Daniel Milstein was only a teenager when he fled the former USSR with his family, taking with him just one suitcase and 17 cents in change. Arriving in the US was similar to the experience that Tom Hanks’ character encounters in The Terminal, Milstein explains, as upon touching down, his place of departure simply didn’t exist on paper anymore.
“We left Soviet Union on the last day of its formal existence – by the time our plane landed in Detroit in 1991, the USSR ceased to exist,” he says. “I didn’t speak any English and I really didn’t know what to expect.”
Before long he had enrolled in high school and, while most of his 16-year-old peers were fretting about gaining their driver’s license and dating girls, Milstein was diligently focusing on perfecting his English and doing well at school.
Today, Milstein has a reputation for being among the top mortgage originators in the nation, but in those early days he had a lot to learn. He was attending Cleary University at the time, and his job was assistant consumer lending manager at TCF Bank.
“I was like a sponge – I’ve never learnt so many terms or numbers as I did in those first 60 days. But something clicked and I was very good at what I did,” he says.
In 2000, Milstein decided to branch out on his own and established Gold Star Mortgage Financial Group. The business has gone from strength to strength, with Milstein personally closing over $3bn in loans and the business closing more than $1bn annually.
Even though he oversees a staff of 500 and growing, Milstein remains hands on in the day-to-day running of his business. He confesses to having separation anxiety when away from work – on a recent vacation to Europe he got twitchy at around 4pm each day, which was 8am back home – and while he doesn’t routinely work with clients face-to-face, he does get involved in sales, planning and marketing strategy with his staff across all 43 offices.
“On Fridays, I don’t come to the office; it’s my Skype day. Anyone within the company from any of our offices around the country can call me and talk about any issues they’re having or discuss specific clients and sales,” he says.
“I’m very much available; I have an open-door policy, and I like to share my strategies. I’ve had some staff increase their business sevenfold within 12 months.”
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