Neal St. Anthony
See more of the story

John Collopy, owner of the ReMax Results, the real estate firm he co-founded in the 1980s, plans to spread the wealth.

Collopy is legally moving ReMax Results and related entities that he values at up to $30 million, into a charitable foundation. Profits and distributions will benefit nonprofits and schools served by ReMax through 40 offices and 1,200 real estate agents in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Collopy estimates that the Results Foundation, which already has made grants totaling several hundreds of thousands of dollars, will provide up to $3 million annually in donations.

“I’ve got plenty of money,” said Collopy, counting his savings and a six-figure salary. “I don’t need the value of the company.”

Collopy said his family, including four adult children and his wife, Suki, a restaurant owner-manager, understand his intentions.

“Suki gets what is in the bank and whatever else we own,” after Collopy’s death, he added.

Collopy, 67, who started his business career at 22 with a minimum-wage job and no savings, is a successful residential real estate entrepreneur. He also describes himself as fortunate. And he wants to invest a chunk of his holdings, through the foundation, to causes backed by ReMax employees in the communities where they live and work.

Collopy certainly was not a “most likely to succeed” candidate in his class at DeLaSalle High School. It took him five years to graduate. He had to report to the principal’s office every morning under an agreement he made to get readmitted after dropping out following numerous infractions.

In fact, by the time he had entered high school, Collopy, who grew up in Columbia Heights, was something of a neighborhood and school-grounds tough.

Collopy warred with his father, a heavy drinker and an engineer who hated his job at a chemical plant. He sometimes would flash into fits of drunken rage and beat his son, according to Collopy’s autobiography, “The Reward of Knowing.”

Both parents imbibed. There was a lot of fighting.

“This kind of alcohol-fueled domestic chaos in our neighborhood wasn’t unusual,” Collopy recalled. “One rule we all followed in the family was we never talked about any of this.”

By 22, Collopy had narrowly survived a rental-house fire, lost several jobs, incurred several DUIs and tussled with the police. He was alternately a booze-fueled party boy and a rage-filled shell of a human. His lawyer read him the riot act and Collopy concurred. He was ready to change. Collopy’s lawyer got him off from a Ramsey County felony charge, avoiding state prison. He did 60 days in county jail. And he agreed to go through treatment. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous.

Collopy grudgingly took a $2.32 per-hour job, the minimum wage in 1974. He worked for an Anoka County nonprofit that helped low-income seniors and struggling families save energy dollars through a weatherization program. He learned to write grant proposals. And he worked with unions to train unskilled young people to do the work. He developed empathy for people.

Collopy bought a tiny, 650-square-foot fixer-upper and painstakingly rehabilitated it. He liked waking up sober, working and the sense of purpose.

He earned his real estate license in 1977. He bought old houses and hired skilled friends to upgrade them. He made thousands in profits.

Collopy took a sales job with a predecessor to Coldwell Banker. He was a branch manager by 1981. In 1986, he and his former boss, Bill Saunders, bought the Minnesota franchise from ReMax. It worked. Saunders died in 2008, ending a strong partnership. Several years later, Collopy bought out Saunders’ son, who had succeeded his father as Collopy’s business partner, in a relationship that didn’t work.

The decade since has been a business bonanza for Collopy. Eden Prairie-based ReMax Results was the No. 9 selling real estate firm in the nation last year with 24,008 transactions and $6.6 billion in gross sales, according to REAL Trends, an industry researcher.

Collopy became wealthy and is known as a coach of agents and supporter of employees. He walks office to office to greet people daily. He also considers himself, still, a work in progress.

He still talks over things with his therapist. Always room to improve.

He also is grateful for his success, a third marriage that worked and a beloved family of four stepchildren, two of whom asked to be legally adopted; grandkids and vacations to Pacific islands. He also reconciled with his parents before their deaths.

And he wants to pay forward some of his good fortune.

“The thought that I’m contributing to something worthwhile and positive that will outlive me is enormously satisfying,” he wrote. “I don’t know when my values switched to embrace that as a goal. I do know that gives me the desire to go to work every day."