Joe Caltabiano: Charging Ahead

by Ryan Smith20 Jan 2014
Ever since a chance meeting at a basketball game led him to the mortgage business, leukemia survivor Joe Caltabiano has pushed himself to excel. Now one of the country’s top 10 originators, he attributes his success to a love of the work, a network of great contacts, and old-fashioned elbow grease. Ryan Smith reports

Joe Caltabiano, senior vice president of mortgage lending at Guaranteed Rate, entered the mortgage industry in May 2001 and joined the Guaranteed Rate team in 2003. Caltabiano has closed over $100m in loans every year since 2004, and in 2012 funded more than $300m in loans. That placed him among the top 10 originators in the country and landed him the number one spot in Illinois for the second year in a row.

MPA: What’s your background?
Joe Caltabiano: I grew up in Syracuse, New York,
went to college in Tampa at the University of South Florida, then moved out to Chicago in 2000—worked at the Mercantile Exchange for a little while. 

MPA: What led you to enter the mortgage industry?
JC: I met some guys at a basketball game that kind of recruited me into it. I was a suite attendant at the basketball game, and they just kept telling me how great the business was. It was a bunch of young guys in the suite, and they kind of sold me on it. So I went and checked it out, and it was just awesome. I came from a trading background … and it was kind of the new trading floor; it had a boiler-room kind of feel.

MPA: How does it feel to be at the top of the game in your industry?
JC: I live for it. I’m not number one [in the nation] yet, so there’s still more to do and more to grow. It’s a cyclical business, so we’re obviously relatively refinance heavy, but my passion has always been big developments. It’s good to see the real estate industry growing, because that motivates me to refocus on the new business.

MPA: How important are relationships in this industry?
JC: Certainly with real estate agents, developers, it’s of paramount importance. There’s nothing more important than being able to build those relationships and grow with those relationships. When someone refers you, they’re putting their name on the line, so you want to live up to that. Without a referral network, it just doesn’t work. It’s much more fun running your business by referrals rather than reinventing yourself every season through marketing. It’s very hard to drum up the same business that one past client can do for you.

MPA: How do you maintain those relationships?
JC: First is working with people you like, so making a call to them isn’t a business call – it’s checking up on a buddy. Making sure you’re working with the right people is really important to me. I’ve been really fortunate to work with a lot of friends that I didn’t have before. I went out of my way to find people I would like working with, and it seems to have worked for me. Next is networking with people you like. If you find someone you like, ask them if they know anyone of like mind.

MPA: What is it about the mortgage industry that keeps you interested?
JC: It’s always changing. Obviously we’ve had an incredible reinvention in the business as far as different loan products that have come and gone and the introduction of more fact-checking. The business is very cyclical – to watch the boom-bustreboom of the industry is something that definitely drives me. And I like being able to provide a service for a client. It sounds so clichéd, but I really like being able to put someone in a new home. It’s a great feeling, especially if it’s a first-time home buyer.

MPA: What do you do with your off time?
JC: I’m a pretty avid tennis player. I have a boat in Lake Michigan. I have a wife and two young kids, so that’s a lot of fun. And I ski in the winter. 

I’m also really involved with some charities. I do a lot of stuff with St. Jude [Children’s Research Hospital] and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I’m actually a leukemia survivor from when I was seven, so I’m very passionate about that. And I’m also the co-chair of the Guaranteed Rate Foundation, which is an internal foundation to help employees who are going through tough times.

MPA: What advice would you give to originators who want to rack up your kind of numbers?
JC: You can’t be afraid of working hard. That’s number one: hard work. I’m the last guy to leave the office most nights. So if you genuinely want that, it does come with dedication.

The other thing is be consistent. Price loans consistently – don’t try to make more off the less educated. The little old lady off the street always gets the same price the high-powered attorney got. And try to provide a service for people and mean it. It’s not about a paycheck; the paycheck will come. Also, know your business inside and out. I know as much as most underwriters in this business, and that helps me close deals, because when someone asks a question I’m not scrambling for the answer.

MPA: What’s the biggest challenge you think faces the industry today?
JC: We’ve had a lot of low-hanging fruit with refinances, where everyone could save money. Now it’s kind of a matter of putting your sales hat back on and going out and building relationships. And it’s going to be hard for some people. Some people are going to see their business cut by 50%. 

The cream will rise to the top and it’s going to be good for the best of the best, but you’re going to have to work hard.

SECRETS TO SUCCESS
  1. Be passionate and love what you do.
  2. Thirst for knowledge in the industry.
  3. Work with like-minded partners in referral areas such as real estate.
  4. Deliver the service you would expect others to deliver to you.
  5. Don’t leave any stone unturned, and always ask for business.

Poll

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