Bulldog investor won’t let anything slow him down — not even a broken neck

Frank J. Glankler III in his outdoor office at his Henderson home on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.

Few people can say they heard their own neck break, but Frank J. Glankler III can.

He was walking to his kitchen to get water when he tripped over a baby gate, slammed his head into the countertop and snapped two vertebrae. He fell limp, face down onto the ground, blood pouring from his forehead. He was paralyzed instantly.

He was airlifted to a hospital, had his neck rebuilt and was told he’d be a quadriplegic the rest of his life.

But almost seven months later, he left the rehabilitation center on two feet, walking.

Glankler, a valley real estate investor, is no ordinary man. He is a multimillionaire former homebuilder who didn’t let a broken neck slow him down, even though other people his age with that injury often become depressed and suicidal.

He transformed his rehab room into an office with satellite TV, computers and Internet. He held regular staff meetings while recuperating.

He keeps at it to this day, buying and selling property even though he can’t walk more than 20 feet without sitting down.

Glankler's accident didn’t change his bulldog personality, either. A former debt collector from Memphis, Tenn., he spouts profanity, is fiercely independent, keeps cigarettes and a loaded 9 mm gun on his wheelchair and regularly bosses people around, including his doctors.

He also remains generous, giving his workers bonuses during business dry spells. He once gave away his electric-powered wheelchair to a janitor whose father needed one.

“He’s a different breed,” said Dave Patterson, Glankler's doctor at Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation in Pomona, Calif.

Today, Glankler, the founder of Voyager Cos., has an office at the Hughes Center, an office park near the Strip, but he mainly works from his backyard in Henderson with his brother and business partner, Adam Glankler. They don’t like being cooped up, so they outfitted the back patio with desks, phones, computers and a wall-mounted big-screen TV, not to mention a custom-made 10-seat poker table that often doubles as a boardroom.

They have acquired homes in Southern Nevada, an ice rink in Michigan, apartments in Virginia and land in Atlanta. They’re not the biggest investors, but they’re not trying to be. Frank Glankler enjoys hunting for deals and sprucing up properties. He doesn’t need the money he earns. Still, he would be hard-pressed to turn it down.

His ringtone keeps him focused, blaring the song lyrics, “Money, money, money, money ... money!”

“There’s a reason I’m doing what I’m doing, man,” he said with a laugh.

•••

To understand Glankler, it’s best to start with his dad.

Frank J. Glankler Jr., the son of a well-known Memphis lawyer, lied to the military about his age and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at 17. He fought as a flame thrower in World War II on Peleliu Island, where some of the fiercest combat of the war took place.

Despite being hit twice by machine-gun fire and shrapnel, Glankler was one of a handful of men from his company of 200 soldiers to survive.

He returned to Tennessee and became one of the best civil and criminal defense lawyers in Memphis.

Glankler, who died in 2007, was a tough, wiry man, 5-foot-9, 140 pounds. He loved the outdoors, and he loved guns. At his law firm, Glankler Brown, he often sat in boardroom meetings tinkering with a pistol, said Bill Bradley, chief manager of the firm.

In December 1993, Glankler, then in his mid-60s, went duck hunting near a farm he owned in Moscow, Tenn., about an hour’s drive from Memphis. He was walking along the banks of the heavily forested Wolf River when ground gave way and he found himself waist deep in icy water. When he tried to walk out, he lost his eyeglasses and waders, leaving him disoriented and clothed in only a cotton jumpsuit.

It was below freezing outside, with winds of 30 mph. Eventually, Glankler climbed into the branches of a tree and waited. He was rescued after being stuck for 18 hours.

Click to enlarge photo

Frank Glankler and his brother Adam pose for a photo on the porch of their Henderson home, Tuesday Sept. 10, 2013.

Bradley was one of several people looking for him that day, and when he first saw him in the river, Glankler looked liked an icicle. He also was smoking a cigarette.

“That would be classic Frank,” Bradley said.

His son Frank J. Glankler III, whom he called “Three” because of his third-generation name, was born in 1949. When he was 16, Glankler moved out of his parents' house after his girlfriend — later his first wife — became pregnant. He rented a small apartment for the two of them, went to school until 3 p.m. and worked at a gas station from 4 p.m. to midnight, five days a week.

Later, he worked as a laborer, building a bridge over the Mississippi River. At first, he shoveled dirt and did other manual work. But when the steelworkers on the job went on strike, he crossed the picket line for a boost in pay. When he drove to the work site with other strikebreakers, union men shot their cars with nail guns and beat the vehicles with bats.

Glankler left that job to work for an auto parts store and became acting manager at 20. He earned a percentage of the store's profits but realized he could boost his share by collecting on bad checks instead of using an outside agency for the job.

He was good at tracking people down, and after realizing he couldn’t make much money at the auto parts store, he became a private investigator. He earned a better living but didn’t strike it rich and constantly faced death threats.

One night, after such a threat, Frank went to a bar and mulled over what to do with his life. He wrote a list of career options on a napkin, listing industries that would last forever — food, liquor, gambling, prostitution, drugs, real estate.

He quickly narrowed his options down to food and real estate. He couldn’t see himself in the grocery business, though, and he had read that the wealthiest people in America owned property.

The next day, he looked for companies that might want a guy with his background.

•••

In 1979, Glankler landed a position in the superintendent training program at U.S. Home Corp. He rose through the ranks into senior management, eventually running operations in several states. He left the company in 1986, did some consulting work, and in the summer of 1992, launched the Arizona division of the Forecast Group, a Southern California homebuilder.

He stayed with that company until fall 1993, left for a short stint in the tech industry, then returned to Forecast in 1995 as vice president of operations. Six months later, he was named chief operating officer.

