More than a sporting chance

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“Not many people are paid to do their passion.”

Michael James was speaking of his years as a rugby player for Canada and in France – but he holds that same passion for brokering today.

“Something I understood early on from rugby: you are only as good as your last game,” says the agent with Dominion Lending Centres Mortgage Evolution West. “As a broker, you are only as good as your last client.”

His years of knocking heads on the rugby pitch in Europe and North America provided him with the tools to be a successful broker.

“It’s a contact sport with no equipment,” he smiles, “you need to be pretty brave, and be pretty good on your toes. Those strengths I bring to brokering.”

When James started brokering in the spring of 2008, the recession was just beginning to deepen – and his days of fighting for every inch of ground were essential to his fighting for every new client during those tough economic times.

“When I got my licence, the market was slowing down, and I had to weather the economic storm right from the start,” he remembers. “I learned from more experienced brokers, like Susie Inglis and Denise Devente, through osmosis and her mentoring.”

Inglis is the head broker at Mortgage Evolution, and Devente her business partner.

“My advice to anyone entering the brokering business – surround yourself with people who know the business,” he says. “It’s a tough nut to crack; it is like a scrum: you just lower your head and push.”

During the height of his rugby career, James lived in the south of France in Perpignan, playing for the the French Barbarians and the prestigious Stade Francais Paris club.

It was with Stade Francais Paris in 2005 that he played with New Zealand greats Justin Marshall and Kees Meeuws. An imposing 196 cm tall and 110 kg, he played the ‘lock’ position - the lock providing the power in the scrum. James was part of the Stade Francais teams that won the French Premiership titles in 2003, 2004 and 2007.

Born in 1973 in Vancouver, he is one of only a handful of professional Canadian rugby union players. His record includes 54 caps for Canada, nine of which have come from World Cup matches. He has captained Canada on several occasions, and most recently in the match against France at Nantes. James has appeared in 4 World Cups – in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007.

A father of three, with boys age 13, 11 and seven, he jumped into the brokering world when he and his wife, Leah, returned from France to buy a home on Vancouver’s north shore.

“When I came back to Canada, I rejoined my old rugby club for three years, and played for the provincial team,” he says. “But as the boys got older, I had to take a step back. Now I’m on the board of directors for B.C. Rugby, and I enjoy coaching at the local and provincial level.”

Today James focuses primarily on the residential market.

“I cut my teeth on a number of different ventures, but I am mainly residential,” he says. “But if there’s a deal to be done, I will do it.”

In May of last year he switched to Dominion Lending and is now looking forward to his next challenge as a broker.

“In the beginning, it was building a book of clients, that was my first push,” he says, his language laced with rugby analogies. “Now I am looking at my first renewals coming up. It is a lot more rewarding to have the repeat business, to have clients renew.

“I like to focus on the relationship. Big banking institutions don’t do that,” he observes. “Brokers focus on the relationship. I like to keep in touch, and with social media, it is easy to drop an email or send a text from time to time.”

The driving need to succeed, inspired by his days as a rugby player and his source of strength as a broker, is complemented by a quiet humility that is sometimes lacking in the business world.

“The one thing I learned from sports is my sense of modesty,” says James. “I know I don’t have much advice to offer established brokers, they know what works and what doesn’t. All I can say for those starting out in the business is that you need to have a real commitment – a commitment to the client.”

The team approach, succeeding as a team, continues to be his life’s theme.

“My best games in rugby, I didn’t stand out at all,” he says. “We all won. And if I can find the best deal for a client, we all win, too.”

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