People in real estate are often known as high achievers. But Larry Connor, managing partner of Ohio-based real estate firm The Connor Group, is taking that stereotype to new heights.
Over the next several months, Connor will attempt to become the first person to both explore the bottom of the ocean and fly to outer space within a one-year period. Only two other people have ever traveled to both the Mariana Trench and outer space before — NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan and private astronaut Richard Garriott.
The task is a daunting one, but it will not be the first time Connor has let his ambition and curious spirit guide him toward achieving an outstanding goal. Connor has piloted over 16 different types of aircraft, has gone on extreme rafting trips in places like the Himalayas, and conquered formidable peaks in his climbing pursuits, like Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Aside from those extracurricular pursuits, Connor has embarked on a variety of business pursuits over the course of his career. His entrepreneurial endeavors have varied widely from car salesman to travel advisor to tavern owner, and ultimately, as a partner in his own real estate firm.
EYOS Expeditions, a deep sea specialist company, reached out to Connor shortly after it announced its AX-1 mission to explore the Challenger Deep and the Sirena Deep of the Mariana Trench, asking him if he’d be interested in covering part of the costs of the upcoming mission in return for serving as co-pilot.
On Monday, Conor will travel to Guam, and then embark on the first dive to the Challenger Deep on Wednesday or Thursday in the submarine’s DSV (deep submergence vehicle) Limiting Factor, which has a cabin that’s roughly four and a half feet wide and four and a half feet tall to fit two passengers. A few days later, the team will dive down to the Sirena Deep. The Challenger Deep and the Sirena Deep are the first and third deepest known places on Earth.
Then in early 2022, Connor will join the first private mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Connor will serve as pilot on the 10-day mission on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will include three other crew members.
Amid preparations for his journey, Inman was able to catch up with Connor to learn more about what fuels him in his exploits. Here’s what he had to say.
Inman News: What’s driving you to become the first person to both go to space and the bottom of the ocean within one year?
Larry Connor: I would say it’s a couple of things — certainly exploration, the ability to go out and explore, I’ve always been interested in that. But the second thing that’s also important is doing potentially, no guarantees, groundbreaking research. So I just don’t want to go on these just to go on them, I want there to be, hopefully, some value to what we’re going to do. And I think both the mission to the ISS as well as the dive in the Mariana Trench hold great potential.
Could you elaborate just a little bit more on what sorts of things you all are hoping to find?
So let’s be clear — I am not a scientist or an expert, but what I’ve come to learn regarding the Mariana Trench is that, the vast majority of not only Challenger Deep where we’ll do the first dive, but also Sirena Deep where we’ll do the second dive, are largely unexplored, especially in the case of Sirena Deep where literally there’s only ever been two human beings down there before. So that will be a long dive, 14 or 15 hours, and we’re going to be mapping the bottom and exploring. What do we hope to find, again you’d have to ask the scientists and experts, but I’ve been told that we’ll have the opportunity to maybe find sea life that’s never been seen before, vegetation, potentially large formations there at the bottom of the ocean. The reality is, somebody needs to go there and explore. So I’m happy to have that opportunity.
I’m sure it will be fascinating. What kind of training do you need to go through for these two missions?
In the case of the AX-1 space mission, very extensive training will start in June. It will be about 17 weeks before we launch. Looks like the launch will be sometime in early February and we’ll train at Johnson Space Center, Cape Canaveral [where Kennedy Space Center is located] and then SpaceX. Because I’m piloting, I am the commander. Mike Lopez Alegría [a former NASA astronaut] will have some additional training and requirements. So big opportunity, but a big challenge and I think it’s paramount as the first all-civilian crew that we meet or exceed the astronaut standards. [Connor later clarified there was only very basic training involved for him for the deep-sea expeditions.]
Do you anticipate any kind of physical toll on your body from these expeditions?
