As part of the 2015 Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast, Tom Tognoli, Founder and CEO of Intero Real Estate Services, shared his story of redemption and healing, reminding attendees of why faith in God is the most important foundation for every endeavor.
The event, which was held at the Stanford Faculty Club in Stanford, CA on Wednesday, June 17th, was held "to showcase real stories of Christian faith in the everyday workplace," according to the organization's website.
Tognoli, the event's keynote speaker, shared both his faith journey and his career journey with attendees, describing his rise from a troubled young man to the CEO of Intero, one of the top real estate firms in the country.
In 2002, Tognoli co-founded Intero (which means "whole and complete" in Italian), an innovative Silicon Valley-based company. By 2013, Intero accounted for over 11,000 transactions and $8 billion in sales. In 2015, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway's affiliate HomeServices of America, the second largest independent real estate brokerage firm in the U.S., acquired Intero. Today, Tognoli leads Intero as the firm's president and CEO.
However, Tognoli's success has not come without trial. As a child, Tognoli, who was born in 1965 to devout Catholic parents in San Mateo, CA, suffered from dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), causing him to struggle in school.
"There was not a diagnosis back then," says Tognoli. "You were just considered hyper and not too smart."
College also proved to be difficult for the young man; although he attended DeAnza and Chico State, he 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 revealed.
After leaving college, Tognoli decided to enter into the world of real estate, and quickly became successful. At the age of 25, he was able to buy an expensive car and a house. "Life was really good," he recalled.
However, his happiness was short lived. In 1989, a tremendous earthquake devastated the area, the real estate market collapsed, and the recession hit, causing him to become deeply in debt.
"I was young and naïve and didn't even know what a recession was," he recalled.
In 1991, Tognoli married his wife, Lynn. He recalled one particularly crushing instance, when, upon returning home from his honeymoon, Tongoli realized he owed more on his house than it was worth.
"I've sunk us," he remembers telling his wife as he hugged her, tears pouring down his cheeks.
By 1999, Tognoli was a father to two boys: Tommy and Nick, and felt tremendous pressure to provide for his family and succeed in the workplace.
"My wife was working and we were under pressure," he recalled. "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."
"I started to self medicate myself, to try and help ease the pain," he said. "If you have ADHD you have a much higher risk of self-medicating, to calm yourself down...I was miserable. I felt like a failure. Life was very, very stressful."
However, God had greater plans for Tognoli, and later in 1999, the turning point occurred.
"I can remember the time and place," he told attendees. "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."
He added, "I didn't realize it at the time, but God had reached down and put his hand on my shoulder that day and said, 'Ok, I've got you.' I can reflect back and see that."
Tognoli eventually stopped drinking, hoping to be a good example for his children, and began focusing on his health, his family, and his relationship with God.
Although raised in a Catholic church, Tognoli said Christianity "never clicked" with him. "When I got married, my wife and I rarely went to church," he admitted.
However, when Tognoli's oldest son, Tommy, was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, Tognoli and his wife put placed him in a Christian School-- "Not because it was Christian, but because it was equipped to handle my son's difficulties," he said.
However, through the the school, Tognoli and his wife were exposed to a whole new group of people and began attending Menlo Park Presbyterian Church's affiliate in Mountain View, called "Open Door." For the first time in his life, Tognoli felt a deep, real relationship with God.
That relationship was further deepened in 2009, when his wife was diagnosed with cancer.
"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," he said.
While his wife is now cancer-free, Tognoli has since gained 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
As a result of his journey, Tognoli has developed a focus for his life which he calls F5 - faith, family, friends, fitness, and finances.
"Everybody is addicted to something," he said. "Some people it's alcohol, drugs, sex, or food--I was addicted to money, and now I'm addicted to my faith, family, friends and fitness, and because of that, my finances have flourished like never before."
He explained, "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."
He also began publishing a weekly blog called "Monday Morning Mojo" in which he writes inspiring stories and offers advice to encourage readers to practice F5. The blog has over 20,000 subscribers.
"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," he said.
Today, Tognoli is living a successful, God-centered life, and continues to focus on what matters. He begins every day with a devotional and a simple prayer "to get more God" in him.
The prayer include a simple, but powerful line which sums up Tognoli's amazing journey: "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."