Chicago entrepreneur Sean Conlon to star in CNBC real estate rescue show, 'The Deed'

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Chicago entrepreneur Sean Conlon to star in CNBC real estate rescue show, 'The Deed'

By: Gail MarksJarvis
Chicago Tribune

Sean Conlon, the Chicago real estate mogul who went from being a janitor in 1990 to running a successful and diversified real estate business, is the latest hometown businessman to become the star of a CNBC reality show.

Conlon, 47, will star in "The Deed," a show that will follow him rescuing struggling real estate projects in Chicago by offering his expertise and his money, CNBC announced Monday. The program, which is scheduled to begin airing in March, is cut from the same cloth as "The Profit," another CNBC reality TV show, in which Chicago businessman Marcus Lemonis saves struggling businesses.

"This is a real estate version of 'The Profit,'" said Conlon. "I did not think this up. They came and found me."

It happened through a friend, Robert Teitel, a moviemaker whom Conlon said he helped get going in films with a $5,000 check in the early 1990s. In 2010, Teitel pitched CNBC an idea about real estate and called on Conlon for advice. That led to an introduction to Jim Ackerman, a CNBC executive vice president and the mastermind of both "The Profit" and "The Deed."

Conlon will be in four of the show's eight episodes. The other four will follow Sidney Torres, an entrepreneur who will bail out real estate projects in his home of New Orleans.

"People run into things they never expected" when rehabbing homes and office buildings, said Conlon. "In flipping, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong, and if someone can rip you off, they will rip you off."

On the other hand, he said, "real estate is still the greatest path for normal people to build a fortune."

Appearing in a real estate reality show is a long way from where Conlon was in 1990 when he came to the U.S. from Ireland with $500 and a belief generated by his father: "That you can be anything in America."

He started working as an assistant janitor in a North Side apartment building, "shoveling snow and moving newspapers," held a couple of jobs, and began studying for his real estate license. He began in the real estate business making cold calls and stuffing notes under doors to offer real estate deals and advice.

His success came when he was early at spotting a market for condominium development. Then came 2008, and he says "I was slapped around" when real estate loans made by his Conlon & Co. merchant bank were threatened by the real estate collapse. "It was like being covered in gasoline in a match factory," he said.

In 2009 he started a real estate brokerage, one which he says this year will generate about $1 billion in sales.

He doesn't attribute his success to luck, but rather: "I just outworked everybody." He insists on the same from those who work for him, he said from his Malibu, Calif., beach home.

"I am so obsessive I tidy up people's desks," he said. "There is no easy way. The No. 1 agent working for me is the hardest worker, the No. 2 is the hardest worker and the No. 3 is the hardest worker."