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Still Standing: Lessons From a Survivor of the Mortgage Industry Meltdown

Paul Anastos
Dec 04, 2012

As we celebrate our 25th year in business at Mortgage Master, we are proud to say that we have not only survived but thrived during the unprecedented changes and turbulence our industry has experienced during the last several years. While many lenders continue to struggle or shut their doors, we expect this year to rank as our most successful to date. Not only are originations expected to increase to more than $7 billion in 2012, a record for our company, but we are experiencing growth in every area of our business. We have added more than 120 employees in the last 12 months; just recently opened an operations center in Maitland, Fla.; are expanding our corporate headquarters space to accommodate personnel growth; and continue to strategically expand our footprint. As I reflect back at where we have been and look forward to where we are going, I can clearly identify several critical lessons we learned along the way. Each of these lessons contributed to helping us withstand one of the most difficult periods in our industry’s history and come out of it positioned for tremendous growth and closer to our goal of becoming a business that is among the premier financial service providers in the country. Build the very best senior management team you can There is no question our exceptional senior management team has helped us effectively navigate through the obstacles and challenges of recent years. They are the nucleus of our business and have helped ensure our company’s success from day one. When our founder, Leif Thomsen, started the company in 1988, he developed a clear vision that has been adhered to ever since. Our invaluable Chief Operating Officer and Head of Operations Patty Raymo joined the team in 1991. Early on, she understood the importance of responsible lending and helped us mitigate risk throughout the years, masterfully steering us clear of sub-prime loans even when it was the trend with so many other lenders. Part of this foundation includes many individuals who have dedicated their careers to Mortgage Master for well over a decade. To name a few, Marie Gill who successfully manages our closing department, constantly exceeds our customers, loan officers and expectations of our closing attorneys. Our Chief Financial Officer David Harrington has a wealth of financial services experience and has brought us to a whole new level from a reporting and financial perspective. In addition, Shane Stanton has been with the company for several years and has helped add to the continued growth and success of our company. His main contribution is through recruiting activities and management coaching. To build upon this strong foundation, we have added industry veteran Don Henig as managing director of national sales this year. Don’s experience in building superior sales organizations that empower producers to deliver the best possible service is crucial to our growth going forward. “…we stood by our founding principles, not focusing on quick profits but understanding and abiding by our fundamentals and long-term growth plans.” I don’t hesitate to say our team is the best in the business. They are outstanding leaders that brought their own expertise and ideas to the organization. However they are able to collectively work toward one vision and truly believe in always doing what is right for the company, what is right for our employees and what is right for our customers. Never lose sight of your business model We have never wavered from our disciplined, conservative approach, and have lived by the same simple philosophy for the last 25 years. We believe in offering our customers the best products at the best price with the best service. We simply do not bite off more than we can chew in any aspect of our business. During the recent industry meltdown, we adhered to this same approach. We remained transparent, both internally and with our customers. We kept our overhead low allowing us to keep money in the business. We never grew too rapidly or panicked when change needed to be implemented quickly. Most importantly, we stood by our founding principles, not focusing on quick profits but understanding and abiding by our fundamentals and long-term growth plans. These core components of our model remain in place today and will continue to remain in place as we move forward. Always remember responsible lending is mandatory for success Without a doubt, many lenders failed in recent years because they were originating loans that just did not make any sense. We always steered clear of exotic and “liar loans” and never entered the sub-prime business at all. These were not always easy or popular choices. As a company, we experienced what it was like to lose good loan originators, as we were not following the product trends at the time. This led some originators to make the choice to work elsewhere. It was frustrating at the time, but refreshing later on to see some of those same people came back and sought us out. They came to understand our strong belief and commitment to responsible lending. They came to respect and appreciate that we were not going to let our originators, and our business, get into trouble. In fact, to this day, we are extremely proud of the fact we have never had to buy back a loan. We made a strategic decision to responsibly build and grow our company, and regardless of industry ups and downs, that will never change. A dynamic company culture can be the difference between success and failure The dictionary defines dynamic as “vigorous and purposeful, full of energy, enthusiasm and a sense of purpose, able both to get things going and get things done.” That is the type of culture we have built at Mortgage Master. Having the best and brightest working for you clearly makes a difference, and we have always remained committed to making our company an attractive place to work. That is why we compensate our originators above and beyond industry standards. Additionally, if we hold back any revenue from the loans, we tell them. We want them to understand and experience our transparency. If they join us, our goal is to have them extend that same level of transparency to their customers. It represents who we are, and supports our commitment to responsible lending. We also make ourselves accessible at all levels, addressing concerns or problems immediately. We have open lines of communication and do our very best to assist with the needs of our employees. Our culture has not only helped us attract some of the best but it has also helped us retain them, even during tumultuous times. We currently employ more than 250 loan officers and are proud of the fact many have been with us for at least seven years. Twenty of our loan officers were also named among the top 200 originators, by dollar volume, in 2011 according to an industry listing of the top 200 originators. We value our employees and know they genuinely enjoy working for us and with each other. Our people want to be a part of our team, they want to help us achieve our goals and they want to help each other succeed. Embrace change … do not fear it or let it dictate your course Over the last few years, we have consistently heard about lenders struggling with what may happen when rates start to increase or as regulations continue to change. If you prepare yourself as a company for the changes that are ahead of you then those changes will not prevent you from getting where you want to go. Rates will eventually rise, and we know the regulatory environment will continue to change. Successfully leading and managing through these types of change requires you to always maintain a certain level of preparedness. We have kept our operating costs low and over the last five years and have gained purchase market share every single year. Our purchase volume is currently 30-35 percent and we continue to grow those numbers. The same preparedness needs to be applied when considering regulatory changes. It is impossible to determine exactly what may come down next, but we know the rules will continue to change over time. While there have been some good decisions, as well as some really bad ones, we do not let those changes stop us in our tracks. We abide by all regulations and do not have a problem with accepting and implementing them into our business model. We take the time to understand them so we can clearly determine how we can and cannot proceed with building our business. The key is to be the best at executing within the regulatory framework that exists at a given point in time. Set a clear vision for the future As we look to the future, we know where we want to go and how we plan to get there. We are currently licensed in 22 states and the District of Columbia, and have our heaviest presence in the Northeast, where we have done well during the last few years despite the financial crisis. The Southeast has been a little more challenging, but we are confident we will begin to see growth in that region as well. We will continue to bring on the very best talent in our industry and teach them the high quality standards that we have set for our organization. We will continue to put quality before quantity, and focus on the core fundamentals that have gotten us to this point, despite a perfect storm these past few years. I am proud of our accomplishments and am thankful for the lessons we have learned. Our industry faced what were insurmountable challenges for many, but we stayed our course and it has allowed us to become who we are today. Mortgage Master is an exceptional team of great leaders and innovators, focused on the fundamentals necessary to becoming one of the best financial service companies in the country. Paul Anastos is president of Walpole, Mass.-based Mortgage Master, a super-regional mortgage banker and one of the country’s largest privately-owned mortgage companies. He may be reached by phone at (508) 850-4100.
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