What makes someone want to radically change their career and make a success of it?
It’s only during life’s more painful episodes that people are invariably forced to reconsider their place in the world, and sometimes their career.
Inevitably, it involves change, but taking that momentous first step is often the hardest because change fills people with dread, and nothing stymies freewill more than a fear of the unknown. That single decision could turn out to be disastrous, but there’s also a frisson of excitement at the boundless possibilities. It’s an empowering feeling.
For former aircraft engineer Austyn Johnson (pictured), that moment came as he stood in the middle of an airfield getting drenched on a particularly cold and miserable night.
“It was about three in the morning,” he said. “My fingers were frozen to the bone, I was absolutely soaked, and I thought, why am I still doing this? Am I really going to be able to do this in 20 or 30 years’ time when I’m in my 60s?”
That Johnson’s epiphany should happen while he stood alone in the bleak vastness of an airfield was particularly fitting. It was also a calculated risk - no pun intended.
“It sounds a little bit sad, but I’ve always been interested in mortgages, and I’ve always been quite good with numbers. I just get them. My wife was pregnant at the time and I thought to myself, if I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it,” he said.
As you’d expect from an engineer, he methodically set about obtaining his broker qualifications before joining HD Consultants in 2018 as a financial consultant.
Read more: “I set up my mortgage business on my kitchen table 20 years ago”
Despite the obvious differences between an aircraft engineer’s job and that of a mortgage broker, Johnson believes his previous skills were not wasted.
“Being an aircraft engineer is very much about getting things right first time because aeroplanes don’t stop at the side of the road if they break down - they fall out the sky,” he said.
“My ethic is just to make sure that it is perfect every single time. Although I can’t always get every variable, I do make sure I’ve crossed as many of the ‘Ts’ and dotted as many of the ‘Is’ as I possibly can for that person’s mortgage, and that means that 99% of the time they go straight through without any problem.”
Given that most of his clients are in the entertainment industry, that’s no mean feat. These are self-employed borrowers whose multiple-stream incomes are often so complex that they send inexperienced mortgage advisers diving for cover.
Johnson, however, has made this highly specialist field his own, and has been heading the ‘Mortgage for Actors’ branch at HD Consultants since July 2020, following a serendipitous encounter with a borrower.
“He was one of our clients, and although I recognised him, I couldn’t quite place who he was. He then asked me to do some residential re-mortgages for him which were quite technical and complex. When they went through, he was absolutely overjoyed, especially as he had previously tried and failed with four other brokers,” he said.
It was only afterwards that Johnson realised that he had seen his client in a film two weeks earlier. The borrower was so happy with the outcome that he recommended Johnson to a few of his actor friends who were also struggling with mortgages. After that, it was “referral after referral”.
In fact, the branch is doing so well now that it is looking to recruit more advisers.
Johnson dismissed suggestions that actors are by nature more demanding but conceded that they sometimes require more careful handling.
“They’re just people,” he said. “They do try and take it out on us a little bit, but we’re here… we’re quite resilient. It’s mainly frustration that lenders don’t understand them.”
By contrast, Johnson does.
“A lot of mortgage lenders say that unless they can see three months’ worth of constant consistent income, they’re not going to lend,” he said. “Obviously with someone that works in the industry, whether it’s a musician, dancer or an actor, there is no consistency. It’s very seasonal, very variable. And that’s partly why we started off well.”
Read more: What makes a good broker?
That level of consistency getting mortgages for these types of borrowers appears to have paid dividends, as lenders have come to trust Johnson’s judgement.
“Sometimes we have to put a plan in place, but a lot of the time we can find the right lenders who will say ‘yes’ - because of the reputation, a lot of lenders will bend the rules a bit to help me out,” he said.
Johnson may have replaced the spanner for the spreadsheet, but he also has a performing streak. Aside from strumming the guitar in his spare time, he has a burgeoning sideline as a podcast presenter, working closely with Rosalia Lazzara, social media influencer and CEO of Manuka Media.
Another leap into the unknown?
“I decided the best way to go forward is to put my face out there, as much as I don’t particularly like being on camera,” he said. “After speaking with Rosalia, I realised that I was going to have to make sure that I became the face of my brand rather than just a logo. So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve pushed myself forward on social media to try and drive more business and encourage other people to do the same.”