Meet The NMP 2023 Titans Of Industry

Honoring the key players who have dedicated their expertise and years of experience to the mortgage industry

Industry Titans 2023

Erica Acie

Head of Fulfillment Operations and Post Closing
Truist Bank

Erica Acie

After 26 years in the mortgage industry, what differentiates Erica Acie as a leader is her ability to preempt the cyclical fluctuations, plan for a blend of technology as well as human capital-related changes to ensure that when the downturn happens, she’s able to preserve the morale of her team.

Erica embodies that role with this advice she shares for people new to the mortgage industry.

“Accept change and grow while being comfortable in the uncomfortable. Although it is more challenging in this climate to predict what is coming next, focus on what you can control and remain in proactive mode to remain in the best position. If you stay ready, you do not need to get ready,” she says, adding, “Remember all that we have survived and trust we will survive this too.”

An issue the industry needs to tackle is racial disparity. Erica says, “Technology today can still carry bias based on machine learning which would require the approach to be different.

Our country is diverse within all socioeconomic levels and our financial services should mirror that of the communities as a whole.”

Technology is also important. “Education is foundational to shapeshifting the mortgage industry.”

John Cady

Senior Vice President, Retail
Cardinal Financial

John Cady

John Cady got into the mortgage business at the age of 18, escaping a long commute and managing a retail store.

It’s a transition he’s glad he made. “I thought I was just cutting down my commute, but little did I know when I started two days later that it would be a major turning point that would take my career where it is today. That gave me my start, and from there, I’ve never looked back!” he said.

Cady is proud to say his career has been based on helping others, not the blind pursuit of big paydays. “My values were put to the test from 2003-2007 during the boom of the subprime mortgages and negative amortizations that offered profit at the expense of homebuyers’ livelihoods.

“I’m very proud to say that I left a lot of money on the table to prevent people from taking on loans they couldn’t afford. I just wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night knowing disaster was ahead for those families, and I continue to take pride in my integrity and dedication to doing what is right. I’ll sacrifice the payday before I sacrifice my values.”

Brent Chandler

Founder and CEO

Brent Chandler

Fifteen years ago, the house-buying process so frustrated Brent Chandler he was inspired to launch FormFree, which makes it easier and more secure for borrowers to share direct-source financial information with lenders electronically.

“My career in the mortgage industry started after a frustrating home-buying experience in 2007. I was struck by how archaic the process lenders used to verify information was, and I knew there had to be a better way. The next year, I founded FormFree.”

Chandler has invested his talents into making home ownership open to more people.

He says, “High-FICO white males represent only a fraction of the population, yet they dominate the lending landscape. A mortgage market that is poorly diversified and is built to serve only a relatively shallow pool of relatively similar homebuyers will always be subject to huge swings in demand. With transparent, alternative credit algorithms … , we can greatly expand the credit box to include credit invisibles and lower-income borrowers.

“It’s time to empower ALL people, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic background, with access to credit. Creating homeownership for all would create a better world for children to grow up in and more wealth for parents to grow old with.”

Rob Chrane

Founder & CEO
Down Payment Resource

Rob Chrane

Sometimes others see your potential before you do. As Rob Chrane recalls, “When I was a managing broker more than a decade deep into a real estate career, a friend in the mortgage industry recognized that I was ready for a change even before I did. He encouraged me to explore mortgage career opportunities, and since then, I haven’t looked back. Guided by a passion for helping families gain the well-being and financial benefits of homeownership, over the next two decades, I flourished as a top-producing loan officer, branch manager, and senior leader at a large mortgage lender.

“Over the years, I became a proponent of homebuyer assistance programs because of their ability to help qualified families overcome common hurdles, such as down payment and closing costs. Even as an affordability program enthusiast, I found it challenging to keep up with all of the programs and their changing requirements. I also noticed that the programs were being underutilized because most borrowers and housing professionals were not aware of the programs available in their area.

“Seeing an opportunity to help housing professionals connect homebuyers with homebuyer assistance programs, I made a second career pivot with the founding of Down Payment Resource.”

