January 20, 2015

My Story: Eric Northbrook

In 2006, fate took Eric Northbook's ability to walk when he was in a motorcycle accident in Baja, causing a T7 spinal cord injury. Five years later, fate took his wife by cancer. This past summer, one of San Diego's top office/corporate HQ brokers saw a different turn of events: getting remarried and being tapped to lead Voit's local office.

“I'm a leader and a coach,” Eric tells us. He's certainly a veteran of the commercial real estate wars. His career began in 1989 with what was then Sher-Voit, and there he built a name for himself as an aggressive and successful office broker. By 1993, he sprang from there and joined Colliers and then Cushman & Wakefield a year later. It was clear Eric hit his career stride. But what came next tested every fiber of what it meant to be a father, a leader and a business professional.

During a broker outing riding motorcycles in Baja on Jan. 27, 2006, Eric was going too fast in a very technical area and hit some rocks. He flipped and crashed, and almost immediately knew he had been paralyzed from the chest down, he says. A grueling eight-hour drive back across the American border ensued to get to a hospital, followed by five months of rehab. It was July before Eric returned to work. The second tragic change came four years later when his wife, Denise, died of cervical cancer, leaving Eric with his two children, 9 and 11 at the time.

“What motivated me and what kept me going every day was my kids. They were young,” Eric says. He says that though the kids appear to be doing very well on the surface, everybody goes through the grieving process differently. Where some people may have collapsed underneath the misfortunes, Eric says it was his kids who kept him going. And he's just as active today as he was prior to the accident, including snow skiing. Eric fell a lot, but says he had no plans to give up. "You can't give up,” he says. Eight years later, he's skiing blues, and making it look easy. "But trust me, it wasn't easy.”

Lee & Associates' Rusty Williams can attest to Eric's strength as a leader as well. “It seems to me the accident put some perspective in his life, so to speak,” Rusty says. Rusty, the current SIOR president, tells us that when he took the reins of the organization this year, Eric was one of the first people he reached out to for more involvement as a member of the board of directors. He says Eric's experience makes his input valuable.

Outside of Voit Real Estate Services, Eric heads up his own foundation, “HeadNorth,” a nonprofit that raises money for those with spinal cord injuries in San Diego County. The organization – which recently merged with the nonprofit Sharp Healthcare Foundation – has assisted more than 500 people with back injuries and paralysis. And Eric remarried this past November to Annie as well. Eric says he views his experiences – and, more importantly, how he confronted those experiences – as the main leadership lesson he wants to impart, summed up this way: “You can keep on living or start dying. And I choose living.”

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