Building a culture that would be "crazy" to leave

Nurture accountability to foster exceptionalism and enable loyalty, says VP

Building a culture that would be "crazy" to leave

Jeff Anderson, On Q Financial’s recently appointed VP of retail operations, believes nurturing talent and fostering exceptional qualities in people are critical for a company. But to do that, you should be prepared to cause disruption.

Fortunately for him, he has found someone with the same core beliefs in Juan Rodas, On Q’s EVP, who said Anderson’s leadership and ability to create a culture of collaboration was “exactly what we need”.

Speaking to MPA this week, Anderson (pictured) said: “So much of our industry is kind of the status quo. Everyone seemingly operates in the same capacity, but we really wanted to be more imaginative.

“At On Q we really wanted to promote that theme in the spirit of innovation, imagining a different way of life, so I think that that was one-person critical piece that attracted me to the organization,” he said.

Read more: Former PennyMac executive joins On Q Financial as VP of retail operations

Anderson’s vitality can be traced back to what his grandfather once told him, saying that work was more than doing “the same old six and seven” and that it was more about waking up with a purpose. “It really makes for an easier management environment,” Anderson added.

That ethos goes some way towards explaining the underlying theme of his intentions at On Q: to continue to nurture a culture of accountability and further develop the company’s human capital, something he said every employee at every company values.

“It was not a premier focus organizationally, but I think that’s representative of corporate America in general. We have a tendency when we’re running a business to miss or overlook the contribution and value of individuals promulgating that process and that change.”

He should know. Anderson felt the pull of the mortgage industry just as he was about to enroll in law school. On completing a sabbatical with Fannie Mae, he returned from that experience brimming with useful ideas for his then employer.

But instead of ignoring the young upstart, the company not only implemented one of his recommendations, but went on to show its gratitude by handing him a check for $35,000, leaving the young Anderson somewhat shell-shocked. It also proved to be a turning point in his life.

“I didn’t cash that check for seven full days because I was thinking, why am I going to law school?” he said, chuckling. “At the end of that seven-day forecast I cashed it because I arrived at a decision. What I wanted to do was to support the success of others, and I recognized that the $35,000 was a representation of that - if this was an industry that was going to afford me an opportunity to promote that type of activity, then I was of the opinion that I was in the right place.”

Now firmly settled at On Q Financial (he has been with the company since June), Anderson is determined to imbue that same sense of purpose among staff.

Beyond the requisite mortgage skills and competency, he said he wanted to promote and develop their emotional intelligence. “It just makes you more fungible as a resource, which intuitively makes you a more valuable professional. Simply put, if I can also play shooting guard and center, I have more utility on our team than someone who’s just good at shooting but can’t dribble or pass,” he said, using a basketball metaphor to make the point.

‘Invest in staff and they’ll repay you with their loyalty’ may sound trite, but Anderson is convinced the philosophy works and that it can pay dividends. “One thing that we certainly want to garner with this culture of accountability and promotion is a lower attrition rate.

“We have had a number of associates and managers in the last three months simply comment that the culture is such that they genuinely feel like it would be crazy for them to leave the organization, and it’s largely because they feel like they’re in a stable and supportive place, where servant leadership is allowing them to grow.”

Read more: How do you transform brokers into leaders?

With that mindset, Anderson said he was confident On Q Financial would adapt to current headwinds and the challenges that lay ahead, whether they be interest rate rises, COVID-enforced remote working, or greater automation in the loan process.

On the issue of rates, he said they would eventually normalize “to maybe 4% or above”, prompting consolidation in the industry, leading to acquisitions and more partnerships to shoulder risk. “It’s really consistent with our industry cycles, we’ve seen it before,” he shrugged.

Similarly, greater automation should be viewed “without any trepidation” as it was a complimentary virtue. “We have to identify where it is that we truly need human interaction to deliver a remarkable experience.”

He was, however, more forceful on the issue of remote working, believing that many organizations that had expressed a desire to move back into an office environment had been motivated more by a desire to control employees and less about supporting their needs. 

“I am not under the opinion that one is greater than the other, but what is your intent? This is really an industry that is forever convinced that you must be on site, it’s almost like it’s a janitorial service.

“The next step is to have the requisite controls in place to ensure that if you adopt a remote model you can still be as effective and robust – my answer is you can.”

Being focused has been one of Anderson’s guiding principles throughout life and key for (that word again) being “exceptional”.

“To be exceptional you have to be a blank canvas; you have to allow yourself to become immersed,” he said. “You must actively listen to truly understand what’s being said and show respect - it is a pillar of strength when dealing in human interaction.”