Kevin DeLory

Chief Lending Officer/Partner

Kevin DeLory

Kevin DeLory’s story is similar to many others in the mortgage industry. His initial career wasn’t panning out when it was recommended he give mortgages a shot.

After a stint in retail, he switched to the wholesale side. It was there his values were tested.

“The mortgage industry can be a greedy place. There are some people who are willing to compromise their values for the dollar. You must have internal core values that help you with your moral barometer. My core values are love, honor, and respect.

“All of these have been compromised at some point, but one specific time was early in my wholesale career when it was clear that people were manipulating documents to get a loan. I decided that no one loan would ever be worth my name, reputation, and the respect I had for the borrower, so I had to make a choice; that choice is why I am a leader at EPM today,” DeLory recounted.

He exudes positivity, too. “The personal brand is one of the most effective platforms in this industry, market, and era. Continue to share your story and why clients should work with you — and always remember, relationships before transactions.”

Trevor Gauthier

ACES Quality Management

Trevor Gauither

Trevor’s mantra is, “If not me, then who?” which reflects how he approaches all facets of life. While the pandemic allowed him to leverage ACES’ data and technology to support the industry’s compliance needs, it also enabled him to be of service to his employees. He and other company executives reached out to customers to see if there was any additional assistance the company could provide. Because ACES operated a distributed workforce model pre-pandemic, many clients sought the company’s advice in transitioning to a remote environment.

Gauthier also shifted ACES’ internal operations to provide increased flexibility and more accommodations, like taking Friday afternoons off to catch up, offering flex schedules as needed and unlimited PTO so that employees could take care of themselves and their families as they navigated the uncertainty and convergence of work and life triggered by the pandemic. He also expanded the company’s philanthropic program, ACES CARES, to include donation matching of up to $250 per employee and encourage employees to volunteer and engage in community outreach.

On an individual level, his family fosters and trains service dogs, who eventually (hopefully) become assistance dogs for those with mobility issues, autism and/or veterans with PTSD.

Twyla Hankins

Executive Vice President of Operations
American Financial Network Inc.

Twyla Hankins

With over 40 years of experience, Twyla Hankins has experienced the good and the bad of the mortgage industry.

On the positive side, “The president of a national mortgage lender who turned off my computer monitor and told me to leave the office to go to my son’s recital when he knew how important it was to my family for me to be present, teaching me an important lesson about work/life balance that I have used in my governance for the last 20 years,” she recalled.

“With a previous employer, a data entry issue was discovered after new software was implemented. It was suggested by the IT director that the data could be mass-updated on a lookback and we could do it correctly going forward. This was a good solution from one angle, but he was not fully aware of the implications. The erroneous data meant we owed borrowers refunds of daily interest overpaid. I informed the executive team … and checks were cut to hundreds of borrowers. It was a tough pill to swallow, but it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

She even sees the positive in the negative. “Lulls are always followed by fantastic surges.”

Dean Kelker

Senior Vice President, Chief Risk Officer
SingleSource Property Solutions

Dean Kelker

Dean Kelker saw the writing on the wall. His job in the steel industry had little to any future due to increased steel imports. Kelker saw the growth potential of real estate, specifically in appraisals.

Mentors played a big influence. “Due to the long duration of my career, I have had many mentors and influences. The common thread with my mentors, particularly during the formative stages of my career, was that in every case, my mentors required me to work outside of my comfort zone so that I learned new skills and techniques to accomplish my goals and objectives.

“In addition to providing career and functional challenges, each of my mentors provided a secure environment and active feedback so that in exploring and developing new skills there was always some level of a safety net to prevent a catastrophic failure,” Kelker recalled.

The mentee has become a mentor. “The best advice I can give to mortgage professionals struggling in the current environment is to think outside of the box and find creative solutions to contemporary challenges. During periods of rapid change or negative influences in the market, new opportunities are created that didn’t exist in the recent past.”

Chris Knight

Group CEO

Chris Knight

Chris Knight could be best described as a titan of action. He has steered Opteon through four American acquisitions (Valuation Partners, William Fall Group, Valucentric, Northeastern Appraisal Associates) over the last 12 months. Melding four businesses into one high-performing, well-oiled machine is no easy feat, but Knight has managed to do so without missing a beat and having a laugh. Knight is not only the US team’s director, but as Group CEO, is leading both Opteon’s Australian and New Zealand businesses as well. Regardless of which time zone he’s speaking to, he ensures the team feels his support and availability.

