognoli. “I was starting to drink more – probably too much. No one ever told me that, but I knew. I had become obese – around 220 pounds — and developed other health issues. My cholesterol was over 300, and my blood pressure was through the roof.”
No one on the outside knew, but Tognoli’s life was a mess. The turning point came in 1999. “I can remember the time and place. I was with one of my partners and close friend, John Thompson. It was very emotional. I was crying. He was crying. And I said ‘I am done with it — done with being ‘normal.’’ I wanted to be there for my kids and I wanted to be a good example. I realized that I just had to stop drinking, get healthy and take hold of my life.”
Tognoli dabbled with not drinking until he went to a seminar given by a child psychiatrist. One statement by the psychiatrist resonated with him. “If you want to know what your kids are going to be like when they grow up, look in the mirror.” At that point, Tognoli gave up drinking entirely and has not had a drink in over 12 years.
Tognoli not only stopped drinking, but turned his whole life around. He started on a fitness regimen, spent more time with his wife and children, renewed his focus on business, and found God.
As a child Tognoli attended a Catholic Church with his family. “We went to church every Sunday. I went through first communion and catechism classes, but it never clicked with me. When I got married, my wife and I rarely went to church.” But when Tognoli’s oldest son was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, Tognoli and his wife put him in a Christian School which was equipped to handle his son’s difficulties. “We were exposed to a whole new group of people and started going to church – God was at work.” In 2006, Tognoli and his wife started attending Menlo Park Presbyterian Church’s affiliate in Mountain View called “Open Door.” For the first time in his life, Tognoli connected with a church and with God.
When his wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, his faith deepened. “For a guy who didn’t read much, I was reading the Bible as fast as I could, looking for answers and comfort. I also read The Purpose Driven Life [by Rick Warren] and other books on faith.” His wife survived cancer.
As his faith deepened, he gained a perspective on the struggles he had experienced. “Although I didn’t know it at the time, those challenges and struggles set me up for success later in life. They were gifts. God was preparing me for future success and my ability to help others. Struggle made me stronger.” Tognoli attributes the turnaround in his life to “divine intervention.” “There is no way someone could do what I did and what I am doing today by themselves,” he says
Along with finding God, Tognoli found purpose. He developed a focus for his life which he calls F5 – faith, family, friends, fitness, and finances. “My purpose in life is to help people with their F5, to help them get through the things I went through and to help them be the best they can be,” says Tognoli. “F5 builds from the foundation of faith. The other F5 principles flow from that.” Finance, he notes, is the last of the F5’s. “Too many people focus on money first,” says Tognoli. “That is a mistake and typically leads to a dysfunctional life.”
Tognoli is visibly excited when he talks about F5. “Life is so much better like this. I just want everyone to get it.” As a way to communicate his message to a wider audience, ten years ago, Tognoli began publishing a weekly blog called “Monday Morning Mojo” in which he writes inspiring stories and offers advice to encourage readers to practice F5. Today the blog has over 20,000 subscribers. For a guy who says he couldn’t put together two sentences in college, this is an amazing feat.
Andy Wong, a top Intero Realtor in the Los Altos office credits Tognoli’s commitment to F5 as one of the reasons he joined the firm: “I wanted to follow an authentic leader who was working every day to be a better version of himself in all aspects of life – not just real estate. Every time I see Tom, I feel energized and inspired.”
Tognoli is what most would call a fitness and nutrition junky. He exercises every day and weighs a trim 165 pounds. His friends, family, and the 2000+ people who work at Intero are his ministry. He is a focused, energetic leader who leads by example. “God gave me this ability to challenge people and get them jacked-up. I use my God given gift to help people improve, and to get real – to stop faking it and trying to impress others.”
Tognoli practices what he preaches. “Tom is transparent,” says Wong. “He admits that he is a work in progress and less than perfect. He doesn’t let his mistakes and shortcomings dilute his commitment to F5.”
He is also spiritually fit — attends church regularly, frequently listens to Christian music and audiobooks on faith and the Bible, and prays. A simple, humble prayer is how he starts his day.
Dear Heavenly Father…I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness…I believe you’ve died for my sins and rose from the dead…I have turned from my sins…I repent of my sins…I invite you to come into my heart and my life…I just want to trust you as my lord and savior…in Jesus name…Amen
He ends his prayer with thanking God for all his blessings, including the people in his life, and asks for help with his goals, including the character attributes to which he aspires.
Life is about relationships – with family, friends, and with God. Matthew 22 records Jesus’ response to the question: “What is the Greatest Commandment?” Jesus answered this way:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Tom Tognoli is a living example of someone who puts what Jesus says into practice on a daily basis and encourages others to do the same.
If you are interested in checking out Tom Tognoli’s blog and possibly subscribe, go to Monday Morning Mojo.