Building Big and Giving Back
Hard work has been a part of Dan Klingerman’s life since he was 10 years old and started helping his grandfather John Klingerman in the family’s feed mill. He remembers his dad Dick Klingerman and uncle Dave Klingerman showing him the various aspects of the business, while “Uncle Dave” farmed throughout the Bloomsburg area.
Between hauling corn, wheat, oats, and unloading trucks filled with fertilizer and lime, he also got a behind-the-curtain look at the business of farming.
The hard work at the mill — which he did through high school and over summers through college — taught him determination and self-discipline.
Those early lessons were invaluable as Dan developed into a champion wrestler and, combined with a natural affinity for numbers, a successful entrepreneur. Today, he heads The Liberty Group, an investment and management company he founded in 2002, which has grown to over $500 million in assets and more than 6,000 workers.
But for Dan Klingerman, business success is not a means to an end. Faith, family, and philanthropy are crucial to a satisfying life, he says. Much of his support focuses on north-central Pennsylvania’s hospitals and medical care, as well as schools and colleges.
“When I started working for myself, and as our organization grew, I always believed that with increased success comes increased obligation to give back,” the 56-year-old says. “I tell my kids that happiness isn’t derived from commas and zeros.”
Jennifer Wilson, the president and CEO of Williamsport’s First Community Foundation Partnership, which connects donors with nonprofits filling community needs, says Klingerman’s involvement with her organization and the region has been invaluable.
Many people don’t realize all that Dan has done and continues to do, not only with his charitable giving by with his leadership.
“Many people don’t realize all that Dan has done and continues to do, not only with his charitable giving but with his leadership,” says Wilson, who adds that Klingerman served on her agency’s board for eight years. “I spent a lot of time with Dan and talking about philanthropy. He spends his time and money on organizations he believes are making a tremendous impact on people.”
THE MAKING OF A CHAMPION
“Our family has always been very sports-oriented,” Klingerman says. “I wrestled in high school and college, and I think sports-mindedness crosses over into the business and entrepreneurial world. Both take patience, persistence, teamwork, and self-discipline. They are the qualities that make you successful in sports and the working world.”
Most of Klingerman’s family played basketball, but when he began at Bloomsburg Area Middle School, he spotted a sign for wrestling tryouts and gave it a shot. At the end of his eighth-grade season, he captured the tri-state championship for Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. By his junior year, he finished third in the state, and as a senior in 1983, he was Bloomsburg Area High School’s first state wrestling champion.
Klingerman also focused his energies on his other passion – math– using the same determination, drive, and skill that made him a powerhouse on the wrestling mat in high school. By the time he started at BU, he was so advanced that he helped teach accounting to first- and second-year students.
Klingerman, who graduated from BU in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, says becoming a Husky was an easy choice. While he was heavily recruited by a host of colleges, especially Penn State, Klingerman had met BU’s Hall of Fame wrestling coach Roger Sanders and liked his program. He received a five-year scholarship to BU and was the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) wrestling champion in his sophomore year.
However, his time on the mat also ended that year. Injuries to his right shoulder and both knees caught up to him.
“I have no regrets whatsoever,” Klingerman says of wrestling, despite the injuries that caused him to leave the sport. “The chapters of our life define who we are, and each part is integral to getting you where you are. That’s the nice thing about a new day, you can’t go back, but you can certainly start fresh tomorrow, which can change the outcome.”
He draws parallels to the aggressiveness and mental toughness needed to square off with a wrestling opponent to his later success in the business world.
“As a wrestler, I felt I had to do a little more than the others to have that edge. When high school wrestling practice was over, I’d go home, have dinner and then go running,” he says. “It is the same in the business world – you’re not going to succeed with a nine to five mentality.”
Jack Mulka, who retired as BU’s dean of student development in 2002, says he’s not surprised at Klingerman’s accomplishments. “He was a focused, determined young man. He was tough and resilient, and when he didn’t succeed, he would pick himself back up and go at it again,” Mulka says. “His mother and father and his uncles and cousins are all good role models. Good, hard-working people willing to help others.”
WINNING IN BUSINESS AND LIFE
After graduating from BU, Klingerman started looking for an accounting job when, unbeknownst to him, his brother signed him up for an interview with an insurance broker in Williamsport. Instead of balancing books, Klingerman earned a securities license and handled investments, retirement accounts, and estate planning – making more than accounting jobs offered in Baltimore.
He also took his first foray into what would lead to his later success: real estate.
“I started acquiring student housing that I would remodel myself, and I did that until I got into the commercial space,” Klingerman says. “I first acquired a 45,000-square-foot building in Williamsport.”