Under Knight’s leadership, Opteon USA is developing technology that will drastically shorten turn times. Bolstering the staff’s confidence in this technology is the fact that Knight has already brought similarly focused technology to Australian and New Zealand with great success. For over a decade, the brand’s counterparts in AU and NZ have maintained two-day average turn time averages, with a significant percentage of files returned same day.

That’s evident in the advice he offers struggling mortgage professionals. “All markets work in cycles — hold on and stay tough through the difficult times and have a strong belief that the season will change.”

Stanley C. Middleman

President and CEO
Freedom Mortgage

Stanley C. Middleman

Stanley Middleman says his best mentors were his first customers. He recalled, “I started doing one loan at a time and helped consumers become homeowners. At the same time, I helped existing homeowners consolidate debt. This happened at a time of tremendous change in our country when interest rates were really high. With others, I found opportunities to help existing homeowners with high-interest rates refinance … and decrease their monthly payments.”

Those homeowners taught him a lot. “I was able to serve a large number of diverse people from all different economic backgrounds. They taught me much about the needs of the people in this country and how I could help them in a wide variety of ways.”

He has a long history of respecting his customers. “Around the time of the 2006 housing crisis, there were opportunities to offer consumers loans that were less valuable for them and more valuable for my company. We opted to do the right thing and put our customers first, offering loans that benefited them. This was probably the hardest test we have ever faced and I’m proud we passed. At Freedom Mortgage, we always have and will continue to put our customers first.”

Ben Miller

SimpleNexus, an nCino company

Ben Miller

From failure comes success.

Ben Miller tells the tale. “While building a company in a business incubator, I was introduced to SimpleNexus Founder Matt Hansen. After the company I worked on failed, I had a few meetings with Matt and learned about the technology he was working on. We decided to partner together. At the time, we were selling a simple mobile app to brokers. Each month we got bigger. The rest is history.”

While Miller values tenacity and grit as a means to success, he also embraces empathy for the customer. “I remember a circumstance that occurred late on a Friday afternoon. We had a support case come in from a client. One of our core values is empathy for the customer and each other. Even though we wanted to go home, we could see how our lender customer needed help right then. Several engineers and support staff decided to stay late and help. We wanted to be there with our engineering and support staff as they worked on a resolution. The team was able to fix the issue after a couple of hours. I was proud of how we lived up to our value of being empathetic.

Gibran Nicholas


Gibran Nicholas

In his 22 years in the business, Gibran Nicholas has experienced career growth and challenges.

He recalled, “I started as a mortgage broker at the age of 20. I struggled for a bit and then built a niche working with financial advisors. When I was 22, I began teaching continuing education classes to financial planners, and when I was 23, I became the youngest (and only mortgage broker) to serve on my local Financial Planning Association board. I grew my business to the point where I was originating 15-20 loans monthly, almost exclusively from financial advisor referrals. In 2005, I started a training business to teach other loan officers how to work with advisors. Over the years, I’ve trained and coached over 10,000 loan originators.”

Nicholas is open about the challenges he has faced. “Many times in my career I struggled with self-doubt and depression. Those two nasty creatures generally antagonize me after a huge failure or before a huge victory. The way I’ve dealt with them is to imagine them as actual characters, as villains in the story of my life. I then imagine myself as a Great Warrior going to battle against them. I can’t let them win.”

Laird Nossuli


Laird Nossuli

Laird Nossuli was brought into the business by her father Dennis Hedlund but that doesn’t mean things have been easy.

“As a small, bootstrapped company that invests heavily in the development of innovative data offerings, we have had our share of revenue struggles,” Nossuli said. “One thing that is important to my value system is to stay focused on what I can give rather than on what I can get. I have often shared my knowledge and time at no cost when our financial position might have been better served by billable projects. There have also been times when clients have offered to ‘overpay’ me, and I have never taken advantage of that.”

