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Monday, August 28, 2006

Larry Koppie, a Northwest Airlines pilot, will devote his full attention to home sales.

Career Makeover

Airline pilot also lands home sales

Changes since 9/11, cutbacks at Northwest prompt man to focus exclusively on real estate.

Brian J. O'Connor / The Detroit News


Have you remade your career?

Did you switch from engineering to sales? Escape the boss from hell? Use your severance pay as seed money to start a small business? The Detroit News wants to hear from readers who've successfully remade their jobs, professions and careers for future stories. To tell your story, e-mail Personal Finance Editor Brian O'Connor at


As a pilot for Northwest Airlines, Larry Koppie knows it's all about arriving safely at your destination. That's why he's trading his wings for a real estate license.

Koppie, 43, says years of upheavals in the airline industry were behind his decision to take off for a new career.

"I loved flying. I was going to be able to put my kids through school, be home to attend games, events, graduations, all those things -- and I was going to have a good retirement, too," the Northville resident says. "But after 9/11 all that went away."

Besides a 40 percent pay cut, Koppie also found his pension plan canceled and his time away from home increased.

"The choices I had were to accept the new reality and give up on everything I wanted to do, or look at it as a second chance to attain the goals I had for my family and myself," he says.

Where he came from: Koppie worked his way through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., then became an instructor at a flight school run by his wife's family.

"I went the hard way," he recalls, "flying boxed and freight at night over the mountains. I'd never do it again."

In 1995 he joined Northwest. By 2000 he was a captain, flying jetliners across the ocean.

"Here I am: I've got four stripes, I'm working for a major airline and I'm under 40," he recalls feeling. "It was a great deal."

What changed: The deal soured after the Sept. 11 attacks, as trouble spread through the airline industry.

"It was an equation that a lot of people are faced with now," Koppie notes. "We need to cut costs and guess what? You're a cost."

Real estate had always intrigued him, Koppie says, and he had planned on doing some investing in property. Instead, he decided to make it his next career.

"One of the reasons was that I wasn't going to have to go to school for 10 years," he explains. "If the whole industry came apart, I could at least feed my kids."

Moment of truth: With the support of his wife, Terry, who also joined him in real estate, Koppie decided to throw himself into the businesses. He took full-day classes to get his real estate license in one week, then looked around for a brokerage so he could learn the business while still flying. Shortly after the first anniversary of the attacks, he was working for a broker.

To do that, "I worked eight days a week," Koppie says. That meant working on real estate Monday through Friday, then making a three-day flight to Europe Friday night.

Stumbling blocks: "The biggest hurdle was fear of change," Koppie says. "You're comfortable in your zone and letting go of that is tough."

Part of getting over those concerns was the simple fact that things had changed, he adds.

"The decision was helped by the fact that there's no going back -- the career will never be what it was, things will never be the same."

To boost his sales skills, Koppie hired a training coach to improve his ability to sell. He also notes that because real estate salespeople work independently, he's built a network of others who keep him accountable in his work, from starting work on time to putting in the calls to attract new listings.

All of that is beginning to pay off, he says. He now works with his wife and two other buyer's agents. Despite the weak real estate market in the region, his group is on track to sell at least twice the number of homes it closed on during 2005. He hasn't flown since May and intends to formally cut ties with Northwest soon.

Words of wisdom: Koppie's advice for others in a career transition starts with making the choice to make a change.

"The biggest thing is you have to make the decision," he notes. "You can be stuck in a position, but when you look at everything you're faced with, you can stay where you are and accept the way things are, or you can choose to do something different."

Once you've made the hard decisions, he adds, then it becomes a matter of hard work:

"There are times in your life when things are going to get tough and sometimes all you can do is grit your teeth, put your head down and get through it."

You can reach Brian O'Connor at (313) 222-2145 or

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