Real estate made sense on multiple levels. Value, tax write-offs, and amortization were familiar territory for Klingerman. Plus, as a salaried employee, he didn’t have much to write off until he started investing in property.
Five years later, he came to a crossroads: the insurance company wanted him to take over an office in Boston, or he could work with his uncles, Doug Klingerman and Dave Klingerman, and JDK Management Company, which primarily focused on operating nursing homes and restaurants. His challenge was to turn around their Perkins franchise.
Within six years, Klingerman had grown the franchise to 40 restaurants, turning it into the largest Perkins operation in the United States. “It’s all about scale and surrounding yourself with good people,” Dan says. With growth came the ability to negotiate better contracts with suppliers: “You create your own economies of scale.”
In 2002, Klingerman came to another crossroads: he enjoyed what he was doing, but it was time to bet on himself.
“I think everybody at some point thinks about being your own boss. I enjoyed my time at JDK, but it was not my company,” he says. “At the end of the day, you have to decide what side of t the paycheck you want to sign.”
The company’s name was an easy choice; in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, he wanted to call his new enterprise “Liberty.” The first business was Liberty Hospitality Partners, which was soon joined by LHP Management, Liberty Healthcare, and LG Settlement Services. As the number of companies grew—today more than 50—Klingerman formed the umbrella company “The Liberty Group.”
Liberty covers a wide range of industries, with hospitality properties such as Bloomsburg’s Frosty Valley Resort (home of BU’s golf teams) and the Clinton Country Club in Lock Haven (home of Lock Haven University’s golf team). Klingerman provides six scholarship programs for BU’s golf program.
Liberty also has construction companies that have built schools, hospitals, and more. After finishing a $9 million complex known as “the Liberty Arena,” he and his team are working on the $17 million Williamsport Sports Complex that will feature seven baseball and softball fields on a 10-acre brownfield site.
The project is a focus for the Liberty Group, the Williamsport Chamber of Commerce and key community stakeholders and a perfect fit, as Williamsport is the home of the Little League World Series.
A LIFE BY WHAT WE GIVE
A conversation with Klingerman about business inevitably goes hand-in-hand with his belief in supporting the community that makes a company’s success possible. Bloomsburg University, Pennsylvania College of Technology, Lycoming College, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Geisinger are just some of the organizations he supports.
Our family has always supported local activities, and I believe that we have an obligation to give back.
“Our family has always supported local activities, and I believe that we have an obligation to give back,” he says. “One of my favorite quotes that I use frequently is from Winston Churchill: ‘We make a living by what we get but make a life by what we give.’”
Klingerman readily admits BU has a special place in his heart. His Klingerman Family Scholarship, which benefits the university’s football team, has helped more than a dozen players. One of the first award recipients was Matt Feiler, now an offensive lineman with the Los Angeles Chargers. Klingerman also helped raise money for the BU Husky Wrestling Endowment, which has supported 18 students.
Then, in May 2020, Gov. Tom Wolf appointed him to a six-year term as a Bloomsburg University trustee.
“I was proud to be asked to serve, and every time I go back to the campus for a meeting, it feels wonderful,” Klingerman says. “Bloomsburg allowed me to grow, and I’m excited to be on the board and have the chance to give back and help guide and direct t the university’s direction.”
Danny Hale, who was head coach of the Huskies for 20 seasons, knows the Klingerman family well and coached Klingerman’s cousin and brother.
“The entire family believes in family, faith, and football. I was inspired by the whole family,” Hale says, adding that he’s not surprised at what Dan has accomplished. “He took that spirit of wrestling and the toughness – you don’t get to be a state champion wrestler without toughness – and developed Liberty.”
Klingerman met his wife, Monica, when he took the insurance company position following graduation, and they have been married 30 years. They have made sure to instill the values of hard work and helping their community to their three children.
As his family did with him, however, Klingerman let his kids choose their own path. The couple’s eldest daughter, Paige, 29, is the head of marketing for a publicly-traded company in Denver; middle daughter Samantha, 27, after obtaining her master’s at Carnegie Mellon University and completing an administrative fellowship with UPMC, now is director of ENT and Chronic Pain Medicine at the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh; and their son, Mitchell, is a senior at SMU in Dallas studying business. Paige and Samantha both received gold-medal state championship awards in soccer, while Mitchell was a state place winner in baseball and basketball.
For Klingerman, success has three pillars: faith, family, and friends.
“You want to surround yourself with people of the same mindset and values and principles who also have different strengths than what you have,” he says when asked what advice he would give fellow entrepreneurs. “Above all, stay grounded and have humility and understand that it can leave as quickly as it came.”
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Bloomsburg: The University Magazine.