For the Love of Work: An Interview with Monte Froehlich

I've always been fascinated by old buildings. It turns out, Monte Froehlich is too! He owns and manages US Property, a real estate company responsible for preserving many historic buildings in Lincoln and around the country. We recently sat down to talk about loving work, faith, and journaling.

Monte with his wife Lisa

Monte with his wife Lisa

Cam: A few months ago you shared with me the story of how you got to where you are now—as owner of US Property. What do you love most about your work?

Monte: Probably the most satisfying thing is breathing new life into old property. Our mission is to enlarge the Kingdom of God using real estate. So it’s about doing more than just making a profit—it’s about leaving the world in a better place than it is now. We do what we can, using our knowledge of real estate, to create positive change. Our other core values are to be blight busters, meaning we fix both broken business and property, but we also build people and our third core value is “finish”, because effort doesn’t count if we don’t finish.
Some of the greater satisfactions are just doing a rescue on a company, SitStay.com for example. We bought it from a company in Florida that was about to move it to Florida. It’s had a great Nebraska history, so I thought it would be a shame to see it move. Jill Liliedahl has been transforming that company through recruiting some great people. Just seeing them go in a positive direction is very satisfying. But fixing buildings that are old, dilapidated, and neglected—there’s a lot of satisfaction in that, too.

For example, the old Spaghetti Works building.

Yeah, that’s a classic example. Spaghetti Works was built in the 1900s and probably hadn’t had any major investment in it for at least 30 years. Spaghetti Works Corporate bought the building in 1980 and hired a management company to manage the space above the restaurant. When we took over the property, everything was original—the plumbing, boiler, electrical. Nothing major had been done since it was built.
The Spaghetti Works Building in late 2012

The Spaghetti Works Building in late 2012

We bought it two years ago and we knew it needed everything.  We knew it was a mess – even roach infested. We demo’d the whole interior. The studs behind on 40-foot stretch of wall had completely rotted away from leaky plumbing over the course of decades, so the third floor began to collapse when we started taking the plaster off that section of the hallway. The building definitely needed a complete redo. To come back in and expose the brick walls and put a nice industrial finish on it was really very satisfying.

If your mission is to enlarge the kingdom of God using real estate, how does your faith play into your day-to-day work?

Where I see my faith matter a lot is when I can see a longer vision. In the development world, every day you’re basically trying to solve problems. You’re trying to figure out, “How best can I make this project or property better?” And there’s a lot of setbacks. There’s a lot of challenges, regulations, people that we deal with that maybe aren’t the most truthful in the world.  So I rely on my faith to be able to take all the challenges and say, “You know, there’s a bigger perspective here”. It makes a lot of difference in terms of feeling good about it. Especially since we’re trying to do the right thing. You just keep pushing forward and making the best of it.

What advice or counsel do you have for young people that finding their way to work they love doing?

I feel like I was underemployed for quite a while—I received a food science degree and then an MBA from UNL but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to run a food processing plant so I spent the first decade of my career in the dairy processing industry. The first six years I really enjoyed what I was doing but then it just got stale. I started working for a different manager who was very good at what he did—most of the problem-solving parts of my job disappeared. I found myself filling out forms and sending in reports and there was really no creativity and no challenge to that. To his credit, he really knew what he was doing by anticipating problems but I became like the Maytag repairman and got bored to death.
I knew I needed to find something different because that boredom went on for four years and I could not figure out, “What else can I do,” because I’d already started down a career path. I could not figure out how to get off that train. I didn’t know what else to do. I was never really challenged that much to where I felt like I was desperate, but I was definitely desperate. Being analytical and introverted, I prayed about it a lot and talked to a lot of people. Eventually I turned a hobby of real estate into my full time vocation. Unless you try a few things, you really don’t know what you like, so I have a real soft spot for young people who haven’t found their niche yet, because that’s so important.
I heard in an interview recently that Donald Trump’s dad said to him, “You better do what you like, because it’s the only way you’re ever going to be good at anything.” I think that is true—if you don’t like what you do it’s hard to put your heart into it.

Well thank you for sharing! I had one final question that I’ve want to ask you for almost two years. You once mentioned that you keep a journal and I was curious, what is the backstory behind how you started journaling? I keep a journal too and I would love to know.

I had heard somebody talk about the importance of journaling and how it helps them put down their thoughts in a little different fashion than if they’re just talking. It allows you to go back and look at different periods in your life where you might’ve been dealing with something similar and maybe get some clues in terms of “How was I feeling? What were some of the things I was trying to do?” It’s a good history record. But the thing that pushed me happened on a cruise shortly after my wedding. I was standing on the deck looking onto the ocean and I thought, “I wonder what my grandparents were like. I wonder what they were dealing with, how they thought, what their marriages were like. Because where I’m sanding now I don’t know any of that story and I wish I did.” So I thought, “I think I need to start writing down what my experiences are so my kids, grandkids, and great grandkids can know ‘This is who our father or grandfather was like.’” So they have a little better understanding of what they inherited. I think each generation has their own challenges but they also have a baton they receive from prior generations. The better they understand what that baton looks like, the better able they are to carry it.