Each month, National Mortgage Professional Magazine focuses on one of the industry’s top players in our “Mortgage Professional of the Month” feature. This month, we had a chance to chat with Jonny Fowler, director of national production at America’s Choice Home Loans LP (ACHL), based in Houston, Texas. ACHL has been in business since 1998 and is an expanding, full-service mortgage banker with branches nationwide.
Jonny Fowler is the Harley-Davidson-riding son of a Texas oil field worker, a former competitor in the mixed-martial arts contest known as the Texas Tough Man Competition and a passionate voice on behalf of the industry he cares so deeply about.
We recently had a chance to catch up with Fowler and avoid a submission hold long enough to get a few questions answered. Fowler’s story is a familiar one to those of us who have been in the mortgage industry for more than 15 years. With inspiration from role models, hard work and dedication to his industry, Fowler built a successful career that has provided a life that he wasn’t sure was possible.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Texarkana, Texas on August 12, 1968. My father is from Hope, Arkansas and my mother was originally born in New Orleans, La. and grew up in New Iberia, La. When I was very young, must have been two- or three-years-old, my parents moved from Texarkana to the Houston area for my father’s work. I grew up in Houston, and have been in the Houston area ever since. I followed in my father’s footsteps for a number of years in the oil field industry.
What sort of activities do you take part in when away from the office?
Nowadays, I’m too old for most of the hobbies I used to be into, and too beat up! I used to do different things in martial arts. I used to do what they called the Texas Tough Man Contest, competing in mixed-martial arts tournaments and things like that.
I used to ride dirt bikes but now I just ride Harleys. They’re much more stable and slower. Now, I enjoy spending time with my family. I’m one of those guys that I’m ready for anything at a moment’s notice, all I need to do is pack my toothbrush and I’m ready to go.
Why did you enter the mortgage industry to begin with? Was it planned, accidental or did you see an opportunity to make a lot of money?
In 1994, I bought my first house. I had owned a condo before that was owner-financed, but I financed my first house with a traditional mortgage. I met with a loan officer, one time and never saw him again. In fact, I never heard from him again. He wouldn’t return any of my phone calls. I also talked to a processor, who bothered the heck out of me and called me at least two or three times a day for a month. She never seemed like she could get her act together. She would call every day asking for one thing at a time in piecemeal fashion and I got frustrated. Later on, I found out that a lot of people in that position get frustrated. At one point, I remember asking her, “Can’t you put all of these things on a list and give it to me at one time so I can look for everything at once?” I remember there being silence on the phone.
What specifically is it about the mortgage business that appealed to you?
With the mortgage industry, you have a more intimate relationship with the people you are trying to help. Not only that, but I really enjoyed working with the first-time homebuyer. There were so many people whom I could help. That’s why I decided to get into the mortgage business full-time and make it my life choice and career.
Do you have any role models in the industry? What did they teach you?
I was 17-years-old and still in high school and working at a gas station part-time. I went to work for a Greek man whose name I could never spell. He went by “Sandy.” One time, he was trying to find something that had been lost in the gas station. He looked at me told me to go jump in the dumpster and see if I could find it. I looked at him like he was crazy and he repeated it. I told him, “No, I’m not going in a dumpster.” I then watched this man that had a lot of money, a lot of friends, with everything going great in his life jump in that dumpster and search that dumpster to find what he was looking for. When he got out, instead of screaming at me, instead of firing me, anything like that, he came up and he looked me in the eye and said, “I will never ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself.” And from that moment on, everything that that man did stuck with me. I have tried to emulate a lot of what he instilled in me.
“Technology cannot replace personal relationships, and technology will never replace a handshake or an eye-to-eye sit-down and visit.”
The other role model I would highlight is Sandra Wiley, former senior vice president at Allied in charge of training. I started working with Sandra when I was 30-years-old I think. Sandra has this demeanor about her. She is always calm, cool and professional. If you are willing to open your ears and close your mouth, she tries to help and teach and guide you. She is very much like a guidance counselor, a school teacher, somebody that I’m so proud to have known in my life. Whether she knows it or not, she will always be a mentor, with her management style. She is the type of human being that I would like to emulate myself. Currently, Sandra is corporate trainer and compliance manager for Service First Mortgage in Richardson, Texas.
What role does technology play in the mortgage business?
Effective technology that improves the efficiency and accuracy of the origination process is crucial. However, you only get one time to make a first impression. Technology cannot replace personal relationships, and technology will never replace a handshake or an eye-to-eye sit-down and visit.
What do you feel is the best environment for an originator?
I say a branch-type company, for me anyway, and for a lot of the people I know, would be the best place. Because originators have an advantage with the backing of a good branch company, that has their eye on compliance, has their eye on the market, has their eye on what’s going on in the industry. As part of a well-run branch firm, the road is basically open to them to be able to bring the customers in their area the best product, the best pricing, the best turn times, and the best service. Because of that, an originator or branch manager is able to make a decent, or more than a decent, living.
Does the size of the lender matter?
Size matters. In different aspects, sometimes size matters. Size can be a great thing. Size can be a bad thing, it’s all about perspective. The one thing that I can say about it is that you need someone that’s backing you that has the same philosophies and understandings that you do as far as size goes. I will take quality over quantity any day, but that’s my personal opinion. Some people prefer quantity over quality. I prefer quality over quantity.
What troubles you and keeps you up at night?
Over-regulation of the industry troubles me. We’ve ended up with all of these regulators. You’ve now got the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and you’ve got this complaint hotline and all of these things. The Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS) was supposed to make our lives simpler and easier. It hasn’t. Sometimes, a person may be out of work for weeks because they’re transferring from one company to another. I know that’s not what anyone wants to happen, but it does.
“I really think that we can return this industry back to the profession that it deserves to be.”
Do you believe that mortgage lenders have been treated fairly in the aftermath of the housing crash?
I tried to explain to as many people as possible that I’ve never known a mortgage broker who has underwritten a loan. I’ve never known a mortgage broker who developed a loan product. All I ever knew was the people on Wall Street were saying, “This is what we want, this is what we need and this is how you do it,” and loan officers and brokers delivered that.
What are you hopeful about in regards to the mortgage industry?
I really think that we can return this industry to the profession that it deserves to be. I’m talking about where the mortgage banker could hold his head high … that he wasn’t afraid to say that he was a mortgage banker or a mortgage broker. The minute hand is already past six o’clock, we’re on an upswing, we are our way back up.
What has been your greatest accomplishment in the industry to date?
My greatest accomplishment has been helping consumers and helping mortgage professionals—when, where and how they needed it. I have helped to bring a tremendous number of people into this business. I have helped them with their lives and their decisions. I’ve helped people get into their first house … people get into income-producing properties—things like that. That’s what I’m happiest about.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I really want to take my hat off to those industry veterans that stuck it out from 2007 forward. There are a lot of good people that have lost a lot by staying in this industry just because they knew that it was the right thing to do. I take my hat off to all of those people.
David J. Coster is senior editor of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. He may be reached by phone at (919) 559-2171 or e-mail [email protected]