Many leaders with the ability to create change simply don’t step up. Walter Schneider is not one of those people. ABOVE sat down with Schneider, one of the most influential and impactful RE/MAX leaders on the planet, to find out what makes a good leader – and whether he ever has time to daydream.
By Kerrie Lee Brown // Photography Bojan Uzicanin
Walter Schneider was in high spirits when ABOVE met with him April 23 at the RE/MAX INTEGRA head office in Mississauga, Ontario. He had been reviewing the latest numbers. “We now have 39,700 agents worldwide. So close to 40,000! I’m humbled and proud at the same time – and we still have a lot of work to do.”
Schneider, President and co-founder of the RE/MAX INTEGRA Group of Companies, will surely roll up his sleeves to get that work done. (Editor’s Note: RE/MAX INTEGRA actually passed the 40,000-agent milestone in early June!)
Schneider has a well-earned reputation for pushing boundaries, taking risks and facing setbacks head-on. “You can’t be a success in anything if you’re not willing to fail a few times. It’s the best way to learn,” he says. “If you don’t take risks, you’re never going to grow or make any breakthroughs. You’ll never get to overcome a challenge or build real momentum.”
His RE/MAX track record is filled with risks, breakthroughs and momentum. In 1980, alongside business partner Frank Polzler, Schneider acquired the RE/MAX franchising rights for Eastern Canada. Over the next few years, the pair also acquired the rights to multiple regions in the United States (New England, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana). In 1994, they took the concept overseas and founded RE/MAX Europe. Today, Schneider, Polzler and their RE/MAX INTEGRA group operate the RE/MAX brand in roughly 2,900 offices across 36 countries.
They’re far from done. Schneider says he feels just as exuberant today as he did when he first went into business at the age of 26. “It’s all about evolving. It’s an exciting, great time in our business.”
Walter and his wife Maria have been married 31 years and have three children, Shelby, Conrad and Simon. Shelby and Simon are building their own careers within the RE/MAX INTEGRA organization, serving as Vice President of Corporate Synergy and Franchise Sales Consultant, respectively.
For more than 35 years, Schneider and Polzler have worked side by side. “We have a unique company. Our families spend time together far from this office, we all have each other’s backs, and we have the great pleasure of seeing our kids thrive with RE/MAX, too.” Polzler’s daughter Pamela Alexander is RE/MAX INTEGRA CEO of North America and his son Michael is CEO of RE/MAX Europe. Pamela’s son Christopher is Executive Vice President and Regional Director of RE/MAX Ontario-Atlantic Canada.
The past, present and future are all accounted for – and in very skilled hands.
“Life just happened while we were building the business,” Schneider says. “That’s what makes this so interesting, and so strong.”
Trust Your Instincts
Never one to turn down a challenge (or a game of shinny at the hockey rink), Schneider believes good businesspeople should trust their intuition and instincts.
“Frank and I just had a gut feeling that RE/MAX would take off in Europe,” he says. “We remember sitting in Vienna in the early ‘90s and there was an incredible interest in the product.”
But having a fantastic product is only the first step. “If you want to build something of significance, you have to get your hands dirty. Never go into a market thinking that you can simply duplicate what you’ve done before.”
The Canadian-born Schneider prides himself on his colorful heritage, and he applies it to his daily operations. “I’m positive that being raised in a multicultural country has made me the businessman I am today,” he says. Ironically, in 2016 Schneider was named Honorary Consul General for Austria. “As a product of Austrian immigrants who came here not speaking the language, I had to become an adult at a very young age. I had to step up,” he says. “My advice is to embrace what you’re given and run with it.”
Any entrepreneur knows that building a business is a daunting task. “You may have a great idea, but you still have to do the work – there’s no getting around it. And make no mistake – it will take longer than you thought, you will use more energy than you imagined, you will go over budget, and you will become restless. To succeed, you have to give yourself permission to make mistakes.”
