REAL Trends Archives : The Ninja Master

REAL Trends Archives

This Article was originally publish in REAL Trends January/February 2007 Volume 4\\Issue 1 of LORE

Larry Kendall’s ‘Ninja Selling’ isn’t about knocking out an opponent with devasting blows – it’s about empowerment.


Larry Kendall was in first grade when he got encephalitis and went into a coma. He eventually recovered but he missed three months of school and woke up a different child.

“I had paralysis of one leg and a speech defect,” he says. Slowly, his speech and mobility improved, but Kendall’s greatest fear was being asked to read aloud in class. And the boy with the limp was always the last picked for teams.

Now 60, Kendall is a runner and cyclist as well as one of the most sought-after speakers in the real estate industry. Students leave his “Ninja Selling’’ seminars telling Kendall that he not only boosted their business skills, but he changed their lives.

A modest, professorial man, Kendall has converted his concepts into gold. As chairman and one of the founders of The Group, Inc. in Fort Collins, Colo., he has steered the company to unimagined success. More than three decades after he and his wife arrived broke in Colorado, Kendall now teaches others that they have great power to live great lives.

The Ninja Secret

Be a master of professionalism in tune with other people – not a high-pressure salesperson. His key message for real estate professionals is to listen carefully to the customer. Agents who do more listening than selling will end up in a positive relationship where they help customers “buy” a home instead of “selling” them one. Letting the buyer “lead” takes confidence – a confidence Kendall built even though he faced tremendous challenges in his own life.

He credits his mother for giving him endless encouragement. Every day, Amy Kendall told her son that he was going to overcome his disabilities. By the fifth grade, he had beaten the speech defect. In high school, Kendall became an all-around athlete, running track and playing basketball and football.

“She believed in me when, quite honestly, I didn’t believe in me,’’ he says. If she were alive today, “I think she would actually say, ‘I told you so.’ She always believed I would be some great orator. I thought she was just trying to boost my self-confidence.’’

Tragically, his mother died at age 43 in a horrific car crash near the family’s home in Council Grove, Kan., when Larry was just 19. His father, Raymond, was badly wounded in the crash. He became blind in one eye and suffered head injuries that may have triggered his death 10 years later from an aneurysm. The night of the accident, Amy and Raymond Kendall were driving through a fierce rainstorm on a dark, two-lane road when they came over a hill to find a large truck stalled on the road. They never had a chance to stop. Kendall was a freshman in college at Kansas State University when news of the crash nearly shattered him.

“I became somewhat of a lost soul. I bounced around in college with various majors and was really pretty lonely,’’ Kendall says. He considered dropping out altogether to go home and help his dad run the family mortuary and raise his sister, who was only 10 when their mom died. Instead, Kendall moved home for a time and commuted to school, eventually earning a degree in business. While playing keyboard in a rock band at school, he met the woman who would become his wife. Kendall and Patricia Intermill were married in 1968, between their junior and senior years. Kendall was in ROTC and after college, assumed he was headed for Vietnam. Instead, he and his wife ended up stationed on a mountaintop in Germany, overlooking what is now the Czech Republic.

A captain in the Army Security Agency, Kendall was on the front lines of the Cold War, spying on Eastern Bloc enemies across rows of razor wire. While he and his wife treasured their time exploring Europe and developed a lifelong love for the mountains, Kendall witnessed some harrowing moments that have stuck with him forever. Several times, he watched people behind the Iron Curtain try to flee to the west, only to be mowed down by Russians with machine guns. He even saw a family try to float to freedom in a hot air balloon, but they were shot out of the sky.

“It does affect you, the horror of watching people killed. You see that they are willing to die to be free. I think we take our freedom for granted. After that experience, I never did,’’ Kendall says. “Every day is a gift.’’ When Kendall and his wife returned to the United States, Kendall wasn’t entirely certain what career he would embrace. But they knew they wanted to live in the mountains and headed to Colorado. They didn’t know a soul in Fort Collins but decided to stay. “It felt like home,’’ Kendall recalls.

They arrived with their baby girl Kristin, knowing no one and without jobs. Both the Kendalls had master’s degrees – his in business, hers in nutrition – but no one was hiring. It was 1973. The oil embargo was in full swing, the economy was in recession and everyone seemed to be hunkered down. Almost by accident, Kendall stumbled into real estate. It was tough. Pat Kendall remembers worrying whether they would make it. “We were very poor. I remember a lot of scrambling,’’ she says. Pat picked up part-time jobs fashioning hats out of jeans and substitute teaching. “Working on commission can be very scary,” she says. “It helped when I had a job. We could live off my income, which gave him the ability to pursue his passions.’’

The Kendalls eventually had a second child, Matthew, and Pat became a nutrition professor at Colorado State University (CSU). In 1976, Larry founded The Group with 11 other agents, all of whom were owners. He had an epiphany in 1978 when he attended his first national real estate conference and heard motivational speaker Lou Tice. Tice and real estate tycoon Marshall Thurber set Kendall on a new path. Until then, Kendall felt that he was stumbling along in life, not taking charge of his own destiny. Fresh from the seminars, he basked in newfound energy and knowledge and took command of his life. He started exercising regularly, set goals, began reading voraciously to expand his knowledge and started teaching all that he had learned. No longer was Kendall in real estate by accident. Now, he embraced his life and his career.

