Brian Kimmel: Building a career that values autonomy

First National Financial LP Mar 26, 2024   mins

One of First National’s points of distinction is experience. Many members of our team have been with us for years – and in a few cases since we began operating in 1988. Today, we salute Brian Kimmel, Assistant Vice President, Commercial Financing on his 30th work anniversary.

Brian, what were you doing before joining First National? 

I was the Treasurer of Central Park Lodges. At the time, it was one of the largest seniors housing companies in Canada. I had heard through the grapevine that First National was the best lender in the CMHC space, which I knew nothing about. I arranged a meeting and got to know Stephen Smith, Moray Tawse and the team with a view to using their services. In 1993, Central Park Lodges did what was, at the time, one of the single largest CMHC financing ever completed in the seniors housing sector covering some 15 properties. That $80 million transaction was my first exposure to First National and I was impressed. I had First National’s CEO, its Executive Vice President and their most prominent account manager all working on my file.

So how did you wind up at First National?

It took about a year to complete that transaction. Then in 1994, Central Park Lodges was sold. At that point, Stephen and Moray approached me to join First National as an account representative. The interesting part of the story is that my previous employer now has billions of dollars in assets and owns or operates more than 200 properties. It is still one of my largest clients 30 years later.

Do you remember your first day at First National?

I will never forget that first day. I was assigned a tiny cubicle in a tiny office with no support staff. It was a stark change from my previous environment. I remember thinking to myself, what have I done? But that feeling didn’t last long. I got to know the other members of the team quickly because we worked side by side. Guys like Peter Cook, Dru McAuley and Barry Gidney, who are also still here. 

How did you fare in those early days?

We had great fun. Each of us was expected to put all aspects of each deal together, review all legal documents, type up our own commitment letters and orchestrate all funding. Back then, we probably did four financings in a month. Now we do 30 transactions a month and sometimes more. 

How has your role changed?

I’m not sure what my first title was…maybe Director but to be honest, titles didn’t mean anything. I had primary responsibility for a certain number of accounts and over time, I built more client relationships, primarily in the seniors space. About 70% of my portfolio today is seniors housing. That’s my competitive advantage. Very few people in the country have that specialization and the expertise that goes along with it. Another key difference is that I’m now responsible for a team of people. Back then, I was only responsible for myself. 

How has the seniors space changed over 30 years?

The change has been dramatic up and down the line. Everything is bigger, the amenities are nicer, and the services are better. It’s a change for the better compared to the service we could offer 30 years ago. Back then, a resident could typically expect a 250-square foot living space. Now, seniors can rent a penthouse of 1,500 square feet if they are prepared to pay for it. The demographic has also changed. When I was at Central Park Lodges, the average age of residents was 75 and life expectancy was probably less than 80. Today, the average tenant is probably 87 or 88 and life expectancy is above 90. With more amenities, a seniors home can now cost upwards of $100 million to build.  It’s a very capital-intensive industry. Consequently, the players have also changed. It used to be that the industry was fragmented but small operators don’t exist anymore because without scale, expertise and access to large amounts of equity capital, they can’t compete. Successful operators are now either large public companies or owned by large pension funds.

As a lender, do you think about the end consumer?

All the time. I have frequent conversations with those in the industry about the products they offer. Fundamentally, there are two issues that are driving the market right now. The first is affordability. In order to build a home with amenities like a swimming pool and games room, rent must be sufficient to make the project feasible. Average rent back in my day was under $2,000. Now it’s over $5,000 a month and that’s a challenge. The second issue is staffing. There is a massive shortage of healthcare staff and that’s been a significant problem right across the industry. As a lender, I am cognizant of these issues because they affect my clients. 

Please tell us about your career progression and how you made it happen?

The deals I’ve been involved in are far more complex today than I ever would have thought possible 30 years ago. Back then, I would do a simple mortgage. Now, I help clients with mergers and acquisitions, go-public transactions, restructurings, construction projects and joint ventures. There has been a learning opportunity at every turn. So how I made it happen is to be open and eager to learn at every turn.

What is your proudest or favourite career moment?

That’s a tough one because we do so many interesting and complex deals. I’ve worked on several initial public offerings including Chartwell in 2003 and Regal in 2014.  These were very exciting transactions.  In June of this year, we closed the largest single asset financing of my career for $165 million. This took about a year to put together. Despite the complexity, we were able to deliver everything our client wanted. I’m proud of all of these deals and I get great satisfaction on achieving success for our clients. 

What advice do you have for someone starting out at First National?

Develop deep knowledge of the financing products we offer and deep knowledge of the market you serve. That knowledge builds client confidence and gives you credibility. I would also say take the time to develop personal relationships with clients. Those things don’t just happen; they take years. So for somebody starting out, give yourself five years minimum to be a successful originator. 

Four workplace principles define First National – always striving for better, earning trust, encouraging autonomy, and emphasizing accountability. Of the four, which one resonates most with you and why?

For me, it’s autonomy. The company trusted me to do what I thought was best for managing my business. They didn’t give me a 15-point plan or template to follow. They gave me the ability to decide on my own how to best serve my clients and that has absolutely been the secret to my success.

How do you contribute to First National’s culture of inclusivity?

I encourage every member of my team to treat every member of the broader First National team and all our clients with the utmost respect. Respect is our core value. 

The commercial mortgage industry has a reputation as a man’s world. Is that changing?

I think it is changing. I see more women in prominent roles and not just at First National. When I started, there were no women with titles like Chief Financial Officer or Treasurer, but there definitely are today and it’s very impressive.

For someone new to First National, why stay and build a career here?

Because we have a great culture for young people. Its the very best part of First National. The company puts the right emphasis on career progression. You can start here straight out of school, learn servicing and then eventually come into the analytical part of our business, if you are so inclined. We do interesting and meaningful work with incredible clients and we learn every day. I’m still learning after 30 years.

What keeps you here?

I feel that I still add value to First National and I still get excited by the deals we do.  I would also miss my clients and my First National colleagues, some of whom I’ve known for 30 years.  I really enjoy collaborating. It’s a hallmark of First National.

If you’d like to join us in congratulating Brian on his career milestone, you can reach him at

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