When you talk about the limiting factor, which is a submersible, you don’t go through decompression, so it’s almost virtually like being at sea level. So there’s no issue there. And in terms of space, I’ve always done a lot of rigorous training, and we’re going to do some additional ones, so I think physically and mentally, we’ll be prepared and in good shape.
You have some experience piloting, right?
Yes, I’ve been fortunate, I’ve flown a lot of different types of aircraft. Everything from helicopters to fighter jets over the last 15-year period of time.
How different is this sort of flight expedition for you compared to those experiences?
Yeah well, in that case it’d be, you’re the pilot, you’re flying. Here, Mike is the commander, which means he’s in charge. He’s a multi-time, highly decorated astronaut. I’m the pilot, but really I’m going to be assisting Mike. And our role will primarily be to monitor systems and report to NASA.
What do your family and colleagues think about you going on these expeditions?
Well, there’s two camps: The one camp thinks it’s unbelievable and is thrilled for me. The other camp, I think they are maybe not afraid, but it’s the unknown. So, it’s understandable that you have some family members who have maybe some concerns or [trepidation]. But I can tell you in both cases, both the AX-1 mission as well as the EYOS expedition mission to the Mariana Trench, these people are absolute professionals. They’ve done a tremendous job building in safety systems, so I’m highly confident in both missions that we can do them well and do them safely.
Well, it sounds like you all are really preparing for it. So I also wanted to ask you a bit about your career trajectory, which also sounds interesting. You’ve had a lot of startup businesses and different careers you’ve embarked on in your life — how did you end up in real estate?
We’ve been very fortunate in that we’ve started and built eight businesses. Seven of them were really successful. One of them was not, but the one that was not, which was in the technology space, we learned a tremendous amount during that journey. And so, I, like many other people, starting buying real estate part-time, evenings and weekends, and I was intrigued by the aspects of investment real estate. So in 1992 we formed a partnership called Connor, Murphy and Buhrman. And we started investing in real estate. Within about three years we decided, ‘look, we’re going to be specialists and we’re going to focus exclusively on large, well-located apartment communities, either A locations with either A or B assets.’ But we were going to take a different path — none of us were from the industry. So, we said, ‘Hey look, we think we can build our own operating models our way,’ and we believed that we could outperform industry standards by a significant margin, and fortunately we’ve been able to do so.
Currently, we’ve got about $3.5 billion in assets. What’s unique is, we do a lot of transactional activity, and we classify that as buying, selling and refinancing. So last year even during the pandemic, we did over $1.1 billion in transactions.
Wow, fantastic. It sounds like you’ve got this booming business on the one hand, and then, you are obviously very active in your personal life with your adventuring — how do you balance it all?
Well it’s been a long journey, and business and family have always come first. But, we’ve built a phenomenally good team of people, as well as a very unique culture. We’ve also developed a lot of planning and processes, and so, I actually think it’s going to be great for the business that I won’t, for six or seven months, really be involved, to give opportunities to other people to be in decision-making roles. And hey, along the path, you’re going to make mistakes, but we believe you learn a great deal from mistakes. So it’s, make mistakes, learn fast, and correct. So, net-net I think it will be overall pretty positive for the organization and all the people in it.
Great. So, just looking at these explorations that you’ll be embarking on, do you think there’s anything professionals in the real estate industry specifically could take away from you doing this kind of research and exploration?
I don’t know that it’s really exclusive to real estate, but … my belief is — and hopefully maybe it will inspire a few other people — to aim high. Don’t set limits. You’re only limited by what you can dream. If people tell you something’s impossible, it’s not impossible — it’s only impossible if you think it’s impossible. So that hopefully is what some people will see. Because growing up, I wasn’t a great student, I really didn’t have any money. So my hard work and being involved with a bunch of other really committed, talented people … We’ve been able to do some amazing things.
This is a unique challenge of trying to do this all inside of 12 months. Nobody else has ever both gone to the bottom of the ocean and gone to outer space in that 12-month period of time. But again, I think it speaks to, you can do anything if you believe it, and impossible is only impossible if you think it’s impossible.