Eric Tishaw, CEO of HomeTown Lenders is National Mortgage Professional Magazine's Mortgage Professional of the Month. HomeTown Lenders is a 37-branch retail lending organization based in Huntsville, Ala. HomeTown Lenders’ growth, innovative marketing and commitment to improving the conditions of the communities in which their employees live and work, as well as the world at large, makes them worthy of this selection. I recently had the chance to speak with Eric and uncover the passion behind the organization.
I understand that working in the mortgage industry was your goal from your time in college. Tell me about that.
They say that nobody intends to go into the mortgage business. I’m actually the exception to that rule. I grew up around the mortgage business, and was always really intrigued by it. I had some great friends growing up who were in the business. I was always really attracted to it. So my intention while in college was to go into the mortgage business when I graduated.
What was so appealing about the industry?
I think what appealed to me most is the constant challenge—there is never a dull day in this business! But more importantly, we help people realize their dreams of owning a home. It’s a very rewarding career.
How did you first get your start in the business?
After college, I went to work as a loan originator. I really liked working with borrowers and educating them so they could make a better informed decision. There is a lot of personal gratification in helping take their nervousness out of the process. I soon made the move to become a branch manager. As a manager, I loved helping my employees mature and watching them sink the winning shot.
How did HomeTown Lenders come into being?
When the market turned several years ago, our company was forced to reinvent itself to survive. At that time, I began growing the company. We already had branches and a branch support platform in place. Growing our branch network was a natural extension of our abilities and expertise. Today, we have over 325 employees in branches from Florida to Colorado.
What is unique about your organization?
What makes us unique is how we approach the business, how we view it and our roles in helping our partners grow. Our main philosophy revolves around three “R’s”: Recruit the best, Retain the best and Remember who got us there.
With the first “R”, we are looking to Recruit the best. We are always looking for top-tier caliber people with integrity. We are very selective of who we hire. We don’t just hire anyone in order to get bigger.
The second “R” is Retention. We have a strong focus on retaining the best. A lot of companies focus solely on recruiting, but we put a heavy focus on retention. We want to know what the branches’ goals are and to help them get there and help support them as they grow. We put a high priority on support, making sure when people call us that we answer the phone. That is a big part of who we are.
Some companies make big promises, yet we frequently hear people say, “They promised me the moon, but after I started, I never heard from them.” HomeTown Lenders has dedicated personnel and processes in place to help our branches and LOs meet their goals. We help them with marketing strategies, and we are partnered up with some of the industries icons like Frank and Brian from the National Real Estate Post, and Carl White and Scotty Hudspeth from Mortgage Marketing Animals. We do that in an effort to help our people realize their full potential and exceed their goals.
The third “R” is to always Remember why we are here … we are a Christian company, and we remember that God is the reason for our success. We have been through some very difficult times that unfortunately a lot of companies didn’t make it through. We give that credit to God.
This over-arching philosophy is the primary reason for our success.
You have also employed a unique advertising campaign that includes comic strips. What is behind that?
It is definitely unique! Frequently, when talking to branches, they would mention, “I was talking to this company, and they promised me the moon. They said they would give me recruiting support and they would answer their phone and give me all these things, but then when I on board and it was, ‘How much are you doing this month?’” I guess we heard it so much that it became comical that other companies were just promising the moon but not delivering. That’s really where the idea came from—just to make light of that fact.
As far as marketing is concerned, we just wanted a campaign that really stood out and was different. We are always getting feedback from people saying they love it. They appreciate that it’s different, and they understand that we are different too. We are maybe a little bit unconventional, but I think the comics are a good window into who we are. We like to have fun, but we are serious about business.
You make a special effort to participate in charitable work. Why is that?
We exist for a greater purpose than just closing loans and making money. Our goal is to leave behind a legacy and to leave the world a better place than we found it—to make real, positive, measurable impacts on other people’s lives.
We created a company 501c3 organization called Mission Firefly. It’s a mission organization to serve a village in Guatemala. We have built 13 houses and seven clean water systems and have really taken the Word to several places. We are starting to do that in other countries as well.
On a local level, there is a local home for boys where we sponsor events and support them with clothing, school supplies and tutoring. Most importantly, we spend time with them. That’s the key. Anybody can throw money at a problem, but it’s really important for us to develop relationships and help these young kids grow into responsible adults.
Being in business, making money, closing loans and helping customers … that’s all great, but we do it to allow us to serve a greater purpose. We firmly believe our role in leading or participating in programs like this is critical and it falls in line with our beliefs. Our message is quite simply to show God’s love to others. The needs in the communities are amazing. It’s easy to sit back and say that somebody else has that covered … they don’t. There are so many opportunities to be of service, we try to fill as many as we can.
What are your business goals?
One of our primary goals right now is to continue our national expansion. We are actively entering new markets because we believe we have a great model, and are simply expanding that to a wider area. The next goal for us is to double our current level of production.
How would you describe the mortgage professionals you are looking to add?
We are looking for high quality, top tier talent. We are looking for people that do clean, compliant business. We have always viewed quality as better than quantity, sometimes turning down the large volume branches if we just don’t get a good feeling about them. One of the things I still do today is meet people in person before we hire them. I know that sounds crazy, but the reality is we want to know who we are working with. It needs to be a good fit. They are not just a number. The personal visit weighs very heavily in the branch approval process.
How would you make a pitch to a prospective branch manager?
There are a bunch of companies out there, and everybody offers the same basic platform. You do loans. You have products and programs and prices. It’s really all the same. What sets a great company apart in my humble opinion is its people. How willing are they to help? Do they have a genuine desire to help? We have great people who understand that our branches are our customers and do whatever it takes to exceed expectations.
When prospects come through our office we often hear, “Wow, these people are great. Everybody is so great. They want to help.” That’s not by accident. We have an experienced team that enjoys helping. We have been together a long time. Everybody is on the same page about wanting to help our partners and help them grow and make sure their questions are answered. The greatest compliment we commonly hear is: “Man, this is night and day. My previous company wouldn’t even answer the phone. They’re too busy.”
Our branches have a seat at the table. They have a voice. We regularly have events where we get together and discuss what’s going on. They all have my cell phone number. If they see something they don’t like or they want to discuss an idea, the line of communication is open. Some of our best ideas come from our branch managers. We want that to continue.
David J. Coster is senior editor of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. He may be reached by phone at (919) 559-2171 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.