By 1985, he had launched a course called “Real Estate Masters,” which evolved into “Ninja Selling.” Word spread quickly about Kendall’s techniques. They derive from the key tenets of ninja philosophy – empowerment and harmony. He tells students to focus on using their brains to achieve the end results they seek, even in an unconscious way. He demonstrates the power of the mind with an exercise in which students dangle a simple washer from a string over a piece of paper and, without moving their hands, use their brains to move the washer in the preferred direction. They gasp as the washers obey their minds. “It’s a simple biofeedback exercise,’’ Kendall says.

“The brain is wired with nerves that go through to the tips of the fingers. You are sending a small pulse down to the string. You have a lot more power than you realize.”

Empowerment is the key tenet of ninja philosophy. Kendall developed the concept after studying a colleague, who friends dubbed “The Ninja.’’ This man had a great ability to make his clients happy, yet live a full life outside of work. Ninja Selling is based on the non-violent martial art aikido, which emphasizes harmony. “The system is based on a philosophy of building relationships, listening to the customers and then helping them achieve their goals. It’s less about selling and more about helping people buy,’’ Kendall says. “The ninja doesn’t chase. The ninja attracts.’’ Kendall tells students that they should offer premier services to prospective clients, then let the clients make key decisions. Perhaps it helped that Kendall shaped his business in a college town. Many of his clients were highly educated. They didn’t want a slick agent to spin them. They wanted facts. So before he ever clinched a deal with a client, he provided the prospect with a packet of hard data – specifics about the neighborhood, city, and state. He showed clients exactly how long it could take to sell their home and how many others were on the market.

Tell The Truth

One of the most basic rules of Ninja Selling is startlingly simple: Tell the truth. Another concept is equally basic: Spend less time talking and more time listening. People will tell you exactly what they want. As the real estate market gets tougher in some places around the country, Kendall advises his students to offer more services, not fewer. Rather than knocking percentage points off their commissions, Kendall urges them to step up their game, work harder and provide better service.

The ninja concept is not about knocking out an opponent with devastating blows. Rather, Kendall espouses the idea of abundance. In business, this means that you do not have to be in competition with colleagues or with your client. There is enough wealth to go around. Kendall believes you succeed by attracting people to you rather than suffocating them with aggressive sales tactics.

“There is an energy that connects all living things. You want to harmonize with that,’’ Kendall says. “You develop the ability to focus on the most important things in your life.’’

Kendall’s friend and colleague Ralph Waldo says competitors sometimes joked that you had to “drink the Kool-Aid” to work at The Group Inc. “But our results speak for themselves,’’ Waldo says. For more than a decade, REAL Trends has ranked The Group Inc., as one of the nation’s top firms by transactions per agent. And in an era when some people are reluctant to help others succeed, Kendall startled colleagues by freely sharing his ideas, scripts, and techniques.

In 2004, he received the rarely conferred Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) Special Achievement Award for his contributions to educating the real estate community. “Larry’s a great one for setting goals,” Waldo says. “Every year his goal is to run 1,000 miles. He’s incredible at setting goals and achieving them.’’ Kendall also believes in passion, which he defines as living a full life, laughing and having fun, lifelong learning, loving the people around you and leaving a legacy. Many of these concepts come together in the Kendalls’ running group. Years ago, they started an informal group that ran together every Saturday morning. They dubbed themselves the Big Dogs because they ran like a pack. They ran races together but mostly shared a wonderful, healthy bond. Sometimes the runs would have a mission. Once they decided to visit a non-profit that provides respite care for families with disabled loved ones. The center provides daycare so that families can take a break. Respite Inc. is now one of the Kendalls’ favorite charities.

Another is the Colorado chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. The original ninja that Kendall first studied now has MS and can no longer work. The Kendalls’ running group eventually spawned a cycling group, too. Every two years, Larry plans two-week adventures through some of the nation’s most stunning country. To celebrate Kendall’s 60th birthday, the group rode about 350 miles from Colorado through Utah to the Grand Canyon. One of Kendall’s favorite trips wound from Glacier National Park in Montana up to the Canadian Rockies, then back through Idaho.

Kendall always makes time for such adventures and urges others to do the same. He heeds the advice of a friend who died from a brain tumor: “In the end, it all comes down to memories.’’ Kendall and his wife cherish time spent at their mountain home on Lake Dillon with stunning views of the Colorado Rockies. Kendall says he can park his car and ride or hike to everything he needs. “He loves to ask, ‘What day is this?’ Then he gives the answer himself: ‘It’s another day in paradise,’’’ says Waldo.

The craziest thing Kendall has ever done was skydiving. He admits being scared to death when the door opened and he was supposed to jump. But once he did, he was so enthralled that he forgot to pull the cord. “It was beautiful, almost hypnotizing,’’ Kendall says. Thankfully, he was jumping in tandem with an instructor, who got his attention: “Larry, pull your ripcord!’’ At first, Kendall couldn’t find it and went hurtling past a colleague who was floating through the clouds. “What was that?’’ the partner asked his instructor. “I think that was your boss,’’ the instructor replied.

Kendall eventually pulled the cord and is now taking a new leap. He has decided to give up his day-to-day duties at The Group Inc., and follow his wife to Australia for a five-month sabbatical. Beginning this month, Pat will spend a semester as a visiting professor at the University of Canberra. The two plan to explore Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Singapore. Always armed with goals, Kendall plans to write a book about his Ninja Selling philosophies and Pat wants to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. By next fall, Kendall will be back in Fort Collins in one of his favorite roles: teacher. He plans to continue leading training classes at The Group and will teach a real estate course at CSU. As for a legacy, Kendall’s goal is to pay homage to his mom. “I guess I would always like to be known as an encourager. I learned that from her.’’