Nossouli has advice for these times. “In this changing market, I would encourage clients to be innovative in how they think about today’s challenges and opportunities. Try to gather and unify insights of all kinds to figure out what your path forward should be. My dad used to say, ‘Go to the future you want to see and look backward from it to see what you need to do to get there.’ That’s what I am trying to do with iEmergent’s work to close the homeownership gap.”

James Polinori

Chief Marketing Officer
Geneva Financial

James Polinori

Influences are varied in the mortgage industry as James Polinori proves.

“The music industry has … had a profound influence on me as a marketer. Specifically, Madonna. I recognize now that I inherently understood marketing even as a child. A natural knack. Growing up during Madonna’s now historic rise, I distinctly understood what she was doing and why she was doing it. I always knew it was her marketing brain behind it, not a manufactured pop product. As the world gasped at her antics, I smiled and knew exactly what she was up to. She is probably the greatest marketer that’s ever lived. And I took notes.”

Polinori says focusing on sticky factors in post-close marketing will build deeper relationships. “We’ve created an HGTV style ecosystem for our borrowers — DIY, design, recipes, home management — all things homeowners want to engage with. The industry standard open rate for email is 14% — our weekly Home By Geneva newsletter is 45%. We are fostering real relationships with our borrowers. They buy our BE A GOOD HUMAN t-shirts and they send us photos of their DIY projects. Long-game: they remember who did their mortgage and are less apt to work with anyone else.

Phil Rasori

Chief Operating Officer

Phil Rasori

One of the things that makes Phil Rasori a Titan is his development of the ground-breaking mortgage pipeline hedging algorithms that form the foundation of MCT’s HALO Program today. He has also pioneered several metrics that have become standard industry parlance, including “beta pull-through” factors. In addition to banking clients, Rasori has consulted with GSE agencies and the US Government on hedging best practices for community banks.

Rasori is a recognized thought leader in capital markets operations within the mortgage banking community. His areas of expertise include complex financial modeling, computational dynamics, and linear programming for operational optimization.

Rasori also reaches out beyond the mortgage industry. He recently joined the Forbes Finance Council so that he could provide thought leadership for a broader audience than just clients and colleagues. His insights in the articles he has published for Forbes have shown a dedication to expanding knowledge and awareness of the secondary mortgage market.

Like many in the industry, Rasori faced challenges in the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown. “My values were put to the test during the pandemic in 2020. Luckily we were able to come together to support our clients and help them through the struggles,” he said.

Tammy Richards

LendArch LLC

Tammy Richards

Tammy Richards’ roots in the mortgage industry reach back to 1984 when she started as a loan secretary for RNG Mortgage Company. “I loved it from the start. It was fun helping people buy their dream homes,” she recalled.

Since then, she has been instrumental in creating the first-ever loan origination system in the mortgage industry. She has been part of a massive maturity transition that this industry has seen, from handwritten notes, printed papers, rolodexes, calculators to machine learning-led algorithms.

In her illustrious career that spans across four decades of diverse experience from a hands-on operator to a hands-on leader of many lenders, Richards has spearheaded changes in operations fulfillment along with the evolution of changes in the technology and regulatory landscape.

Richards is also known for her support of women in the industry. She has been an advocate for women in finance and continues to mentor and train the next generation of leaders. She has been a vocal icon for women’s leadership in the mortgage industry, from a time where positions for women were scarce to today’s date. She has established high-level corporate leadership for gender equality as well as promoted education, training, and professional development for women.

Dave Savage

Chief Innovation Officer
Sales Boomerang and Mortgage Coach

Dave Savage

In Dave Savage’s nomination, his nominator wrote Savage “is a household name in the mortgage industry with a reputation as a passionate advocate for connecting borrowers with mortgage strategies that help them achieve their … homeownership dreams.”

Employees are also important to him. “Throughout the financial crisis of 2008, seeing colleagues and those that I managed struggle put my values as a leader to the test. During these years, instead of retreating, I initiated frequent team meetings and check-ins with employees to offer the guidance and support they needed to keep going. What I learned is that the most important thing you can do during challenging times is to show up and bring leadership, especially when others are not,” he recalled.

