Sean Conlon is a living embodiment of the American Dream.
Hailing from the small village of Rathangan in County Kildare, Ireland, Sean’s humble beginnings founded an intense passion for education and fierce optimism that would pay dividends years later. After attending the Dublin Institute of Technology’s College of Marketing and Design, Sean headed to the United States where he began his journey as an assistant janitor.
So how did a poor Irish immigrant making five dollars an hour become a well-respected real estate expert, television personality, and multi-millionaire? His ascension in the business world was built on more than luck and good fortune.
Ladders had the opportunity to speak with Sean over the phone before the season two premiere of CNBC’s “The Deed: Chicago”.
Despite being labeled by the media as a real estate mogul and hosting a show on CNBC, Sean is incredibly personable, insightful, and willing to discuss his journey. As someone who has failed over and over again before reaching mainstream success, Sean has some incredible advice for people looking to achieve their dreams — no matter how big.
Here are five life changing lessons every businessperson can learn from Sean Conlon.
1. It doesn’t matter what technology you have, reading is absolutely important
While Sean’s upbringing brought plenty of hardships and challenges, one of the early indicators for his success was his dedication to learning at a young age. Every book has played a role in Sean’s life and he credits his pension for reading as a foundational pillar in business and in life. Sean repeatably emphasized that in times of failure, he would turn to books for inspiration and motivation
As Sean said, “I still read voraciously. I read so many books at the local library at the time that they complained to
my mother that I was reading too much”.
Sean views his “outsider looking in” mentality as a benefit and reading supplements his slightly contrarian lifestyle.
2. If you believe in something it often becomes a reality
“Doubt kills more dreams than failure,” said Sean, who experienced self-doubt at various junctures in his career. He also mentioned that “If you’re not in the ring, you’re not going to win the fight”.
Sometimes overnight success stories seem like magic. However, there is a method behind all magic acts. Sean admits that he was scared and suffered from a shattered confidence on more than one occasion during his ascension in the business world. Instead of wallowing in his unfortunate circumstances, Sean picked himself up and learned from his mistakes, an important quality for anyone trying to make it in a cutthroat profession like real estate.
One of Sean’s most endearing qualities is his belief in dreaming big. Sean was able to get ahead of more educated competitors with deeper pockets and established resources by simply outworking them and leaning on his innate instincts. It was Sean’s belief in the end goal that got him through every obstacle- even when things seemed hopeless.
3. Be persistent, be tenacious, get up everyday and go again
If I had to describe Sean in one word it would be “inspired”. You can almost feel his passion for life and business oozing through the phone. Sean said he approaches every opportunity with a “delightful level of optimism”. He is quick to admit that he has failed just as many times as he has succeeded. But everyday he dusts himself off and gets back to work. In 2008 Sean lost hundreds of millions of dollars. It took several years for the tides to turn back in his favor. Had Sean remained complacent and abandoned his dream, it’s very possible that his business would have never recovered. However, Sean is tenacious, driven by a fear of being poor after experiencing the hardships that low income can have on a family.
As Sean said, “It’s not really failure if you get up and go again. It’s experience.”
He believes in the saying “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude”. While admitting that it is rather cliché, Sean views his determination and willingness to never give up as keys to pushing the limits of what he can accomplish.
4. Your most valuable asset is your network
Throughout our entire conversation, Sean made one thing clear: it’s not that hard to be nice.
Sean is a big believer in paying it forward and treating everyone you encounter with respect and a positive attitude. You never know what demons someone is struggling with so it’s important to make a good first impression and give people a second chance. Sean believes we shouldn’t be given anything for free, but everyone deserves an opportunity.
He advises young professionals to create authentic relationships and avoid burning bridges with people because you never know when you will run into someone again. As he said, at one point he was someone’s assistant. And he can recount other instances where he has come across very powerful individuals who once worked as waiters or in similar roles.
Sean admitted that if you asked him twenty years ago, he never would have believed that contacts would be our
most valuable asset. But as he stated, “relationships have become the building blocks of business. “
5. Be yourself- everybody else is taken
My favorite quote from our conversation was “Love me or hate me, you’ll remember me”.
Sean is about as authentic as they come. He wants to do things where he can impact people directly, explaining that you don’t see what happens when the cameras stop rolling on The Deed: Chicago. Sean often continues his relationships with people outside of the show, offering them advice and guidance.
Despite personally funding the Conlon wildlife foundation and being active in other philanthropic efforts and civic causes, Sean said you won’t see him at many black-tie events.
He prefers to give back by impacting individuals in a more intimate setting. When I asked Sean about marketing, he laughed, explaining that he had never done any marketing or public relations before last year. And this speaks volumes about the type of business professional Sean is. He is a product of his own story. In a world dominated by social media and false personas, Sean shines through as a human being where “what you see is what you get.”