Schneider says he’s made his share over the years – but his ability to correct course and put his words into action has impacted hundreds of thousands of lives around the globe. That skill is one reason Schneider received the prestigious Visionary Award from the David Foster Foundation last October.
The Ideal Honoree
“It’s not every day you meet someone like Walter Schneider,” says Michael Ravenhill, CEO of the David Foster Foundation. “Walter is more than a national business leader. He’s a global influencer who never forgets his roots – where he came from and the people who helped him get where he is today.”
Even in a career filled with accolades, receiving the Visionary Award from the David Foster Foundation stands out to Schneider. In addition to many traditional measures of impact, the award focuses on something very important to his core: purpose.
“We watch business leaders to see what they do,” Ravenhill says. “We look for people who are making a real difference in society and in others’ lives. Leaders who are making the world a better place through their actions. We like to recognize those who have impacted others by doing, not just by promising.”
According to Ravenhill, Walter Schneider is exactly what the foundation was looking for.
“Walter changes lives. He’s a man of integrity who gives a hand up to everyone else. He’s not threatened by others in business and he always looks for opportunities to help people; he is extremely uplifting. These are the attributes we look at and consider for this award. We were thrilled to present it to him.”
Back at RE/MAX INTEGRA HQ, Schneider has several beautiful statues and honors in his office, with more at his family’s beloved cottage in Muskoka, Ontario. He’s received nearly every RE/MAX award there is, including Distinguished Service, numerous Regional Owner of The Year awards, and the RE/MAX Legacy of Leadership award – one of only 15 to receive this honor. Most recently, Schneider was presented the inaugural Founders Award at the 2018 R4 Convention in Las Vegas.
But in reality, Schneider is more about giving than receiving. The Schneider Family Foundation supports a variety of worthy charities, including Children’s Miracle Network, the True Patriot Love Foundation, breast cancer awareness efforts, various hospitals and Canadian-centric causes, and Schneider is a board member of three charitable organizations.
“It’s what you do, not what you say, that makes the difference,” Schneider says. “That’s just how good leaders are wired. You see what you can do. You envision your next step. You take risks, and you just do.”
A few days before our meeting, Schneider did a mental recap of his 35+ years with RE/MAX. “All I know is that I got here somehow. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of pleasure. I’ve had incredible experiences and built amazing friendships. It definitely helps to love the work you do.”
Work – and the joy of seeing the tangible impact of maximum effort – continues to drive Schneider forward.
“You can drive around and see the results of so many visionaries who’ve given it their all. You see hotel and food chains, independent businesses and you realize somebody took a risk and said, ‘I want to start this thing.’ And then they worked to make it happen. People turn great ideas or small companies into national or even global brands that everyone knows. It all starts when you envision the opportunity and embrace the possibilities.”
Despite being a self-proclaimed “somewhat shy guy,” Schneider is proficient at building and growing.
“If I wasn’t in real estate, I’d probably be working on the business side of the entertainment industry. If you can sell, you can sell in any industry. You just need to know the players and who you’re selling to. You also have to be good at solving problems.” Schneider’s motto is, quite simply, “Be interested more than interesting.”
In expanding the RE/MAX philosophy and model across multiple languages and cultures, Schneider has never expected anyone to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. In fact, he’s made it a point to remind his staff and colleagues that their phones have an off switch. (Schneider leaves his phone on his desk at night so it doesn’t interrupt his sleep.)
“We all need to learn how to log off once in a while,” he says. “It’s difficult to become a success and difficult to stay successful, but you can’t let that consume you. Just do your best and enjoy each day as it comes.”
When he’s not on the clock, Schneider likes to exercise and bike a lot. He loves sports and playing hockey with his buddies. He says he’s even able to “veg out and do nothing” more often than you might guess.
“I like to daydream,” says the leader of nearly 40,000 hard-driving real estate professionals. “I think many people have lost the ability to daydream, which I believe is an integral part of human creativity. After all, if you can’t unwind and think about aspirational things, what’s the point in striving for them?”
And with that life lesson, we called it a day.