Residential Magazine

Success Boils Down to These Simple Concepts

Achieve your goals and help others attain theirs in the mortgage industry

By Sean Cahan

Sure, you can be successful in the mortgage business. Just work 12 hours a day, seven days a week and try to provide the best service possible to your clients. And many top producers do put in the hours. But how do you inspire this drive in others?

There is a formula for running a successful mortgage company. The right people, the right structure and plenty of determination will make a company successful — if you follow a few simple rules.

Be ethical

The first rule should be obvious: Always do the right thing. This should go without saying, right? But if everyone did the right thing, banks wouldn’t have such massive compliance departments.

For the most part, everyone is trying to do the best they can in their position — and if they’re not, some of the fault may lie with the leaders of the company.

This doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes. Everyone does, but successful mortgage professionals overcome their mistakes by owning up to them and doing what’s right for the consumer.
With this as your founding principle, it will allow you to be aggressive in your efforts to build your business. Without it, any efforts to develop your business could lead to exposure and issues in the future. In any decision that is made, if you make it solely with the best interest of your client in mind, it will greatly limit any liability if a mistake is incurred.

Be curious

Whether you’re an originator or a manager, you must know what you’re selling on a deeper level. Great mortgage companies are not created by offering the lowest rates but by offering knowledge to the consumer. Take the time to learn about all the different loan products and guidelines, then educate yourself on what is happening in the market and how to offer better service.
In any type of business, you also want to know who the end users are. In this industry, the end users are the government-sponsored enterprises and investors that create the guidelines. Knowing the end user allows mortgage company owners to effectively tailor their processes and systems accordingly. Be curious about the entities that are making the decisions and how they’re making them.
Being curious comes down to evaluating what the masses in the industry are doing and trying to separate yourself from them. You should then realize that success isn’t found alongside everyone else. It’s found from exploring new products and new guidelines, and by evaluating different processes and systems. Success is relative, and without constantly exploring and evaluating, you will only be as successful as everyone else.
Always ask why. If you can’t understand why something is done the way it is, you need to dig deeper. Understanding how everything interacts allows you to see connections and make decisions more effectively. Without a deeper understanding relative to everyone else, your curiosity will most likely be ineffective and any observations could be misleading.

Take chances

Taking chances goes hand in hand with being curious. And those who are curious tend to be the ones who are first to try something new.
But there’s a thin line between taking a chance and the result being a success versus a failure. The higher probability leans toward it being a failure, which keeps most professionals from taking the leap. Those who realize failure is the most effective way to learn about your business tend to be the ones leading the industry in efficiency, technology and implementation.
Success is relative. This leaves you with two choices: play it safe and be as successful as everyone else in the industry, or let your curiosity lead you. Taking a chance is about trusting the evaluation of your curiosity in which you must judge the risk-reward opportunity. This leads back to being ethical, because without it, your calculated risk could be considered reckless and endanger the client.

Be nimble

Many mortgage executives feel that their company can change course rapidly. The reality, however, is that they often lack the ability or the tools to make it happen.
People in management roles should continue to originate loans. This helps them keep a hand on the pulse of the business, experience all the same issues as other originators and feel every market shift in real time. This will allow you to be proactive to the rest of the industry and make decisions that ultimately give you a head start over the competition.
Choose technology that will enable you to pivot as the market and industry change. Technology should allow you to grow your business exponentially in the near future. Ambitious originators are attracted to businesses that are more entrepreneurial and forward thinking when it comes to embracing new loan products, technology and marketing strategies.
Being curious allows you to see what chances to take and being nimble allows you to execute on these chances. For any mortgage professional who has a team that can’t pivot and change course, it significantly hinders the chances of success. Without the ability to enact simple and effective changes, the probability of failure increases.

Take a breath

You’ve probably known this type of manager in your career — the one who sends out emails in red, 72-point font just to get their point across. Did it work? Maybe that one time, but did the manager inspire you to do more for them or the company? Probably not.
A calmer approach will produce better results. For the most part, everyone is trying to do the best they can in their position — and if they’re not, some of the fault may lie with the leaders of the company. If someone makes a bad decision, is it because they haven’t received proper training?
Another key to watch for is how people treat other people. Employees who treat others poorly are not worth the effort. For instance, operations staff and sales staff are part of the same team. If you’re a salesperson and you choose to berate the operations people who are working around the clock to help you out, you won’t last long.
Too many people stand out because they’re argumentative, combative or talk down to people. No matter how much they produce, you need to look at the harm they’re causing the company. A mortgage originator’s production will never be able to compensate for their abrasive behavior.
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Learning how to run a successful mortgage company or team may seem hard, but achieving this comes down to realizing that it all starts with who you are as a leader. Leadership is about taking ownership and being aware that, for you to be successful, everyone around you must be successful as well.
Having the right people in the right position is paramount for everyone’s success, which ultimately increases the overall probability of success for the business. In all honesty, the higher up you move, the longer it takes to reach any definition of success. That’s why leadership boils down to ownership. You are responsible for others’ success before your own. ●


  • Sean Cahan

    Sean Cahan is president of Cornerstone First Mortgage, a full-service mortgage lender headquartered in San Diego. Under Cahan’s leadership, Cornerstone has grown from a single local mortgage branch to a nationwide company with 33 branches and licenses in 46 states. In addition to managing and overseeing Cornerstone’s operations and productions, Cahan originates loans for his own portfolio of clients. He has achieved the No. 1 top producer award at Cornerstone for the past six years. Reach Cahan at (619) 693-6020 or

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