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How to Build a Successful Business

How to Build a Successful Business

NHEMA executives hold roundtable at annual conference

April 12, 2004


While some people begin dreaming as kids of building their own businesses one day, Jerry Schiano said it only occurred to him when he and some friends could not find a place they wanted to work in the fall of 1998.

So, they created Wilmington Finance, Inc., Plymouth Meeting, Pa., and wrote a very simple business plan: “Our goal when we started was to ‘suck’ less everyday,” Schiano deadpanned to fellow professionals attending the Annual Conference of the National Home Equity Mortgage Association meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. this month.

He, and two other successful businessmen, held forth at the event on how they had built successful mortgage operations.

Brad Bradley, CEO, EquiFirst Corp., Charlotte, N.C., advised listeners to retain earnings when they start and grow a business, especially if the aim is to sell the firm one day. “The most important move you can make is to reinvest [because] for every dollar you ‘skim’ today, it’ll cost you $5 when you sell,” he said.

A third panelist, John Anderson, president and CEO, Anderson Capital Corp., McLean, Va., provided a thumbnail description of the companies most attractive to buyers today. Anderson said “most interest is in retail origination companies that are $500 million [in production] and larger.” In wholesale, he said, the attractive companies are a half billion dollars to $1 billion in size. But “retail is king for most buyers,” he emphasized.

The panel was organized and moderated by Bob Rubin, president, Investaid, Southfield, Mich.

Schiano, president and CEO of Wilmington Finance, which was sold to American General last January, counseled listeners to “make sure you give equity to the right people” when building a business, and “make sure you retain control.”

“But don’t give equity away cheap,” Bradley added. “Look for commitment in return.” Business buyers don’t want an organization built around one person, he said. “They want to see a team.”

What’s more, said Bradley, “when they buy your company, [the buyers] expect you to leave.”

Recounting how he kept a tight hand on the reins at the beginning, Bradley said: “If I had it to do over again, I would have leveraged myself sooner. Our business changed when I stopped being director of sales.” Bradley’s company was sold to Region’s Financial five years ago.

On that score, Schiano said companies always look to hire a “hero, and there are very few out there.” Instead try to “hire good people,” he suggested, “but make sure they’re part of what you’re doing; part of your culture.” Yes, said Bradley, noting that “no one below the company president will ever set the bar higher than he does.”

All successful business people are doing “what they’re good at,” reasoned Schiano. They “don’t try to be what others want them to be.” When a prospective job candidate asks for a guarantee that his company will be around for awhile, Schiano replies: “We can’t give you one — but that’s the world today.

With mergers and acquisitions, said Anderson. “Culture is important. A lack of corporate culture fit is the single biggest deal breaker. We’ve let some people go because they were not the right fit in our organization,” he concluded.

Neil J. Morse is a communications consultant and independent writer working exclusively in the mortgage finance industry. He resides in Newtown, Conn. and may be reached by e-mail at:

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