When Van Deeb received the call from Gary Sadlemyer informing him that he’d been named the Omaha Press Club’s 173rd Face on the Barroom Floor, his response was bit of a self-roast, foreshadowing his June 8 induction event: “I told him, ‘You must have the wrong number!’” Deeb said.
Deeb’s roasters certainly enjoyed poking a little fun at him, but the Face on the Barroom Floor event also paid homage to his highly successful 40-year real estate career — he’s the first honoree from the residential real estate field — as well as his achievements as an entrepreneur, motivational speaker, author and podcaster.
“I heard this quote years ago, from a book written by Napoleon Hill in 1937 called ‘Think and Grow Rich,’ that if you can conceive it and believe it, you can achieve it,” Deeb said. “So, I always visualized in my mind what I expect from myself … My next step was to go out and make it happen.”
He also credits what he calls the “Four Ds.”
“Drive, desire, discipline, and determination,” Deeb explained. “And I don’t talk the talk without walking the walk. I am a man of action.”
He wasn’t always that way. Deeb said he was an average student and undistinguished athlete in high school who was more apt to joke around with his classmates than focus on academics. Finding inspiration in the movie “Rocky” (1976) and discovering his personal tenacity, Deeb transformed himself physically to make the football team at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Post-college, Deeb left Omaha for a real estate specialty school in Dallas, Texas, where he launched his core career in 1983 with virtually no connections and limited funds, working on straight commission with no room to fail.
“I wanted to get into real estate because there’s no ceiling for hard workers,” he said. “I’m a hard, disciplined worker at whatever I do. And I knew real estate would be perfect for me, because people who want to be good in real estate need to make themselves available to their customers at all times. To me, that was a no-brainer.”
Deeb sold real estate in Dallas for a decade, then returned to Omaha to start DEEB Realty in 1993. He had to again start from the ground up in a new market (actually below ground considering he initially worked from his home basement), but in only 15 years Deeb grew the company to become one of the largest real estate firms in the Midwest with over 350 agents. He sold DEEB Realty in 2009 to focus on a second career as a motivational speaker, which continues today to audiences of sales and service professionals all over the country.
Deeb couldn’t stay away from real estate and entrepreneurship, however. When his non-compete restriction ran out, he started up Big Omaha Realty.
“I actually love real estate more today than I did 40 years ago. I love it more today than I ever have,” he said.
The sector has changed significantly over time, Deeb said.
“It used to be that I’d pick up a family on Saturday morning at nine o’clock and drop them off at four o’clock. We had no internet, we had no cell phones,” he said. “Nowadays, that same couple will call me and identify two homes that they found (online) that they want to see. I’m not complaining, that’s for sure. Buyers and sellers are more educated than I’ve ever seen in my career, which makes our job a lot easier.”
Deeb said he also appreciates the information he has at his own fingertips to enhance his real estate expertise.
“Knowledge is power. And in 40 years, I’ve learned a lot that can only benefit my buyers and sellers,” he explained. “The technology and the resources that we now have as real estate professionals are off the chart. If someone is not successful today in real estate, with all of the opportunities that we have, they are either not driven or they’ve got the wrong mentor.”
Deeb himself serves as a mentor of sorts through his speaking engagements.
“I started motivational speaking about 25 years ago, and that’s when my company was small. And as we grew, I found myself in front of more and more people at our company meetings. I realized that I got my people all fired up and motivated them to be the best they can be. So then I started branching out,” he said. “I started speaking to other companies. Before I knew it, I was speaking to Fortune 500 companies.”
Now in his 60s, Deeb is as busy as ever.
“I have two full-time careers: real estate and speaking. They’re my happy place, they’re my pleasure,” he said. “I’m one of the few that gets to say I ‘get’ to go to work, not I ‘have’ to go to work. And I consider those two careers simultaneously beneficial. In one career, I’m helping people with the biggest investment of their life. In my speaking career, I’m motivating people to live the best life they possibly can.”
And he’s not merely sharing tales from long-ago experiences, Deeb emphasized.
