For Saleem Ali, president and CEO of Arcus VA Mortgage, the introduction to the real estate finance industry was a sudden one. He was working in a different sales-based position with working hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. He didn’t feel fully rewarded, so after a year and half, he let the company know he’d be moving on.
“That was at 7 a.m.,” he said. “I called my brother (who worked in the mortgage business), told him what I had done, and within an hour, I was in his office. He put me in a small desk in the corner of his office, gave me a list of phone numbers to dial and told me to get to work.”
That was in 2014, and in Ali’s own words, he found that he was “very comfortable, felt good on the phones and just kind of grew from there.” Seven years later, he climbed to No. 3 nationwide in Scotsman Guide’s Top VA Volume rankings. During the 2020 production year, he closed 876 loans for $283.1 million in dollar volume, with 96% of his business coming through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs channel.
And while Ali admits with a laugh that he’s always been a natural at talking to people, he chalks up his success in the mortgage industry to always heeding the lessons of the past. “One thing comes to mind from my pops,” Ali said. “As a young kid, running around college and high school, I was always just moving, moving, moving.
“But my pops just pulled me aside one day, and he was like, ‘Hey, look. Just slow down. Be present. Take it all in.’”
Advice from his father is important to him, Ali said, because of what his dad went through during his youth just to be able to secure a better life. His parents grew up in India and Pakistan in the 1950s and ‘60s while war was waging between the two nations. His dad left India at the age of 9 by hitchhiking all the way to Paris using multiple modes of transportation.
“The weight my parents carry when they share the story of their upbringing, their coming here [to the U.S.] and their humble beginnings, it really makes me realize what it means to do right by that today. … Personally, I feel like it’s always good to stick to the roots that you’ve grown up with and the pillars that they’ve instilled in you.”
That’s part of why Ali makes it a point to do everything he can to make sure he delivers for the veteran borrowers he works with. As he puts it, “There’s over 2 million veterans in Texas, and if I could, I would do everything possible to do right by all of them.”
He provides an example where he had a client set to close on a Friday. The man was active-duty military and received immediate orders to deploy. He had to report to a bus within three hours, settle his affairs and didn’t know how long he’d be gone. “What I had to do specifically was get power of attorney generated, make sure it was notarized appropriately [and] get it uploaded to the lender — all within a two-hour time frame for him to send back so I can get his spouse to sign on his behalf,” Ali said. “Needless to say, I had to call in a few favors, but we got it done.”
And even when he’s fast-tracking several days’ worth of paperwork in a matter of hours, Ali said that his father’s advice continued to ring true. “Every step of the way on that one, [I] had to be present and take everything in,” he said. “If there was anything off with that, we would not have been able to make it work. Even though it was so urgent, taking everything in was more important than ever.” ●