People person

People person

Having spent most of his career in Atlantic Canada, Steve Whitehead’s decision to help expand TMG The Mortgage Group in the region was one grounded in belief and knowledge

Steve Whitehead knows a thing or two about working with people and doing so successfully.

Before joining TMG The Mortgage Group Canada in May 2010 as executive vice-president, Atlantic Canada, he was president of Home Loans Canada (HLC) for five years, capping a 32-year run in various capacities at CIBC. In addition to growing that business into one of the largest national mortgage origination companies in Canada, HLC was also chosen as the Employer of Choice in 2007 and 2008 at the Canadian Mortgage Awards.

“You have to give people an environment and a place where they can excel, a place where they want to belong, an opportunity for them to grow, and a place where leadership is engaged with them to help them develop,” he says. “People are always looking for opportunities, but you also have to be there to help challenge them to reach their goals.

“When I was with HLC that was one of the key things for me – it was about the people. The people are the most important aspect of any part of the business. If you have good people and you look after those people, things will look after themselves.”

After retiring from the bank in 2009, Whitehead, who spent most of his career based in Halifax, was looking to start a business and considered numerous opportunities before meeting with TMG co-founder Grant Thomas and president Mark Kerzner.

“We developed a program for Atlantic Canada at TMG, called TMG Atlantic Canada,” says Whitehead of the business, which currently has 43 brokers in all four provinces in the region. “We’ve built it into a very strong, dynamic group of good quality mortgage professionals.”

Whitehead says they have created something of a boutique-type brokerage. “We’re very focused on what the client’s needs are. We’ve built the business with a team of people that are trusted and respected in the industry and who act with integrity.”

Less than two years in, Whitehead expects the business to continue to grow and he expects to see substantial growth throughout the balance of 2012 and into 2013. “We continue to look for talented mortgage professionals for our team.”

That growth will come in a market that is very different from other parts of the country, where the average mortgage is considerably smaller than urban centres such as Toronto and Vancouver.

“Atlantic Canada has a lot of niche, rural markets,” says Whitehead. “That lends itself to smaller valuation of real estate and smaller mortgages. That said, there are also larger mortgages in the urban centres, around $200,000 at the entry level, so we are starting to catch up other parts of the country.

“Economically, there have been some great things happening in Atlantic Canada, such as the recent announcement of the shipbuilding contract, which will be good for the region for a long time. St. John’s (Newfoundland & Labrador) has also been a very hot and robust market, but the balance of the market in Atlantic Canada has been very steady. It doesn’t have the highs and  lows that you get in the major urban centres in other parts of the country.”

Building business in the region also requires a different tact, according to Whitehead.

“Atlantic Canada is a very relationship-focused environment. Customers tend to be very loyal and committed to people that they trust. Our clients tend to become our advocates. They promote our business and our value proposition for us. We just have to ensure that our people understand what the value proposition is that we’re putting out there for our clients and that’s something that we’re very careful with.

“And that value proposition has to be there now for the client and in the future. It’s not just doing a mortgage for our client today, it’s building a long-term relationship with the client.”

Differences also extend to the lifestyle that living in region offers, one that Whitehead said revolves around family.

“You have a good work-lifestyle balance here and there are a lot of opportunities to grow. It’s about individuals finding within themselves how they want to grow and what kind of lifestyle they want to lead. Personally, professionally, financially you can enjoy a very good lifestyle in Atlantic Canada and certainly I’ve been able to do that for many, many years.”

Having spent five years in Toronto while president of HLC, Whitehead says running a national business from Toronto was a very good opportunity. “It allowed me to see things from a national perspective versus a regional perspective.

“After running a national business and then to come “back home” to run a regional business, you have a whole different perspective on how a business should manage itself and the strategies that you have to have in place to make sure it is successful and that people that are part of it can excel within it.”

That theme of success and the role relationships play in that success carried over to Whitehead’s decision to join TMG. He saw a solid company with programs and processes that were adaptable and that cared about its people.

“What I like about TMG is that it is very well run, with good quality people from ownership to leadership. I also found that many of their mortgage professionals have been with them a long time and that speaks to how an organization looks after its people. To me that was really important.

TMG also have strong lender relationships. I did some research and they enjoy really good relationships with many of the lenders, and a lot of people had a lot of good things to say about TMG.

“I simply found the right fit with TMG. The quality of people, broker and back-end support and the TMG culture are well aligned with my own values and the opportunity for continued success with TMG in Atlantic Canada, is very significant and I am excited to be a part of it. I’m very proud of our team of professionals and we look forward to continued success.”