Forecast sold about 1,000 homes a year and wasn’t always profitable. Glankler brought discipline and organization to the company, pushing rank-and-file workers to do more.

“It sounds like a simple, obvious approach, but it isn’t,” former CEO Jim Previti said.

Glankler’s annual bonus was based on Forecast's profits, and both soared with Glankler on board. He earned $140,000 in total compensation in 1996, filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show. Five years later, he brought home $3 million.

In January 2002, national builder Hovnanian Enterprises bought Forecast’s California operations for $176 million. Glankler became president of Hovnanian’s largest regional division, overseeing operations in Arizona, California and Nevada. His group produced $1.3 billion a year in revenue. Glankler made piles of money for himself, too. He earned $8.5 million in 2004 alone.

That same year, he was waiting for his wife and mother-in-law to get ready for a Sunday brunch when he decided to grab a few bottles of water from the refrigerator of his Scottsdale, Ariz., home. There was a baby gate in the kitchen, a barrier for his dogs. Glankler had tripped over it before but always caught his balance.

He often said that someone was going to get hurt on the gate and break their neck.

This time when he stepped over it, the gate came loose and stuck between his legs. Glankler couldn’t balance himself and fell headfirst into the corner of the countertop. He turned to avoid hitting his pituitary gland, which could have killed him instantly.

Glankler figured he might gash his forehead and need stitches. Instead, he heard his neck crack, pinching his spinal cord and killing millions of cells.

His then-wife Angel heard the fall and came running downstairs. A helicopter rushed Glankler to a trauma center in downtown Scottsdale, where he underwent six hours of surgery to rebuild his neck with titanium rods, bolts and cadaver bones. Doctors worried that he would die that night.

Glankler spent the next four days on a respirator, blinking to communicate. His friends and family were devastated. When word of what happened spread around his office, employees sobbed.

When Glankler awoke from surgery, he saw his father standing at the foot of his bed. Frank Jr. had heard the prognosis and told his son that he would be a quadriplegic. He asked Three what he thought.

His son blinked back, “Bullshit.”

•••

Frank Glankler III spent three weeks in the hospital. Doctors had no hope for his recovery. His insurance carrier wanted him in a nursing home, where orderlies would turn him over every 20 minutes to prevent blisters. Glankler refused and kicked the doctor out of his room.

“I said, ‘You’re fired, slick. Don’t come back,'” he said.

Glankler insisted on meeting with Patterson face to face before moving into Casa Colina. The doctor flew to Arizona.

Once at the facility, Glankler was scheduled for a psychological consultation, as is every patient. People with spinal cord injuries typically go through a grieving process, and many suffer deep emotional trauma, with high rates of suicide and depression.

Glankler insisted he didn’t need “no goddamn psychologist.” He didn’t want a pity party.

He underwent aggressive physical therapy but also kept working for Hovnanian, which had an office close to the rehab center. Glankler ran the company's western division from his hospital bed. He paid to outfit the room with satellite TV and communication gear and held staff meetings in Casa Colina’s conference rooms.

“He just took over,” said Megan Scanlon, his former executive assistant and current girlfriend.

Despite slim odds for a full recovery, Glankler remained positive. He spent lots of time in the gym, organized wheelchair races in the hallway and had walking competitions with a man whose leg was crushed in a motorcycle crash. He also refused to associate with patients who, as he saw it, had given up. If a nurse came to his room and was cranky, Glankler told her to come back later when she was in a better mood.

His approach paid off. In August 2004, six months after his accident, Glankler was discharged from Casa Colina. He walked out the doors.

Two years later, the center awarded him its “Tribute to Courage” award. Actor Gary Busey told Glankler's story the night of the awards ceremony.

Casa Colina CEO Felice Loverso ate dinner with Glankler almost every night during his recovery and was mesmerized by the man he saw as a modern-day Daniel Boone. To inspire other patients, Loverso put up a sign in the gym, a direct quote from Glankler: “I didn’t want to learn how to live with my disability. I wanted to learn how to overcome it.”

“I’m sure he loves the day he left,” Loverso said. “But I actually miss Frank.”

Glankler worked for Hovnanian until spring 2005. Though he split his time between Southern California and Arizona, he had close ties to Las Vegas. He and Angel married here in 1977 at the Little Church of the West. Glankler often visited the valley for business, and in the fall of 2001, he bought a penthouse condo at Turnberry Place.

In 2007, he switched careers and launched VoyagerClassics, a classic car rental business at Tropicana Avenue and Paradise Road.

The business flopped. Glankler, who ran the company with his stepson, Maurice Moody, didn’t know anything about the car business. He closed shop in spring 2010, having lost $6 million. He got back into real estate, and his brother Adam moved to the valley from Memphis two years ago to join him.

•••

Frank’s health is far from stellar. He has gained weight and, until a few weeks ago, smoked at least a pack and a half of cigarettes every day. He doesn’t drive as often as he used to, nor does he walk as much. He spends most of his time in his wheelchair.

And while he can do most things himself, Glankler's life is not easy. Getting a drink from the refrigerator can take him 15 or 20 minutes.

What’s more, he has to deal with the people who often are insensitive. People open doors for themselves but let them close on him. Some tell Glankler that if they had suffered his injuries, they'd rather die. Others say his motorized wheelchair would be fun to ride.

“Man, I wish I had one of those,” they say.

“I wish you had this one,” Glankler always replies.

Glankler misses much about his life before the accident — horseback riding, motorcycle rides, climbing, hiking. But he’s also grateful. He could be bedridden and need to breathe through a straw.

“I’m a lucky, happy guy,” Glankler said, “in spite of this (expletive) chair.”

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