Brett Mills stepped outside the world he knew – one driven by numbers, competition and ego – and into a small village in Guatemala. Today, he says the lessons he learned from the welcoming people he encountered there have inspired the balanced way he runs his branch and what he looks for in new employees
Brett Mills couldn’t have foreseen that beginning his career in the mortgage industry in 1998 would lead him to pulling children’s teeth in Central America in 2012. But that’s just what he was doing last year in a small village in Guatemala as part of Academy Mortgage’s yearly service trip for its elite producers.
Mills, who previously owned his own brokerage, joined Academy in 2002 and currently works as a branch manager and senior loan officer in Utah. Recognized as one of the top 14 loan officers in the nation over the past several years, Mills has a passion for helping consumers achieve their financial goals and obtain financial peace. He also has a passion for humanitarian work, as he demonstrated during Academy’s week-long service trip, where employees helped dig trenches and aid a local dentistry in pulling children’s wisdom teeth.
At Academy, the hard work to achieve ‘President’s Club’ status – which translates to $20m in purchase business or $40m in total volume – is rewarded not with a plush resort stay in a tropical locale, but with a week of challenging manual labor in a developing country. And, according to Mills, the latter is preferred.
“That’s the trip to be on,” Mills says. “That’s what we’re fighting for. We’re going to go sit in tents in a village and be hot and dirty and sweaty. We literally give the shirts off our backs, and it’s so rewarding.”
The trip is part of Academy’s extensive corporate social responsibility model, which involves local activities as well as international volunteer expeditions.
In Guatemala, suddenly the fact that Mills is the only certified mortgage lender with a Masters of Business Administration with an emphasis on finance in the western US mattered less than whether he was willing to pick up a pick axe and get to work digging a trench.
“Everything that we are often battling for in the business world goes away and we can see the daily necessities of life,” Mills shares. “It creates a whole different culture among people in President’s Club because we end up having different discussions on what matters – what matters in our careers and in our families.”
Mills and other members of the club spent a week clearing ground and moving rocks to lay pipe for a new system that would bring fresh mountain spring water to the village of Secanquin, working side by side with men of the village. The volunteers also aided a local clinic that offered much-needed dentistry work for residents near and far with tooth issues. Mills himself pulled 30 or 40 teeth in one day.
He says the trip helped break down barriers between Academy colleagues, a hard thing to do in a world driven by competition.
“We all have pretty big egos,” he says of Academy’s top producers. “We are all ranked in the top 200 producers in the nation. We are pretty selfcentered and focused on our business. But in Guatemala, we could forget where we were, what day of the week it was … we had no phone or internet access, the outside world was shut off.”
Back in the business world, he says the group is now more comfortable with sharing advice and tips with each other rather than seeing one another as strictly competition.
“It’s a whole different culture,” he explains.
Mills says lessons learned in Guatemala have definitely manifested in the workplace at his branch as well. Always an advocate for balancing life and family, he says the experience reemphasized those practical lessons.
“I want my employees to go home; I want them to have a happy home life, which will only mean they provide a better experience for our customers. I learned that from the Guatemalans: when it was time to work, we worked hard, but every night it was about family and relaxing.”
Aside from personal lessons, Academy as a whole sees concrete results from giving back. Its total funded volume increased from $3.5bn in 2010 to $4.6bn in 2012 after the formal addition of a corporate social responsibility program, and total units closed increased from 20,073 in 2010 to 25,939 in 2012.
Mills says Academy’s focus on giving back also serves as a great filter when searching for new talent, and has even attracted top producers.
“I interview people all the time, and one of the gauges I use now is whether someone is intrigued by our culture. When they are just ‘me me me’, I can tell they aren’t going to be a good fit.”
Mills is looking forward to visiting Naivasha, Kenya, the site of Academy’s 2013 service trip
MILLS’ TOP TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- We are in a relationship business: Just as in a marriage or friendship, relationships are strengthened by serving each other and being genuinely
- engaged in others’ lives. Find ways to build relationships and stay dedicated to building the relationship with realtors, builders and clients.
- Set realistic expectations so you can outperform them: I see too many loan officers promise clients, realtors and builders commitments that are unrealistic in hopes that it will open the door for them. You are guaranteed to have your last transaction from the referral source when you do not hit the unrealistic expectation.
- Be the expert: Earl Nightingale often stated the experts in their fields will write their own tickets to success. I believe that. Know how the business was started, why laws have been created, how mortgages are securitized, why products were created, etc... the more you know the more your value will be sought out.