Dave Butler likes to use a sports analogy to explain his new role at Butler Mortgage. The industry veteran is taking a step back from his previous position on the front line of the company’s mortgage operations, moving into a bigger-picture executive role that he likens to a coach transitioning upstairs to the boardroom in professional sports.
“You see it often in sports,” he says. “A guy goes from the coach to the general manager’s position because he’s better suited for that role and someone else will be better suited for the other role. That’s kind of how this all came about.”
Butler has enjoyed lavish success as the lead broker at Butler Mortgage, racking up over $500 million in funded volume in 2020 alone, topping CMP’s Top 75 Brokers list four years in a row and helping cement Butler Mortgage’s status as a giant in the industry. Yet the gargantuan effort required to fuel that performance took its toll on Butler – much the same way that consistently competing at a sport’s highest levels ultimately wears down athletes.
“I look at it like a professional athlete’s career,” he says. “I look at myself and I say, ‘Man, I’ve been doing this since I was 22 years old.’ I’m 42 years old now. A professional athlete’s career is going to span anywhere from 10 to 20 years, depending on your sport. The way that I was putting in the hours, it was like I was a professional athlete.”
The relentless intensity that Butler brought to his role – routinely working 17-hour days, six days a week, for more than a decade – proved unsustainable, culminating in a brush with mortality. In 2018, he suffered a heart attack that led to a swift re-evaluation of his working habits.
“I had a heart attack at 39 years of age because of this business,” he says. “If you do the math – someone that’s working 16- to 17-hour days for 20 years, that’s the same as a regular person working eight hours a day for 40 years. You become long in the tooth very fast when you’re doing that.”
Butler says he was “mentally exhausted” from the brokering of the business, worn out from the gruelling schedule required to reap the rewards. That led to discussions with his business partner, Daniel Patton, vice-president and director of sales at BM Select, ultimately resulting in a restructuring that put Patton in the lead agent role, while Butler took on the responsibility of building the brand.
“This is something we’ve had planned the last couple of years,” Butler says. “My partner, Dan, has become, each year, more and more an integral part of our side of the company [BM Select]. It just makes sense.
“I’m able to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Buddy, you don’t have it anymore,’” he laughs. “Dan’s better at it. Right now, I would say to you that Dan is a better mortgage agent than I am today, and that’s simply because over time, I’ve slowly been starting to take a different role, while he’s been picking up the sales role.”
Butler’s passion for the mortgage industry hasn’t dimmed at all, though. He bristles with enthusiasm as he discusses the opportunity to grow BM Select, a division of Butler Mortgage that’s geared toward providing premium service to a select clientele. He believes BM Select’s potential has remained largely untapped to date – a fact that makes its stunning success all the more remarkable.
“BM Select has not had a website,” he says. “I haven’t had a website for 20 years. I haven’t mined my database for 12 years. Just literally in the last six months, we started our first social media account. How does the number-one broker in Canada not have a website, not mine his database and have no social media presence?”
With BM Select’s business mainly pouring in through referrals, Butler saw a unique chance to enhance the division’s sales volume through the more conventional means of building a database and online presence – with the ultimate aim of shattering the $1 billion sales barrier at BM Select within three to five years.
“I’m now going to take the position of trying to build the company,” he says, “bringing in staff so that I can then go on social media, get a website, market and bring in double the volume.”
As CEO of Butler Mortgage and BM Select, Butler is already laying the groundwork for the next two decades of growth at both divisions. He says the clear distinction between the two uniquely defined brands – one rate-oriented, the other service-focused – is a quality that will continue to help the brokerage stand out from the crowd.
“Most brokerages are based on a single brand,” he says. “The difference [at Butler Mortgage] is that you’ve got a brokerage with two brands – and I think that for the next 20 years, that’s going to provide us with a runway to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the industry.”
Building the BM Select brand is something of a passion project for Butler, arriving at a juncture in his career when he’s able to reflect with satisfaction on the path it’s taken so far.
“I’ve been working for 20 years in dealing at a really high level that’s been unmatched by a lot of people within the industry, so it just felt like this was the right time,” he says. “It’s not about the money for me. Financially, I don’t need to do this anymore, so I thought, ‘Now I’m going to do what I want to do – and I want to take an opportunity to build the brands and build the business.’”