“I’m still ‘on the street’ as a salesperson in my real estate career. That makes me a better motivational speaker, for sure … It makes me more relatable,” he explained. “I’m telling people, ‘Yeah, I had the same challenge that you did a week ago.’ There’s always a question-and-answer period after the majority of my speeches. A lot of the time the question-and-answer period is just as long as my speech was … I’ve been there and done that, and they want to know how to get there.”
Locals may remember Deeb’s real estate-themed television and radio shows, or his service to many organizational boards and nonprofits in the community. One memorable effort was sitting on a rooftop for an annual fundraiser, beginning in the late 1980s, for Children’s Miracle Network benefiting Children’s Hospital (now Children’s Hospital & Medical Center). Deeb would remain on the roof, waving at passersby, until pledges reached his goal.
“Usually it was $10,000. It became so popular that CNN even covered it one year,” he said, adding that the fundraiser wasn’t as fun as it looked. “I hate heights. As I climbed the ladder, my knees would be shaking. I hate heights.”
Deeb even turned a milestone birthday celebration into a charitable event.
“There were over 300 people that came, and I charged 25 bucks a head instead of people giving me a gift. We raised close to $10,000 for Chariots4Hope just with that one event,” he said, adding wryly: “Word on the streets is Van is the only guy that charges people to come to his birthday.”
Looking back with few regrets, he also said he wouldn’t change much if he could go back to the beginning.
“I’d tell myself there’s going to be uncertainty, And I’d probably say, ‘Buy more real estate.’ I’ve had challenges but I wouldn’t change the lessons learned. It kind of goes with my philosophy that I don’t ever want to be the smartest guy in the room,” he said, adding a wisecrack: “If you looked at my GPA from college, you would say ‘That’s not ever going to be possible.’”
The self-admitted former class clown was an easy target for his Face on the Barroom Floor roast. Presenters and roasters included local broadcast legend Sadlemyer, Midlands Business Journal Publisher Andee Hoig, KETV Newswatch 7 News Anchor Julie Cornell, Omaha Publications’ Gil Cohen, and CBRE’s Kristi Anderson. Cornell, Hoig and Sadlemyer are also former honorees, along with Deeb’s uncle, business and civic leader Mike Yanney. While the roasting was in good fun (“I can handle it!”), Deeb said he also appreciated the serious side of being the newest Face.
“I am honored beyond words,” Deeb said. “It feels unbelievable to me.”
There’s more ahead for him, Deeb said, as he continues to envision bigger and better things like one day speaking in sold-out stadiums. However, the Face honor caps off a great period so far, from career success to experiencing the joy of being a dog dad to Baxter, the subject of one of Deeb’s books, “Baxter: My First Dog at 59.”
“One of the things that has changed in my life over the last 10 years is that I’m more grateful for the small things than I ever have been in my life. I am constantly praying out loud, thanking God for my life, just being grateful. More than ever, I’m grateful,” he said. “I’m most comfortable with myself today than I ever have been, I’m more confident than I ever have been, and there’s no better feeling in the world than knowing that I might have done or said something to help somebody move forward in life.”
Van Deeb – Elements of the Drawing
By Jeff Koterba, artist
Considering that Van Deeb grew his real estate company to one of the largest in the Midwest, I felt the perfect setting for him was to be confidently situated on the floorplan of a large house.
In the various rooms, we see different aspects of significant events related to his life.
- There’s the basement, where his business began;
- The football in the garage reminding us of his time playing football at UNO;
- The trophy room with his many awards and accolades; and
- The library with the stacks of books he’s written.
Additionally, we see him with his trademark smile, megaphone in hand, symbolizing his motivational speaking, not to mention the microphone for his work as a radio host.
In the distance, we see the Omaha skyline harkening to his time on the Omaha Planning Commission, and then in the front yard, what better way to remind us of who the guy in the picture is, but with a real estate sign emblazoned with his name – Van Deeb.
Oh, and you won’t see any dog house out back. That’s because his favorite furry companion, Baxter, right there by his side.
And there you have it, my description of Van Deeb – the Omaha Press Club’s 173rd Face on the Barroom Floor and the first residential real estate agent to ever be on the floor. He’s a great addition to our outstanding honor roll.