His first mentor played a key role in Savage’s career. “Mel Samick was my first and most influential mentor. In addition to introducing me to the mortgage industry, he introduced me to resources that helped me thrive on a personal level. By teaching me to be disciplined in prospecting and providing me with the guidance that the ‘riches are in the niches,’ I found my stride as a top producer that catered to financial advisors and financial planners,” Savage said.

Matt Seu

Actualize Consulting

Matt Seu

Matt Seu has spent over 33 years in the mortgage industry. He’s worked at large (Freddie Mac) and smaller (Actualize) - and his values make him much happier at Actualize.

“As an executive at Freddie Mac, I had a chance to see how the big-time execs treated each other and how you had to sell your soul to get to the top. It made me realize that big corporate wasn’t for me. That’s what made me look for other horizons, and that led me to Actualize.” Seu has been there for 16 years.

“My first job was at Freddie Mac. I needed a job, so I took an offer to work in the document vault. I never had a clue that it would be the beginning of a 33-year run. From there, I worked in Freddie Mac’s mortgage-backed securities area, where I brought automation to ARM securities and REMICs. I was in charge of delivering significant portions of Freddie Mac’s mortgage purchase infrastructure and was the chief data officer.

“From there, I started the Mortgage and Fixed Income practice at Actualize and 16 years later, I’m still helping our clients optimize their business.

William J. Tessar

CIVIC Financial Services

William J. Tessar

William Tessar’s mortgage career commenced because of a violent act.

In his own words, “Being hit by a drunk driver at 16 was the beginning of my journey into mortgage. As a result of my injuries, I ended up getting a settlement that I used to buy my first home at the age of 18.

“I remember … going through my first good-faith estimate like it was yesterday. There I was, a freshman in college, sitting at a table, going line item by line-item over each expense with the loan originator.

“We ended at the loan origination fee. This, by far, was the largest of all expenses — and as I dug in to better understand why that expense was so big, what occurred to me was that I, the borrower, was providing all of the documentation, and all of these other vendors were providing services to facilitate the closing … yet the originator … was earning the biggest fee.

“At that point, I asked, ‘How do I do what YOU do?’ Shortly thereafter, I got my NMLS license. An accident that almost ended my life ended up being the beginning of a life in lending with eternal appreciation and love for the industry.”

Gerret Van Wagoner

Founder and CEO
City 1st Mortgage Company

Gerret Van Wagoner

Gerret Van Wagoner says integrity is an important part of successful mortgage originators.

“When you are in the mortgage business, there is no shortage of opportunities that could measure how much your integrity is worth,” he said. “Especially as an owner, sometimes the smallest difference in how a loan is structured or outlined with the investor can have a major impact on the financial liability or upside of it. Like many folks, I’ve had a few of these situations run across my desk.

“What I did in those times was to stay focused on my core values. As tempting as it may appear, my integrity cannot be purchased at any price. In addition, the dishonest route for solving a challenge may appear to be the quickest, but in my experience, that’s rarely the case in the big picture.”

He has effective advice for loan originators who are nervous about the current climate. “No matter how hard it gets, it’s going to be OK ... eventually. Prepare yourself mentally for the lean times, but never stop working, and be confident you’ll get through it. The most important thing is to make sure you ‘get to work’ every day, regardless of how you feel.”

Melissa Walker

Enablement Consultant
Equifax Workforce Solutions

Melissa Walker

Melissa Walker traces her mortgage career to her senior year of high school.

She recalled, “I was an intern at a real estate company when I was a senior. After graduation, I obtained my real estate license, but the market just didn’t ‘move’ fast enough for me. An owner of one of the mortgage broker companies that came in a few times a week to drop off rate sheets (yes, drop off rate sheets) asked if I had ever thought about looking at the mortgage industry. I had always loved working with numbers, and, well, the rest is history. I worked for that company for four-and-a-half years before the owners moved out of state. I purchased the assets of that company and went on my own at 24.”

Walker likes to emphasize how important the work of the mortgage industry is. “Always remember that the housing market is one of (if not THE) most important factors to our economy. With that said, it is very cyclical ... what goes up will eventually come down but also vice versa. Stay true to YOUR personal values, and treat and talk to your customers as if you are working with your very best friend.”

