The Risk Takers: Beating the Odds and Succeeding

By Erica Christoffer, Multimedia Web Producer, REALTOR® Magazine

risk-takers-book-coverHow did the founders of Curves, Spanx, Geek Squad and Kinko’s turn a small dream into big success? With a little ingenuity and a big leap of faith. Authors, and husband and wife team, Renee and Don Martin highlight the people behind some of the nation’s most well-known multi-million dollar businesses and share how they overcame personal odds and industry challenges in their book The Risk Takers (Vanguard Press, 2010; $25.95). If you’re looking for a little entrepreneurial inspiration for your real estate business, this book is for you.


Renee Martin, community activist and former broker, chatted with REALTOR® Magazine for the Weekly Book Scan about her and her husband’s motivation for writing the book and how it can inspire real estate professionals to achieve their dreams.

You started out in real estate. How did your career path lead to writing?

MARTIN: I started out with Coldwell Banker as a broker in the San Fernando Valley where I worked for 12 years. I then started my own company, Country Manor Realty, where I specialized in high-end residential developments. But by the late 1980s, I had reached a point where I needed a new challenge. So I left my business and started attending UCLA where I received a professional designation in public relations. I then worked as a public relations spokesperson for various non-profits and community organizations. My work led me to become a court appointed special advocate (CASA). I found myself becoming an activist for women and children.

Our first book happened out of circumstance. Friends of ours were in a car accident. The husband died and the wife was seriously injured. As she recovered, she struggled to get their affairs in order. Don and I helped her get back on her feet. By witnessing a friend go through this process, we realized there needed to be a comprehensive guide offering financial and legal advice in such situations. That’s how our first book, The Survival Guide for Women, was born.

My husband Don, who is a national speaker, started speaking on the topic. We were invited to speak on a radio show. Soon after, everyone was requesting the book, so we got started writing. I really enjoyed the writing aspect of it.

Your family has a bit of an against-the-odds story. Was that part of your inspiration for writing The Risk Takers?

MARTIN: Yes, my husband founded Cal-Surance, which he built into a multimillion-dollar insurance and risk management company. But he grew up in the Ohio Valley in a very poor household. It was his vision and drive that led to his success, as well as his emulation of great managers and coaches. About a year and a half ago we become concerned about our fellow Americans losing their jobs, and as a result, losing their faith in the American dream. We need to remind people of the entrepreneurial spirit. If our economy is going to rebound, it’s not going to be by help from the government. It’s going to be on the backs of entrepreneurs.

How did you chose the ‘risk takers’ in your book?

MARTIN: We sought out top executives of successful companies who had overcome adversity to accomplish great things. The best leaders are those who have ‘been there, done that.’ We wrote their stories to inspire and motivate others. As the interviews took place, and as we started writing, we noticed common traits among the subjects. At the end of each chapter we highlighted those traits, and that’s how we came up with the 10 strategies for entrepreneurial success in the book. These men and women are really amazing.

What was one of the most memorable interviews for you?

MARTIN: Gary Heavin, the founder of Curves, had hit rock bottom. He had an earlier business that didn’t succeed and had lost everything, even his family. But he pulled himself up and started paying attention to the needs of the people around him. He was motivated by his mother who had a weight problem. He saw an under-served niche and decided to create small gyms geared toward middle-aged and older women who felt intimidated going into large, sprawling, expensive gyms. There are now more than 10,000 Curves across the country.

What lessons can real estate professionals take away from the book?

MARTIN: If you have an idea, don’t listen to those who say it can’t be done. Maybe that means bucking the conventional wisdom when it comes to marketing or selling homes. Find an under-served niche or find a service that others have ignored. In terms of real estate, try going to that niche where the competition isn’t. In the case of Heavin, he started Curves in smaller towns that were void of big, fancy gyms. See if there’s an area being ignored that’s in need of your services.

These stories are about ordinary people in different professions who accomplished extraordinary things. When you read about them and see how they did it, you might have an ‘Aha!’ moment. In the corporate world, there are no guarantees, so you have to take charge and create your own career path.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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