Thomas Yoon

President & CEO
Excelerate Capital

Thomas Yoon

From a stumble came great success for Thomas Yoon. As he recalled, “I stumbled into the industry through a high school friend that introduced me to the mortgage business. I thought it would be a summer job that led to a career.”

Yoon said downsizing within the industry has been a systemic and painful reality. “I always believe in times of crisis, your values surface. Our core values are leading with empathy and valuing relationships. The leadership needs to protect, provide and lead if we are a people group in a company.

“That starts with me. I took a significant salary cut to help out with us having to right size too steeply. All senior management followed suit and decided on their own accord to reduce their income to help the people under their control. We need to practice what we preach and if your people know it’s genuine. They will go above and beyond for one another because they know they belong.”

Ask Yoon if the industry has a supervillain, and his response is: “I will steal a villain from a series I love, ‘Stranger Things.’ The Mind Flayer. Inflecting ‘fear’ to the industry is the biggest issue.”

Mohammad Yousaf

Executive Vice President, Information Technology & Operations
National Mortgage Insurance

Mohammad Yousaf

At a time in this industry where technology and operations roles were distinct functions, Mohammad Yousaf found a comfortable leadership spot on the cusp of where these functions intersect. With his diverse yet deep expertise in fulfillment operations and, recently in technology, he has been a trailblazer in seeking transformative efforts that yield efficiencies and redefine what the industry aspires in terms of digitization.

Mortgage technology is a niche space that has specialized and successful players and historically did not usually attract the attention of many larger technologies outside of this industry. There had not been a big influx of external capital or interest from the bigger technology firms two decades ago when this industry had the highest appetite seeking for transformative change.

Yousaf recognized this very early in his career and to seek efficiencies, he thought of technology as a strength and not a vulnerability. The situation today is much different with technology becoming industry agnostic and accessible to every player within the mortgage ecosystem

Throughout his career that Mohammad had so far, he has contributed significantly to the transformation of IT organizations with measurable efficiency impacts. Pairing operations gains with technology enhancement while attaining maximum flexibility in scale.

Monica Zhang

Central Group Mortgage

Monica Zhang

Phone skills helped dial Monica Zhang into a mortgage career. She said, “It was completely unplanned. It just happened. I was working as a relationship banker. One day, an old colleague returned to the branch I was working in. We chatted briefly, and she told me that she is now in the mortgage industry, and she found it to be interesting. She said, ‘You like calling people on the phone. You’d be great at this.’ She referred me to her company for an interview.

“I remembered asking a lot of questions about how to start generating my own leads and developing my own business during the interview. My gut told me to go for it and the rest is history.”

To find success, Zhang advocates looking beyond compensation. “The value of a career should not be defined by money and salary. Every loan officer should think like an entrepreneur. People should invest in their future and growth, upskilling, and maintaining consistency. Even in the toughest times, (if) they have a great foundation of intangible skills and the hunger and passion to grow for their future success, this will help them through the tough times and capitalize on the good times.

This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine January 2023 issue.
Published on
Dec 28, 2022
More from NMP Magazine
Cocktails Are For Closers!

Fellow MLOs share their favorite drinks for those celebratory moments in their careers

Erica Drzewiecki
Teachers & Coaches Are Ripe For The Picking

Great originators and business leaders come from classrooms and sidelines

Katie Jensen
Helping the H.E.L.P.E.R.s

Federal bill poised to open up market to more teachers, first responders

Erica Drzewiecki


Topic How to Have a Profitable Mortgage Business at Any Volume with AI

This market is not the time to just sit back and wait for business. In a market with tight liquidity and the l...

Nov 30, 2023
Investor Confidence in Today’s Non-QM And Why Originators Are Paying Attention... A Virtual Town Hall

We host Angel Oak Mortgage Solutions for a special 2021 edition of their virtual town hall series they ran fro...

Apr 08, 2021
How to Help Real Estate Pros in a Post-Refi World

Hear from Melissa Merriman, REALTOR® with The Melissa Merriman Team at Keller Williams, on what real estate pr...

Mar 18, 2021
Connect with your local mortgage community.

Meet your your colleagues, both national and local, by attending an event in your area.